“Thankful.” “Grateful. “Joyful.” These words protected my fingers from my steaming hot beverage. Printed on the sleeve wrapped around my take-out drink, they also got me thinking.
It’s that time of year, when we are encouraged to appreciate and celebrate all that we have. Yet, at the same time, thankfulness can guard us from many other things.
Thankfulness is good for our physical health. Practicing gratitude, say health experts, improves sleep, boosts immunity, and decreases the risk of disease.
Being thankful is also important for our spiritual health. It is how God wants us to live.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.1 Thessalonians 5:18
But more than that, being grateful, thankful, and joyful safeguards us from grumbling. If we’re not being grateful, then we’re likely feeling ungrateful. If we’re not being thankful, then we’re likely being thankless. And, we are encouraged to:
Do everything without grumbling or arguing.Philippians 2:14
I must admit I often forget to be thankful. In a determined effort to not complain, and be grateful whatever my circumstances, I’m learning a lot from the Israelites in the Old Testament.
God’s people had a lot for which to be grateful. God had set them free from slavery in Egypt. He had miraculously provided a way through the Red Sea and rescued them from their enemies. God had given them food and water, led them, fought for them, and provided a beautiful land for them to inhabit.
Yet, they quickly grumbled. They sat in their tents feeling sorry for themselves and complained about their lot.
They criticized their leaders, Moses and Aaron, who God had chosen (Exodus 16:2). They even found fault with God. They said: “The Lord hates us; so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us” (Deuteronomy 1:27).
It sounds shocking that they could accuse God of hating them when they had been told:
It was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.Deuteronomy 7:8
Yet, if we pause for a moment, we may realize that we’re not too different and it is easy for us to do the same.
We may question God’s loving guidance when our prayers are not answered in the way we want. We may doubt God’s kindness when things don’t go as we hoped or planned. Or we may mutter with discontent, forgetting the ways in which God has rescued us or shown his protection in the past.
The challenge is to quit complaining, and turn our gripes and grumbles into gratitude to God remembering everything he has done for us and continues to do for us.
Then, perhaps like Paul we can learn to say:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.Philippians 4:12
So, in my attempt to change my ways, I have started a new habit: A gratitude journal.
A while ago, a friend gave me a journal. The pages have been empty until this last week.
This same friend, each morning when she awakes, writes down what she is grateful for in her life. I’ve known about her habit for a while, and admired her for it. She knows that being thankful is good for her health.
So, I am inspired to do the same, especially on those days when I want to grumble instead of be grateful.
I invite you to join me.
It takes a while to create a new habit, but as well as encouraging each other, we can also ask God to give us the strength we need.
Lord God, I ask you to forgive me for grumbling and complaining when you have provided me with so much. Forgive me when I have doubted your love and goodness. Give me the strength today to be grateful instead of ungrateful, to be thankful instead of thankless, and to be joyful whatever my circumstances. In Jesus’ name, Amen.