I will never forget pulling away from a leprosy colony in Southern India the summer of 2003. I was 13 then and had just helped my family conduct a worship service for a couple dozen Christians in the colony.
As our car bumped along the terrifyingly narrow, one-lane mountain road, I vividly remember looking at my fingers, studying them for a couple of moments and then letting my gaze fall to my feet, and then to my toes. That quiet moment felt like it lasted forever as I became lost in my thoughts. I softly whispered, “Thank you, God, that I have fingers and toes.”
My view of thankfulness radically changed that day.
It is a way of life
Thanking God isn’t just a prayer before dinner; it is a way of life. I realized that nothing is guaranteed to me—not even the limbs on my body. As we walked among the lepers in India, my 13-year-old eyes fell upon limbs rotting away as people still lived. My narrow, westernized view of what life owed me shattered, and I realized that I had never thanked God for the simple, beautiful blessings I have surrounding me each and every day.
To have the ability to stop within the craziness of life and thank God for the breeze, the trees, the beauty of sunlight, the ability to walk, even to see—it’s a life-giving spiritual discipline that can easily be overlooked. Chuck Swindoll, a well-known American pastor, said that thankfulness is a decision of the will—one which takes work.
God created us to live a life of thankfulness. 1 Thessalonians 5 calls believers to give thanks in every circumstance. This is not Jesus’ idea of a self-help theory. He knew that thankfulness does something to our very being, to our soul. It psychologically and spiritually decreases stress, anxiety, and worry.
It removes worry, fear and anxiety
I am currently working toward an advanced degree in counseling, and the more I study, the more I realize that training oneself to live a life saturated in thankfulness is one of the greatest ways to remove worry, fear and anxiety. This is not merely a psychological tool. It is a spiritual reality discussed in Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (emphasis added).
The passage doesn’t end there. It goes on to say that after we have presented our requests, worries and anxieties to God (which, by the way, shows a trust in His sovereignty and His will for one’s life), peace that transcends our understanding is promised! That is a beautiful, exciting and powerful promise.
It changes the way we see challenges.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian who was killed in a Nazi Concentration camp for opposing Hitler, once said, “It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” If a man persecuted and living in a concentration camp is able to utter those words, then may we all be prompted to remember all of the things—both small and large—that God has bestowed upon us, and thank Him for them.
Pastor and author John MacArthur sums it up aptly: “A thankful heart . . . stands in stark contrast to pride, selfishness, and worry. And it helps fortify the believer’s trust in the Lord and reliance of His provision, even in the toughest times. No matter how choppy the seas become, a believer’s heart is buoyed by constant praise and gratefulness to the Lord.”
Would you join me this month and intentionally thank God for something different each day? Try it out for a while—I guarantee it will forever change your ability to see beauty amidst pain, suffering, and even the humdrum of daily living.