“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
It’s a strange passage coming from a guy like Paul. Here’s a guy bitten by snakes, shipwrecked, beaten within an inch of his life on numerous occasions, a guy abandoned by his friends on some occasions, maligned by people he cared about on others, and yet a guy who stresses the obedience of joy and thankfulness almost as much as he stressed grace and faith.
And make no mistake – it is an issue of obedience. Often we think of joy and gratitude in the realm of feelings – either we feel joyful or thankful, or we don’t. And when we feel it, we do it. But obedience doesn’t work that way.
Obedience is doing regardless of whether you’re feeling. And there are certainly days when you don’t feel thankful. You might want to be thankful; you might seek to be thankful; but you look around your circumstances and it’s like staring at a brick wall. Obstacles and troubles everywhere. You know you ought to be thankful, but the fire of your gratitude has grown to a slightly glowing ember.
When that happens in an actual fire, we will often stir up the embers. We will grab a stick and move some things around to try and get the fire going again. So how do you do that with your gratitude? How do you stoke the fire of thankfulness in prayer?
One simple way is to change your perspective. When we think about gratitude, we often think circumstantially. We look at all the things that have happened in our lives and the lives of those we love, and we thank God for them. But that level of gratitude is based on our own ability to perceive the work of God. And we would all acknowledge that God is surely up to much more than we are immediately aware of.
Take, for example, the great promise from Romans 8 that God is working all things for the good of those that love Him and are called according to His purpose. The word “all” in that verse does not only mean the things you are aware of; it means “all.” It means “all” the little things that have escaped your attention as well as all the things that have caught your focus. Furthermore, God is working even the things that didn’t happen today for our good. And it’s in this way that you might stoke the fire of your gratitude in prayer.
Thank God for all the things He has done and is doing, but also thank God for the things that didn’t happen today:
- By His grace, you didn’t lose faith.
- By His grace, the earth didn’t tilt off its axis.
- By His grace, you didn’t stop breathing.
And the list could go on endlessly, “for He is before all things, and by him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). It is because of Jesus and His sustaining power that a myriad of things didn’t happen today.
So expand your gratitude, Christian. Stoke the fire of your thankfulness in recognizing the work of God which both gives and takes away.