(By Ruth Potter)
The Bible is full of the language of praise, thankfulness, gratitude, and celebration! As Christians, we have so much to be thankful for and yet the reality of our broken world weighs upon us. If you are like me, you may struggle to be thankful in the midst of a personal crisis, or the uncertainty of a global pandemic. Though we know that suffering is endemic to humanity, and trials are part of Christian growth, we would rather avoid them. And if we can’t avoid suffering, sometimes we think we should minimize or bypass the emotions of sadness and grief. But we are not called to be Christian stoics. We need to express our grief to God and to others who are able to hear, comfort, and encourage us.
After the shock of my cancer diagnosis, there were times of tears and fears, and there were precious times when God comforted and gave strength for the surgery or treatment. Before a fearful procedure, my husband and I would remind ourselves that God the Father is for us, our Emmanuel is with us, and the Holy Spirit is within, strengthening our faith. God’s faithful presence and steadfast love were anchors of hope in the cancer journey. Oftentimes I needed faithful friends to remind me of this hope in the midst of suffering. The apostle Paul expressed the pain of suffering and severe trials interwoven with thankfulness, joy, and hope: “We live close to death, but we are still alive. We have been beaten, but we have not been killed. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything” (2 Cor. 6:9,10). Even though we don’t understand the “why” we glorify God when we choose by faith to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18).
Thankfulness engenders humility. When we recognize our God-dependence and interdependence with others who are made in the image of God, there is less room for pride. And we are not only thankful for God’s goodness to us in the past, but also for His present and future grace. Our words and service can never repay God for what He has done for us, because even our response to God is a result of His continued grace in our lives. We can do nothing that glorifies God apart from His grace working in us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus taught the disciples, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). I’m so thankful for God’s constant grace and patience with me on this journey of life.
Thankfulness is not only the attitude of gratitude but the expression of it. To be able to express our thankfulness is liberating; it opens our minds to the providence of God even in the middle of a personal, national, or global crisis. We express our thanks to God by communicating with Him in prayer. Prayers that pour out thankfulness and praise, as well as requests, glorify God and help us to hold our needs within the realm of God’s benevolent desire to bless. It can also be helpful to articulate our thankfulness through journaling. Prayer and gratitude journals are popular and effective because they help to balance our perspective and bring hope. I am sporadic at journaling; I have journaled my prayers mainly in the valleys of life. Yet looking back on those journals, I can trace the hand of God working and molding me in the midst of a trial. This strengthens my faith fills me with hope.
May we be committed to praising and worshipping our Lord with grateful hearts. Gratitude creates hope. And as hope grows, optimism grows. Anxiety and depression decrease. His grace strengthens our hearts and His peace governs our lives. All glory to Him!