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Every night after I get into bed, I thank the Lord for three blessings. Sometimes, the items tumble out quickly: a friend’s encouraging letter, an unexpected source of income, a doctor’s favorable report. But after an exhausting day of disappointments, I struggle to name my blessings — even three of them.
Why, I wonder as I lay in the darkness, is it so hard to be thankful? Why is it so much easier to think of all that goes wrong in a day than of all that goes right? Mostly, I conclude, I need a lifestyle adjustment.
The gospels indicate that Jesus practiced a lifestyle of thankfulness. Like any devout Jew, he offered thanks to God before meals (Matthew 15:36; John 6:23). Before he raised Lazarus from the dead, Jesus prayed, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me” (John 11:41). And no doubt his solitary prayer sessions were filled with thanks (Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:35).
Jesus once praised a leper for returning to offer thanks, but the gospels don’t record one instance of Jesus telling his disciples or anyone else to be thankful. Does that surprise you?
Perhaps Jesus never mentioned gratitude — not even in the Beatitudes — because it came so naturally to him. How could he go to sleep each night without thanking his Father for all that had occurred during the day? How could he wake each morning without giving thanks for the rising sun and the opportunity to do his Father’s work? As the day unfolded, he must have often expressed gratitude for a sturdy boat, a cloudless sky, lilies along the roadside, tasty bread and fragrant wine. But according to the gospels, Jesus didn’t lecture about thankfulness. He lived it.
A Pattern for Thankfulness
How can we follow his example? August Storm’s hymn, “Thanks to God for My Redeemer,” provides a practical pattern of thankful living to follow. Not even a Google search reveals much about Storm, a Swede who served in the Salvation Army most of his adult life. But his lyrics demonstrate that he practiced thankfulness. Indeed, his words are a striking illustration of Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” Storm’s thanksgiving bubbles up in a seemingly random, childlike fountain of gratitude:
Thanks to God for my Redeemer,
Thanks for all Thou dost provide!
Thanks for times now but a memory,
Thanks for Jesus by my side!
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,
Thanks for dark and stormy fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten,
Thanks for peace within my soul!
Notice how he balances the profound with the ordinary — “Jesus by my side” and “peace within my soul” alongside “balmy springtime” and “stormy fall.” He is able to see all God’s provisions, both “tears by now forgotten” and “times now but a memory” as gifts of a sovereign, wise God.
Storm seems to have embraced the apostle Paul’s mindset, recorded in Philippians 4:11: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Like Paul, he thanks God for both pain and pleasure:
Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,
Thanks for what Thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered,
Thanks for all Thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,
Thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace that none can measure,
Thanks for love beyond compare!
Thanks for roses by the wayside,
Thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,
Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,
Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee!
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,
Thanks through all eternity!
Storm doesn’t shy away from life’s darkness. He is no Sammy Sunshine living in denial. He is a realist — a hopeful realist who finds reasons to rejoice every day. He knows God brings comfort in despair, and he recognizes that even life’s storms cannot stop God’s grace and love from flowing into our lives. He appreciates roses in spite of their thorns because they are a reflection of life: Joy and sorrow inevitably come, but God’s children have the hope of eternal life with Jesus.
I challenge you this Thanksgiving season to write a hymn of thanks to God. Storm’s rhythm and rhyme scheme are simple enough for aspiring poets, both young and old, to mimic.
It may be helpful to divide your thanks into categories:
- Everyday blessings. I’m thankful for the trees that bring shade and beauty to our yard. Have you ever thanked God for the pleasure of brushing your teeth or the ability to get out of bed each morning?
- Weekly blessings. I’m thankful for Monday morning Bible study with a group of like-minded women. Do you attend a small group or Sunday school class that encourages you each week? A family tradition of Bisquick pancakes on Saturday mornings is another reminder of God’s goodness to me.
- Material blessings. I don’t like receiving bills, but I’m grateful for the blessings those bills represent: warm showers, hot food, and Internet access. How about thanking God for the income he provides to pay your rent or mortgage?
- Outdoor blessings. Fourth of July fireworks always make me smile. The silent beauty of snowflakes cascading from the sky is another blessing. What do you prefer — God’s gift of a steamy July afternoon or the crispness of a November morning?
- Special life blessings. Celebrating birthdays with special foods and outings illustrates the privilege of family and friends. I enjoy both giving and receiving gifts. Do you have a favorite vacation or holiday spot? Thank God for creating it.
Remember, Paul told the Thessalonians to give thanks in all things. You may have recently lived through the worst day or season of your life — a loved one’s death, a spouse’s betrayal, a job loss, or a terminal medical diagnosis. God doesn’t ask us to be thankful for those hardships; he asks us to express our thanks for other blessings in the midst of those trials.
As Storm reminds us, we have “hope in the tomorrow” as we look forward to “heav’nly peace.” In the meantime, we have “Jesus by [our] side.” If we begin our Thanksgiving hymn with those three blessings, the Holy Spirit will help us add many more stanzas of thanks each day. Through his power, we’ll develop the lifestyle of thanksgiving that rises up as a sweet aroma to God.