The Discipline of Thankfulness
It is easy for me to tell people to keep their eyes on Jesus, but I know that if I were in the situations where many people are that I would have a struggle. Life is not easy for any of us, but I know that we have a big God who is able to give us grace in the worst situations. One of the lessons we need to learn as Christians is that the joy we have from the Lord does not come from what is outside us, but from God Who is inside us. People in this world look for security, joy and happiness from things: from money, from relationships, from food, from cars, from vacations, etc. But the only kind of joy that lasts is from the Lord. He puts His joy in our hearts even when we are going through hard trials. If we stay close to Jesus, nothing can touch the joy He gives us. We have it when we are doing well and we have it when everything seems to be going to pieces all around us. As for security, Jesus is the only real security we have and all we will ever need.
It has helped me to make giving thanks a discipline. When anything blesses me, even small things, I have tried to make it a practice to thank God. I thank God when He helps me to do some art work. I thank Him for the artistic gift He has given me and for the opportunity to bless others with it. I thank Him for my wife and all she means to me and all she does for me. I thank Him for my nice little house, for all the animals I see wandering around on the grounds where I live. I thank Him for having enough food to eat, for a good car to drive and for good friends. I thank Him for when the sun suddenly comes out from the clouds, for when a bird sings, or for the sound of church bells.
What works for positive things also works for negative things. Focus on some bad things and you will see how it sours your mood. Unfortunately, that is what most people always do by habit. They see only the negative things. People get depressed, very often, when they focus on the negative. If you focus on the negative, you become negative.
When I say that it is good to give thanks for everything all the time, I know that some people will think it is a little foolish. They think that things are going well with them and tell themselves, “Why should I need to do that?” Or, if things are not going well, they feel they cannot possibly get themselves to where they even desire to give thanks. Desires and feelings have nothing to do with it. Give thanks as an act of faith. Do it because it is right and scriptural to do. Make it a habit. It is one of the best habits you can cultivate. When the sun in is shining in your life, give thanks for it and for everything that blesses you. When the storm clouds gather, give thanks even though the storm is drawing your mood and frame of mind into darkness, gloom and heaviness of spirit.
I was praying with a man I know about his daughter. She is a very attractive Christian young woman in her early twenties and seems to have bright prospects for her future. However, she is fighting depression. Why this is, I don’t know. Although I know her mom and dad fairly well, I really don’t know why this is happening with her. Maybe I don’t need to know. When I prayed with her dad, I told him to suggest to her that she add some spiritual medication. The spiritual medication is what I just told you: to practice the discipline of giving thanks all the time. We thank God when things go well and we thank Him when things don’t go well. We should mix up a heavy dose of thanksgiving with all the prayers we send up. And we should make a conscious effort to stay away from negative, doubting, fearful thoughts and any kind of grumbling. Grumbling got the children of Israel in serious trouble with God when Moses was leading them into the Promised Land, and it will get us in trouble, too, if we let it. No matter how bad things get we must not grumble. That, of course, goes right against our flesh and all of our natural human inclinations, but it is what we are called to do as Christians. Discipline is something we do that often goes against our feelings. The discipline of giving thanks is something we do whether we feel like it or whether we don’t. Eventually we reap the rewards of a joyful spirit and a healthy mental outlook if we persist and if we make a resolution with ourselves and with God that this is what we will always do.
Sometime, years ago, I learned that, if I stood against my emotions, that my emotions had a way of changing for the better. They didn’t have to boss me around. Not only that, but often my emotions will improve instantly. When you turn things over to God, your mental state improves. You have peace and joy. It almost seems too easy, but it is thoroughly scriptural and it really works. There is something in each of us, a kind of negative undertow that is always trying to drag us down and that gets our eyes off Jesus. There are evil spirits that are constantly attempting to get us to focus on negative thoughts that pull us away from the influence of the Holy Spirit. We must actively stand against all such thoughts. As one Christian writer, puts it, we must learn “to think about what we’re thinking.” Take a good look at the stuff that comes into your mind and put it to the test. Does it pass the sniff test? Does it line up with scripture? Is it godly? Is it what will help you? And, if not, why accept it? Why entertain thoughts that drag you down and make you doubt the promises of God?
I have a constant battle. I am not the personality type that is naturally cheerful and sunny. I am about as melancholic as they come. Joy does not come naturally to me. I am almost suspicious of it! I like to brood, to introspect, to dissect problems, to fuss, to dwell in the negative until I almost find myself enjoying being negative. That is what I am naturally. That is where I’ve been. But I’m changing. God is making a new me. Believe me, I know how hard it is to change my thought life. I’m still struggling, but I’ve had some wonderful victories. As I’ve prayed, as I’ve forced myself against my own feelings to stand against anxiety of every kind, God has lifted the clouds time after time. I know that I have a mighty Friend on my side. I know that He is equal to anything that life throws at me. I know that when I hang on for dear life to a scripture verse that it really brings forth divine results. Try it for yourself, and I know you will be blessed by the results.
Finally, remember that, no matter what kind of horrible stuff you see in the newspapers or the TV news, that God is still in control of the world. There are wars, murders, atrocities, terrorists, earthquakes, tsunamis, disasters, revolutions—and the list goes on. God is in you and that is where you should focus. He is going to transform all this and His presence in you is one small part of what He is doing to transform the world. He will judge all the evil. Times will get worse before they get better. But remember that Jesus is coming soon and He has ultimate power and that you are on His side, on the winning team. You have the responsibility to keep positive in the midst of all this. You have the power through Jesus to stay close to God. It takes a little effort and some use of faith, but the good results are eternal! We are in a big battle and the little battle you have to keep from being negative is one component in God’s big master plan to remake the world and bring in his kingdom.
A positive mental outlook such as I’ve described is an important part of living a victorious Christian life. There are certainly other components, lessons we must learn, as well, but learning to release the joy of the Lord into our lives is a very necessary part of Christian victory. It will enable us to keep connected to the source of our life in Jesus. Positive thinking has many proponents, and some are not even orthodox Christians. Some are even cultists and not particularly Christian at all. Be careful not to think that being positive in your mental outlook is all you need to be a victorious believer, but I believe that it is an absolutely essential ingredient in the life of every victorious Christian.
If you are a Christian and you’ve really invited Jesus into your life, then everything I’ve said here will work for you. If not, then ask Him to come into your heart, repent of your sins, and turn your life over to Him. Then everything I’ve said will work because you will have a mighty Friend on your side—on the inside!