You wake up late and rush through the morning. You haven’t had your coffee, cereal is all over the floor, and the children are screaming. It’s hard to be thankful.

An opportunity you really wanted didn’t work out. You feel hurt, dejected, and maybe even, forgotten by God. It’s hard to be thankful.

You’re pouring yourself into your commitments. Despite your best effort, you see no change, and instead, encounter frustration, stress, and exhaustion. It’s hard to be thankful.

Despite these relatable scenarios, I’m learning the secret to contentment isn’t necessarily a change in circumstances—it’s a change in perspective. Actually, it’s living each day with thankfulness.

In the often memorized verses of Philippians 4:6-7, Paul writes, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace…” (NLT, emphasis mine). It’s easy to focus on the prayer and petition part and miss Paul’s encouragement to be thankful. Because let’s face it: Life can give us ample reasons to petition to God.

The Bible says that in this world, we will know hardship. It can span from everyday trials to far graver situations. There can be “thorns” in our side, thorns that no matter how much we pray, sometimes remain and inflict pain. I know those thorns, those challenge-me-to-my-core and all-I-can-do-is-fall-on-my-knees issues, and Paul did too. 

Paul writes Philippians as a man who has known great hardship: persecution, imprisonment, beatings. Yet, he professes to be someone who has learned to be content in all circumstances. His contentment flows from a deep-seated conviction that God will never leave him, and his purpose will be fulfilled through him. This kind of man would not advocate a Pollyanna-world kind of thanksgiving. Paul is advocating thankfulness from the trenches. 

Are you in the trenches today? Thanksgiving not only pleases God, but it’s beneficial to us. It can help us.

Shift your perspective away from your problems and toward your blessings.

It’s so easy to focus on the things we don’t have rather than the many things we do! When we cultivate a thankful heart, we learn not to  take anything for granted. It’s often the blessings we take for granted that can hurt the most when we lose them, so why not actually enjoy and appreciate them now?

Strengthen your faith by acknowledging God’s continued work in your life.

A pastor from my youth advised me to keep a journal of my prayers and how God answers them in my life. He wanted this record to serve as a reminder that God is faithful whenever I encounter trials. Our thankfulness for past deliverance can inspire a present trust. It’s fascinating to realize that Paul wrote most of the New Testament from a prison cell. Those letters in what seemed like a dark time have gone on to bring light to generations of believers.

Draw closer to your heavenly Father, the Giver of every good gift.

I love meditating on James 1:17, “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father…” God not only wants to bless us richly but promises to work all things for our good. This kind of unconditional love and support is the greatest blessing we can know. Thankfulness is a way of speaking to our hearts and understanding the true nature of the Giver.

These benefits fall right in line with the peace Paul promises in Philippians. They promote a spirit of fortitude that’s not circumstantial but grounded solely in a relationship with God. What a valuable gift! As 1 Thessalonians 5:18 states, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” That’s sometimes a tall order, but always a liberating one.

The month of Thanksgiving is a good time to take inventory. It reminds me that I don’t want to offer thanks cheaply; I want to grow a truly grateful heart. One way I try to do that in my family is by each person saying three things they’re grateful for in the car on the way to school. This practice helps to frame our day intentionally. It also helps to build thankfulness like a muscle, for daily repetition helps!

God’s offer of peace is our prize; it serves as a grounding skill that benefits us now and will serve my children in the future when life’s curveballs come their way. But reflecting upon apostle Paul’s life further inspires me, for a Christian who knows the power of thankfulness is wise, but the one who actually lives it is unstoppable—and that’s the kind of Christian I want to be.

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