Being thankful is easy, except when we are flooded with pain. Being thankful is easy once that passes, until notice we don’t have something we want. Once we receive that, then we can be thankful—until we see something better.
God calls us to be a thankful people. However, more than often we are like the Israelites—a complaining, grumpy people. If there’s something wrong, something not quite to our liking, we will find it and we will most likely announce it. Sometimes we grit our teeth and force our lips into something like a smile, and think, “Just look at the positive side of things!”
But forced optimism is not what the Bible calls us to. It calls us to thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is not just a positivity when you’re fuming on the inside, but thanksgiving is a disposition of the heart in which we truly grateful despite our circumstances. Though we may feel pain, we still have joy from God due to our gratitude to Him.
What happens when we are contented? What benefit does gratitude bring? It is interesting to see that in the midst of many of our pressing difficulties and struggles against sin, a thankful heart may be a great place to start in dealing with them.
Putting Off Sin
But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving thanks.” Ephesians 5:3-4 NASB
When temptation rolls in, it is because we want something we don’t have or we are getting something we do not want. The adulteress wants someone who doesn’t make so many messes and mistakes, or the porn addict wants to feel good, or the anxious person is worried about losing something precious to them. Many sins can be summed up by raging desires. These desires may not necessarily be bad, but when we want something enough to sin, then it is wrong.
This is where thanksgiving comes in: If we were thankful for what we had, perhaps those desires would not become sinful. Consider a person who steals; if he was satisfied with what God had already given him, he would not seek to take more. If our hearts are contented with how God has blessed us, we are prone to sin less. Though being thankful is not the complete solution to your sin problem, it may be a helpful place to start in putting off your sin. Ask yourself: What am I wanting that I am not getting (or being told not to take) that is leading to sin? How can I be thankful for what I do have rather than complain about what I do not have?
A Comfort In Trials
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4 NASB
According to James, we can be thankful in trials because God will use them to bring about endurance and to sanctify us. Even more importantly, God is glorified in such growth.
Though your suffering may seem so overwhelming and unbearable in this moment, you can look back at the amazing grace God has shown you, “who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Furthermore, you can look forward past your suffering to “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).
This is not mere positive thinking. This is a heavenward gaze combined with a longing to glorify God at all times. When your heart is rooted firmly in the desire to glorify God, you can find a reason to be thankful for what He’s doing in the middle of your suffering. And through such thankfulness, you can find true joy.
If you would like to read more on finding joy in suffering, Women’s Hope Project has a short study on affliction and suffering that you can read through.
Contented in Christ
As I said before, this is not merely positive thinking or some sort of cognitive-behaviour therapy. In those, the end goal is your happiness and your fulfillment. But with this biblical thankfulness, your sight is taken off yourself and focused on Christ—you desire to bring Him glory and to be fully satisfied in Him.
Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-13 that this is truly the secret to contentment:
Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13 NASB
We can find true contentment in Christ. When all we want is to know Him more and to serve Him through everything we say and do, then we can find peace in any circumstance knowing that He is using it to glorify Himself, and we can put off sin because He is all we desire. When we are fully contented in Christ, we desire nothing less than Him.
A Lifelong Journey
Though being thankful and contented in Christ is a simple solution, it is not a quick fix. Because of our sinful nature still resides in us, this will be a struggle. Being fully contented in Christ is the lifelong project of the believer until the day of glorification. However, this should not be a reason to give up or be discouraged. Instead, we must continue to press on towards the goal, seeking to be obedient to Christ in every way.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:15-17 NASB