My ability to have gratitude has grown with my capacity to tell myself the truth. I used to think that offering the sacrifice of praise that the book of James recommends meant I had to pretend to be thankful for some really awful things. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 we read In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. So occasionally I would wind up my thanksgiving machine and thank God for things for which to this day I am not thankful.
What I have since learned about the sovereign hand of God and gratefulness is life changing, but really could only come at with the steady pace of spiritual growth God intends for all of us. In all things but not for all things, have I learned to be truly appreciative of God’s goodness. And I believe that it is absolutely God’s will for us to be thankful. Personal revelation from God tends to change our relationship to truth.
You see, I don’t believe that everything that happens in the world or in my life is God’s will. But I do believe that staying in His presence means learning to be glad in Him, whatever our circumstances may be. In fact, like the Israelites marching around Jericho’s wall, I find praise and thanksgiving to be weapons of mass instruction. If I stay in God’s presence, then insurmountable walls tumble. If I stay in God’s presence, I learn how to be free.
The month before I escaped my narcissistic and abusive husband for the final time, Jericho weighed on my mind. The previous year, I learned to lean into God’s presence and He set me so free on the inside, my ex-husband lost all power to emotionally harm me. Learning to be in God’s presence during that dark time saved me from the inside and it was time for the walls of my personal Jericho to come down.
I marched around our house seven times, shouting out praise to God. I still laugh because the dog and the cats followed me around all seven times, my own little animal army. They were so confused!
Now my spirit lives in a place of gratitude. What am I grateful for? Not the mental illness of my ex-husband or the trauma he inflicted on my daughters and me. Never those, because those are not in the will of God.
I am grateful for the fact of God. I am grateful that His word stands forever. I am soul satisfied that He is a rock in this whirlwind world upon which I can stand in confidence.
Everything else is gravy. After I finally figured out the God truly is sufficient in all circumstances, I began to see so many things as gifts. When difficult things occur, (and they always do) I know how to wait on the Lord. Gratitude is learning to dwell in the house of the Lord, forever. Gratitude is putting on the mind of Christ.
Now that my boundaries have fallen into pleasant lines, gratitude is living in mindfulness. I learn to live in the present. The past is gone and the future is unknown. Now is all I have, but what an eternal present I have, seated with Christ in the Heavenlies.
For me, mindfulness is really the most useful weapon I have in the battle to live in appreciation of what I have, seeing myself as lacking nothing. Right now, I am breathing. Right now, I feel the sun warm my skin. Some see heaven as residing in the bye and bye. That we don’t get to visit until death takes us there. But I think that is not quite true.
I think some live in a sort of hell right now. And others find heaven in even difficult circumstances. Negativity breeds more of the same. I remember plantings some lovely plants for a member of the family. I picked them out for their hardiness and beauty. I dug the holes for them and added compost to make a lovely home for their roots. The dark maroon leaves and the pink fringed blossoms looked gorgeous against the hillside. The response? Well, we will see if they survive.
That hurt my heart a little, the anticipation of failure, the prediction of death in the face of new life. But isn’t that what hell is? A dwelling in death, the complaint as prophetic.
If we live and move and have our being in God, then can’t heaven start now? I am not advocating some sort of spiritualized denial. Life on earth can be so painful. But scientific studies show brains on gratitude look better than brains on bitterness. Heathier.
Maybe putting on the mind of Christ is more literal than we thought. We choose to live in the presence of a loving God and our brains shift to look more like his. Isn’t that what heaven is? Living in His presence and finding ourselves like Him, all the sin and pain washed away.
Which is why the saints, burning at the stake, sang praises to God. It is the fact of Him. The reality that an anchor for our stormy souls really exists and is pleased to hold onto our frail lives is the true reason for immense gratitude.
So while I struggled with a man whose mental health was slipping fast and whose intentions towards me were evil, God camped in the midst of my spirit. He led me out of that wilderness, and though it was difficult, He kept me and my daughters safe, sheltered, fed and surrounded by friends. Hell might be all around me but the gratitude in my heart means my soul is planted in Heaven.
For the LORD will comfort Zion,
He will comfort all her waste places;
He will make her wilderness like Eden,
And her desert like the garden of the LORD;
Joy and gladness will be found in it,
Thanksgiving and the voice of melody. Isaiah 51:3
Sometimes I think that science will become a new arena of apologetics. This book is a great read and great for discussion with non-believers.
If you suffer from any mental illness or emotional difficulties, this a must read. I couldn’t put it down and still think about and implement some of the things I learned…
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