‘One Foot in the Grave’ characater Victor Meldrew said:
Well, that’s that over for another year. The joyous ritual of our annual pilgrimage to see great-aunt Joyce. Gets more like entering a mummy’s tomb every time we go there. … Still, these’ll be a real godsend, won’t they! A pair of gloves with six fingers in each hand. Trying to tell me I’d grow into them. What’s she going to knit for me next time, a balaclava with two heads? (Only a Story, #5.2, 1995)
On another occasion, after complaing and moaning about being stuck in a traffic jam for a lnog time, be concludes:
I wish I was dead!
To which his wife in the car beside him replied:
I wish you were dead. Then we might get some peace. (The Beast in the Cage, #3.4, 1992)
How can Christians avoid being grumpy? It’s simple, just be thankful! How can we be thankful when situations are not great? And why should we be thankful when circumstances do not naturally make us happy?
Firstly, God commands that we be thankful:
Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NLT)
And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:20, NLT)
That might be easy when the going is good. But what about when it is difficult? We are told that all things work together for the good of God’s people, even if we don’t know how (Romans 8:28). We can give thanks to God for how he will use every circumstance.
We ought to be thankful. Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one was thankful (Luke 17:11-19). A courageous man once resuced seventeen people from a sinking ship in Lake Michigan. When asked years later what particularly stood out in his mind, he replied that not one person thanked him for saving them.
Corrie ten Boom in The Hiding Place relates an incident that taught her always to be thankful. She and her sister, Betsy, had just been transferred to the worst German prison camp they had seen yet, Ravensbruck. On entering the barracks, they found them extremely overcrowded and flea-infested. That morning, their Scripture reading in 1 Thessalonians had reminded them to rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances. Betsy told Corrie to stop and thank the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters. Corrie at first flatly refused to give thanks for the fleas, but Betsy persisted, and Corrie finally succumbed to her pleadings. During the months spent at that camp, they were surprised to find how openly they could hold Bible study and prayer meetings without guard interference. It was not until several months later that they learned the reason the guards would not enter the barracks was because of the fleas.[i]
Even after personal tragedy, godly Job in the Old Testament was able to say, after losing his wealth, his house and his children:
“I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The LORD gave me what I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD!” (Job 1:21, NLT)
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll—Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well with my soul.”
“This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:12, NIV-84)
But also, Christians are blessed themselves when they thank God. Scientists have noted the benefits of being thankful, or having and attitude of gratitude:
- Stronger immune systems
- Less bothered by aches and pains
- Lower blood pressure
- Exercise more and take better care of their health
- Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking
- It lessens worry
- It strengthens memory for older people
- Higher levels of positive emotions
- More alert, alive, and awake
- More joy and pleasure
- More optimism and happiness (reduces depression)
- More helpful, generous, and compassionate
- More forgiving
- More outgoing
- Feel less lonely and isolated isolated[ii]
While people in general can be grateful, when they have much to be grateful for, although atheists aren’t grateful to God, the benefits of being grateful apply most when there is much to be depressed about, at face value. At such times, unbelievers don’t have much reason to be grateful. Yet, Christians can be grateful even during the most difficult of circumstances. They therefore benefit the most, when such benefit is needed. Being grateful to God helps our mental health, as well as our physical and and emotional health.
We can become better at thanking God practically in different ways:
- Thank God by counting your blessings instead of your problems.
- Thank God by reviewing past blessings (keeping a personal spiritual journal is very helpful for this).
- Thank God for your relationship with him, if you have trusted in Jesus.
- Thank God for your glorious future, even if your present situation is difficult.
- Thank God that he is bringing more people to know him over time, that he is a saving God.
- Thank God that he is a good God.
- Start each day with a prayer of thanksgiving.
- Instead of moaning at something, like Victor Mildrew, find something to be thankful for.
- If you are blessed by others, focus on the giver rather than the gift – focus on them instead of how yourself and how you have benefited.
- Be grateful, and you will soon feel grateful and more joyful.
But we must always remember that we can only expect God to hear our prayers (Isaiah 1:15-20), and answer our prayers (Matthew 7:7-11), if we have placed our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ beforehand (John 1:12), by which we are reconciled to God the Father (Romans 5:11), and have open access to him in prayer (Hebrews 4:16), and can thank him as we look forward to when there will be no more pain, suffering or sin (Revelation 21:1-4).
[i] Michael P. Green, ed., Illustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 Sermon Illustrations Arranged by Topic and Indexed Exhaustively (Revised edition of: The expositor’s illustration file.; Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989).