Thank you, Lord: Learning to be thankful when you don’t feel like it.

The last seven years have been tough for me. I have navigated some very painful seasons, grieved broken relationships, family, and ministry, and wept often. I have also witnessed God’s goodness, comfort, restoration, provision, and healing in profound and unexpected ways. The most significant changes have occurred in my willingness to be thankful, even when I don’t feel like it.

It goes against our common sense to say thank you when life hurts when we receive a cancer diagnosis, when our spouse betrays us, when our children break our hearts, or when God removes us from an assignment. Our immediate reaction is just that – to react to our circumstances. Our mind alerts us to a condition, the brain releases chemicals that trigger emotional and muscular responses, and the stomach gets knots, breathing gets heavy, tears flow, anger rises, sadness looms, or joy abounds. God designed us to have a response. Our struggle is in how we respond.

I did not want to accept that God was removing a mantle from me. I had served willingly and faithfully for years. It was a desire and a dream, one that my husband and I both believed He had called us to. I sat in my office and opened up my bible. There in black and white were words I didn’t want to see.

1 Thessalonians 5:18: Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

“God, how can you expect me to be thankful when I am hurting?”. Being thankful in difficult times doesn’t sound appealing. The more I read in God’s word about being thankful in adversity the more I realized just how serious God was about this discipline. I say discipline because being thankful in ALL circumstances requires a lot of self-discipline and self-control. I had to choose to be thankful despite my circumstances. Being thankful is a commandment from God. It is God’s will.

In John 10:10 we read two powerful points. The first point is that the enemy is sly, elusive, and a trickster that wants to rob us of peace, contentment, hope, and joy. The second point; the abundant life God promises doesn’t wait for me in a new season or a new job or a different home – it is here, now, today, right where I am standing.

John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Learning to be thankful:

  1. Pivot to praise. Think about what is involved when you physically pivot. You step and turn to change your position and the direction you are facing. I had to learn to pivot my mind and heart to turn towards God in ALL my circumstances. Doing this pivot to praise opened up my heart to see that despite my struggles, God is good and wants good things for me.
    • James 1:7 reminds us, ““Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” 
  2. Start somewhere. No one feels like being thankful when we are hurting or facing adverse circumstances. Last year I was in a rut emotionally and spiritually. I couldn’t understand why God would equip me with so many gifts, skills, and experiences for me to sit in the desert (figuratively and literally) isolated and stagnant. I felt so useless, irrelevant, overlooked, and abandoned. The enemy was taking full advantage of my pain as I spiraled into a deep depression. One morning while praying, the Lord reminded me of a conversation with a friend ten years prior when she spoke words of encouragement. She said, “Even though you feel like you have nothing to be thankful for, start somewhere. There is always something to be thankful for.” So I did. I started thanking God for anything and everything I could think of; the couch, a refrigerator, a car that was dependable, clothes, a bed, a roof over our head, and those desert moments that caused me to earnestly seek him. It felt like the Holy Spirit grabbed me out of the depths and rushed me up to the surface of heaven so I could breathe again. Start somewhere.
    • Philippians 4:4-7, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
  3. Thankfulness is a powerful weapon. Satan is a liar, deceiver, manipulator, trickster, tormentor, murderer, thief, and accuser of Believers. His whispers invade our thoughts causing us to question God’s faithfulness and love and doubt God’s goodness for us. In Acts 5:41 the disciples had been beaten and ordered to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. But the disciples used thankfulness as a weapon against discouragement and self-pity. With this weapon, we can cut down every temptation to be thankless and send the enemy packing.
    • Acts 5:41, So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.”

Thankfulness helps us to see God and puts us squarely in his will. It draws us near to him and releases peace, contentment, and hope which increases our faith and builds our trust in God. The overflow of a thankful heart is joy. We are then no longer weighed down by our circumstances but lifted up by his Holy Spirit to experience the faithfulness of God working in our most difficult moments. Praise God!