It’s the time of year for giving thanks. But what if, rather than a short-lived season, we became obsessed with thanking God continually? One of the most life-changing books I’ve read is “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are” by Ann Voskamp. In it, she shares her story of personal suffering, and describes a friend’s challenge to write a list of one thousand blessings and how this simple act reoriented her perspective. I took the challenge myself a number of years ago and have never stopped listing blessings! My thankfulness list is nearing 3,000 and I have seen the difference the act of ongoing thankfulness has made in my life, and want to share what I’ve learned in my own journey of documenting thanks.
Intentional Noticing In order to give thanks, we have to slow down and notice the details. James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…” But do we perceive the gifts all around us? “I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and the song of crickets on humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives.” (Voskamp) The apostle Paul tells us: “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Col. 4:2). Notice that watchfulness is linked to thanksgiving. In order to give thanks, we must be watchful for God’s blessings, and his answers to prayer. Voskamp says, “I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry…Through all that haste I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away.”
A Learned Habit As we learn to slow down and pay attention, we begin to develop a new way of seeing. Like all new practices, this takes time and discipline. Voskamp writes, “Practice is the hardest part of learning, and training is the essence of transformation.” And this concept is biblical. Paul says, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…I can do all things through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:12-13). This is where the exercise of journaling thanks became especially powerful for me. It causes me to daily take note of the places I see God all around me.
Hand-in-Hand with Trust But it goes deeper, because true thankfulness is also closely tied to trust in God and surrender to Him. Notice what Hebrews says about thankfulness: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28-29). I give thanks for who God is…for the kingdom He is bringing. Voskamp describes it like this: “Humbly let go. Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control, let go of my own way, let go of my own fears…Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper a surprised thanks…Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will. And I can empty…I can empty because I am full of His love. I can trust.”
For Every Season This is of course where giving thanks gets gritty and challenging. It’s easy to praise God for the sunrise; much harder to praise Him at a graveside. And yet his word tells us to give thanks no matter what. “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is his will of God for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thess. 5:18). “I want to see beauty,” Voskamp says, “In the ugly, in the sink, in the suffering, in the daily, in all the days before I die, the moments before I sleep.” How honored the Lord is when our faith is proved genuine through our will choosing to thank him, despite our hard circumstances and emotions. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name” (Heb. 13:15). Sometimes thanking God feels like a sacrifice. Voskamp acknowledges, “Life change comes when we receive life with thanks and ask for nothing to change.”
For Our Good Science has shown over and over the benefits of giving thanks. The Bible has said it all along: “Do not be anxious about anything but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4: 6-7). Who doesn’t want a peaceful heart and mind? Over and over, our Creator commands what is best for us! “When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows.” (Voskamp) In this season of thanksgiving, begin a new habit—count your blessings and watch the joy-filled act of thankfulness multiply exponentially until it transforms your whole life!