Thankfulness: A Blessing For Your Life

When I was a child, Mom and Dad made me and my siblings sit down after Christmas and write thank-you notes to all the people from whom we received presents (and don’t think for a minute that we would have done so had they not forced us to). Mom and Dad also made sure we said “Please” and “Thank you.” Years later, when I became a parent, I found myself doing the same thing for my children. Thankfulness does not come naturally. It needs to be trained in us. Our sinful nature, selfish and ungrateful, must be ruled by our will. If we are going to live godly lives, we have to first know what is right, and then make up our minds to do it. This is very true of making thankfulness a habit.

In order to be thankful in our day-to-day lives, it helps to assess why we are so often unthankful. First, life is difficult and unpredictable because we live in this fallen world, in which the Devil has made it his personal aim to make people’s lives miserable. We too often have unrealistic expectations of how things are going to be, expecting things to go “right.” When they do not, we become exasperated and unthankful.

Second, the world (especially advertising agencies) works very hard to create unthankfulness and dissatisfaction. What? Absolutely! No one who is satisfied with what they have replaces it, so advertising agencies work hard for their clients, convincing people that what they have is not good enough. This is not difficult to do in today’s world, when almost everything we use is being improved, remodeled, or updated at least once a year, and everything we wear is outdated before we know it. We learn about “better” products and naturally want them (and may even think we deserve them). No wonder we wrestle with being unthankful for what we have.

Ah, to live in the “good old days,” when your great, great, great grandfather (or grandmother) wore the same kind of clothes you did, traveled around town by the same method (on foot with a staff for stabilization and protection), and cooked on the same kind of stove (a campfire). Then you could be thankful for what you have. Sound good? Only one problem—it’s a myth. Ancient people were no more thankful than modern ones. Life was difficult back then too, and people griped about it. That is why there are verses in the Old Testament telling people to give thanks to God. In fact, some 3,000 years ago people griped about life and talked about the “good old days.”

Ecclesiastes 7:10a
Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these…”

Let’s face it, the only “good old days” were in the Garden of Eden, and since then life has been difficult, with plenty to be unthankful about. That is why we have to make up our minds to obey God and be thankful. Did I say, “obey God”? You bet I did, because God commands us to be thankful. Hey, that sounds like my parents—and it should. Good parents “stand in” for God until a child learns to obey the Word without parental enforcement. Scripture says, “…a child left to himself disgraces his mother” (Prov. 29:15b).

1 Thessalonians 5:18
give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

The Greek verb that is translated “give thanks” in the above verse, eucharisteo, is in the imperative mood, which means it is a command. God does not “wish” that we would give thanks, He tells us to do so. We have the free will to disobey His command, of course, but not without consequences. Unthankfulness produces a host of physical and mental consequences. Furthermore, it makes us hard to live with. Few people enjoy spending much time with an unthankful, sourpuss person. Lastly, there will be consequences for unthankfulness at the Judgment, in terms of the rewards for obedience that we will miss out on.

If life is so difficult, how can God command us to be thankful? The answer to that question is twofold. First, because although there is a lot in life we can be unthankful about if we so choose, there is also a lot for which we can be thankful. Second, because we can be thankful if we want to be. Many a parent has confronted an unthankful, sullen child, and said, “Go to your room and don’t come out until you change your attitude.” That is good parenting, because children, and the rest of us, need to learn that bad attitudes and unthankfulness are a choice. I am not speaking of the immediate emotional reaction to a tragedy, but if we have a continual negative and unthankful attitude about life, that is a choice. [1]

The fact is, we can be thankful if we want to be. God commands us to take our thoughts captive to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:5
We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

God has designed our thinking process to be subject to our will, but this is not such a popular subject today. We live in the generation of, “If it feels good, do it.” Slogans, songs, and countless “role models” encourage us to run our lives by our feelings. Thus we become unthankful because we are quite sure that we “deserve a break today” and did not get one. We wanted to “have it our way,” but that never materialized. But even without unrealistic expectations, the trials of life may produce feelings of unthankfulness—and the key to both obedience and a more blessed life is that we choose not to dwell on them. We can take our unthankful thoughts captive and say to ourselves: “I refuse to think like this. I am going to find something to be thankful for in this situation.” In fact, God commands us to think about “good” things.

Philippians 4:8
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Just as we are commanded to be thankful, we are commanded how to direct our thinking to that end. The word translated “think” in the above verse is in the imperative mood, and therefore is a command. As with being thankful, thinking about excellent and praiseworthy things is not a suggestion, it is a command. Good parents know that it is unhealthy and hurtful for their children to think about ungodly things, and so they do things such as keep their small children from seeing “R” rated movies, place parental controls on the Internet, and monitor the video games they play.

With similar parental love, our heavenly Father directs us as to what we should think about and be exposed to, and we would all have a more positive attitude about life if we treated our grown-up selves like we treat our children. Why is it suddenly okay to watch sex on the screen or play graphically violent video games just because we are old enough to do so? We dare not be naive about the consequences of ungodly thoughts. There is an ever-growing body of evidence that links watching violence on television or playing violent video games with violent behavior, and we can be assured that violent behavior does not arise out of a thankful heart.

Someone once said, “Your thoughts are the seeds of your words and deeds.” How true. If we spend a significant amount of time watching violence or sex on television or in movies (or for that matter, the cutting, sarcastic talk that is the standard fare of most sit-coms), it should not amaze us that we have a hard time being peaceful and thankful. If we constantly sow violent thought-seeds, eventually we will reap tension, anxiety, and anti-social thoughts. If we sow hours of sexually oriented thought-seeds, we will reap sexual dissatisfaction (which may show up as sexual fantasies), and not be thankful for who we are and what we have.

Scripture says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). That is a simple formula with a simple message. If we are going to be thankful from our hearts, we have to sow thankful thoughts, and not just once a day when we get off work. If we are going to be godly and be thankful in life, we have to be careful about the thought-seeds that we sow. We must also be aware that reaping requires consistent sowing. Just because we guard our thoughts today does not mean we will be thankful tomorrow. We need to sow godly thought-seeds over the long haul to consistently reap thankful, godly thoughts.

We need to say one more thing about controlling our thoughts, planting good seed-thoughts, and being thankful. It is simple, but not easy. Experience tells us this, and so does Scripture. First, as we pointed out earlier, we live in a world designed by the Enemy to make us dissatisfied and unthankful, and it is impossible to withdraw from every immoral influence. To do that, Corinthians says, “…you would have to leave this world” (1 Cor. 5:10b). We cannot remove every worldly influence, but we can do a lot to make sure that we are sowing godliness in our lives. We can be careful of what we watch on television, what we listen to on the radio, and what we read. Furthermore, we can battle our own fleshly desires. Galatians tells us that our sinful nature and our spirit are in conflict, which is what makes it hard to do the good we want to do.

Galatians 5:17
For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit [spirit], and the Spirit [spirit] what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.

It is not easy to master our sinful nature, which produces “…the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life… (1 John 2:16b-NASB). Our “sinful nature” is inherently selfish and unthankful, and will be part of us until we die or the Lord returns. So actually living thankful lives takes more than just being mentally aware that we should be thankful. We must be prepared to make war on our flesh and our fleshly desires by sowing good and godly thoughts.

God loves us, and He wants us to live blessed, peaceful, and thankful lives, so He commands us to be thankful, and tells us what kinds of things to think about. Now it is our turn to love Him and ourselves enough to obey. Let’s be diligent to obey God, and be thankful. I’m thankful you read this article.

Endnotes

[1] I am speaking of normal, healthy humans, not people with clinical depression, etc.

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