“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Christian scholar Robert C. Roberts has written: “The Christian Faith is characterized by gratitude, a feeling of delight and intellectual excitement that our world is not only created by God but nourished by his gracious presence.”
I don’t know about you, but if I’m being confessionally honest I sometimes struggle with gratitude. Ok, let’s just be frank – I can be downright ungrateful. People can frustrate and disappoint me. My expectations aren’t met. My needs don’t get the priority they deserve. My social media posts don’t get enough likes. My work colleagues don’t pull their weight. I’m not paid what I’m worth. My house isn’t big enough.
Of course, this isn’t really how I feel (much) but, especially during Advent and Christmas Season, I can’t help but catch myself sometimes forgetting how enormously blessed we all are. Blessed to be alive, blessed to know suffering, blessed to know love, blessed to be transformed by the presence of God.
Blessings and Gratitude
These blessings are the source and foundation of gratitude. And gratitude grounded in the strength of God’s favor – regardless of our circumstances – can forge faith stronger than iron, unshakeable even in the face of adversity.
How, exactly, does gratitude deepen and strengthen our faith? In many ways, gratitude is like strenuous exercise, building our spiritual muscles the more we use it. In times of plenty, when our prayers are answered and we feel the bounty of God surrounding us, faith can be relatively effortless. We thank God for His goodness, but our gratitude requires little from us. Kind of like doing arm curls with 5 lb weights.
As Rick Warren has put it, “Anybody can thank God for good things.”
But what happens when times are not so good — when things just don’t seem to make sense, when events are spinning out of control? A sudden illness, the death of a loved one, fierce prayers answered with silence, when nothing is going the way we planned. Where is our gratitude in those moments?
“Thanks sir, may I have another?”
It seems counterintuitive to offer gratitude in times of pain and hardship, almost like Kevin Bacon’s character in Animal House assuming the position and exclaiming “Thank you sir, may I have another?” as arch-nemesis Doug Neidermeyer wields a huge paddle over and over again. But in a sense, this is precisely what God asks of us.
Gratitude in times of hardship stretches our faith beyond any capacity we ever imagined. As our spiritual faith strengthens, the roots of that faith grow deeper, more firmly planted in the “good soil” Jesus refers to in Matthew 13:8. When we offer our thanks to God as the prophet Jeremiah did in the midst of his imprisonment by King Nebuchadnezzar, God responds with “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27)
In the midst of our most dire circumstances, when we face the seemingly impossible, that’s when our gratitude should be its most impactful. It is in these times we should recall David’s words from Psalm 18: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer.”
The Ultimate Test
The ultimate test of our faith is exactly in the moments we think God has turned away (or, perhaps even doubt He was ever there). When hope seems gone, the future bleak, the promises we held close now broken, that’s when we should lift up our hearts to God in thanks, grateful that He is bigger than any problem we have, greater than any adversary.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom … I will rejoice in the God of my Salvation,” exclaims the prophet Habakkuk. In our darkest hours of waiting and fear, God hasn’t abandoned us. He remains where He has always been, standing right beside us ready to fill our hearts with His passion and lift us from the miry clay of our sorrow.
Paul writes in Colossians 2:7, “Sink your roots in him and build on him. Be strengthened by the faith that you were taught, and overflow with thanksgiving.”
As this Advent season approaches its climax, remember the power of gratefulness even in the darkest nights. When we feel we’ve lost everything, let’s be thankful for the very breath we draw. Look for what we still have rather than what we don’t.
Sink your roots into the deep bedrock of faith, being grateful for God just being Himself and knowing He works all things to the good of those who love Him.