Years ago when I was in the thick of diapers, bottles, and up-every-night parenting with four children, I agreed to speak at a retreat on being thankful. I think the speaking assignment sounded good to me because it meant a weekend away from home. But unfortunately, I didn’t really consider how much work it would be to prepare, speak, and THEN come back home. I don’t remember much of what I said, but I know the theme was “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). In my talk I might have mentioned that there was joy to be found in cultivating thankfulness no matter what is going on around us.
THEN I came BACK HOME . . . and found that cultivating thankfulness was easier said than done. I was tired. The kids were cranky. My husband was busy. I don’t remember many details from those years, but I do remember that a few days after the retreat I was walking through our living room, kicking toys out of my way, and thinking to myself, “It’s a shame I lied to those women.” At that moment, thankfulness seemed way out of my reach.
In the years that followed, I can’t say I have solved the thankfulness problem. The truth is there are always reasons not to be thankful. I have my list. You have yours. But the Bible tells us that there are always bigger and better reasons to be thankful. In Psalm 103, the psalmist talks to his heart, saying, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” What are those benefits? Our sins are forgiven, diseases are healed, and life is redeemed from the pit. And there is more—we are crowned with love, satisfied with good things, and renewed even in our old age.
It all sounds so good doesn’t it? But often I have trouble remembering those eternal benefits amid my all-too-real present troubles. What helps me to remember? It’s others who are ahead of me that show me how. Just a few weeks ago, I was attending an event for Bethesda—a ministry to adults with disabilities that my sister-in-law, Jill Miller started with her husband, Paul. Their adult daughter Kimmy has several disabilities and uses a speech board to communicate. The highlight of the evening was when Jill brought Kimmy and her friends on stage and led them in acting out a Bible story. Some used speech boards, some had phones that read the Bible for them, some were in wheelchairs. But what fun they had talking about Jesus. How they cheered and laughed in excitement when Jill talked about heaven.
The next morning while studying Colossians 2, I was confronted by the question: “When was the last time you were overflowing with thanksgiving?” That morning I had the answer right away—I was so thankful to worship a God who loves the weak and makes them strong. I was so thankful that our God lifts up the lowly and crowns them with love and compassion. I was so thankful for eternal blessing in a life filled with struggle, and that Kimmy and her friends were leading the way. It really is true: the last will be first and the first will be last. How great is our God who can do all that?
I didn’t actually lie to those women at the retreat. We truly can overflow with thankfulness in a world full of trouble. Thankfulness doesn’t take away the troubles or solve them, but we can still bless the Lord for all his benefits—especially for Jesus who will one day call our names and bring us to our forever home with him.
Psalms: Real Prayers for Real Life
How long? Why is this happening? Where are you, God? For centuries, God’s people have learned to go to God with their real questions, struggles, and everyday needs by reading and studying the Psalms. In this practical, gospel-rich small group study, authors Barbara Juliani and Patric Knaak guide participants in learning how the Psalms give us words to pray about the real struggles in our lives