Choosing Gratitude

Here we are, just a few weeks from Thanksgiving, and amid Covid, it can feel like there isn’t much to be thankful for. Election worries, job loss, masks, pandemic sickness and death, limited travel, smaller gatherings, virtual school, working from home, supply issues at the grocery store, limited visitors at the hospital and nursing homes, bankrupt businesses, and more. We miss much of our old lives.

But God never left or stopped being in control. He never stopped taking care of us. He is still protecting us…haven’t we all enjoyed more time with our families? Fewer colds/flu/stomach bugs? Considerable financial assistance from the government as well as many free food drives? And of course, some industries have boomed during the pandemic such as residential real estate, home renovation, landscapers, grocery stores, courier and logistic services, and more.

No matter the circumstances, we can choose gratitude! Be reassured that Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11 that contentment can be learned

Philippians 4:11-12 (NIV)

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 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, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

Paul wrote these words while he was in jail! And the Roman jails of ancient times were not like the modern American jails. Prisoners would have been responsible for their clothes and food. It would have been dank, dark, cold, or hot, filled with vermin and rats, little or no access to medical care, etc. It would have been very depressing, scary, and uncomfortable.

A prison cell that Paul may have stayed in before his later execution

In Luke 17: 11-19, Jesus shares the story of his healing 10 lepers. Yet of the 10, only one came back to thank Him!

Luke 17:11-29 (NIV)

11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[a] met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

We can intentionally choose every day in all circumstances to be like that one Samaritan leper and thank God! Let us resist the temptations of the other 9, who even in good times, still didn’t thank Jesus for His mercy. Sometimes we have to make our body go through the motions of showing gratitude and let our heart catch up – and it will!

How to Learn Contentment for Ourselves

First off, what is contentment? Trevor Badorrek shared a great article on this topic. “In the New Testament, the Greek word for contentment (autarkeia) translates to “a perfect condition of life.” Scripture tells us that it is trusting God during both the peaks and valleys. Finding balance between chasing things and laziness. A virtue and discipline that is developed.” (Badorrek)

Hugh Welchel writes, “Paul’s secret is that he is always striving to do what God has called him to do. At the end of the day, he has done everything he could to be faithful to God’s call on his life…. There is no complacency in Paul’s contentment, and neither should there be in ours.” But once we give our best, give it over to God! There is so little we can control, but God has it all in hand! Trust him at all times!

Erik Raymond gives 5 signs that we are content:

  1. Silent Spirit
    • Anger, grumbling, and complaining to God represent inner turmoil and a lack of trust in God
  2. Thankful Spirit
    • The contented person blesses God when afflicted
  3. Cheerful Spirit
    • Are you cheerful even in bad circumstances? Contentment is more than patience.
  4. Not Bound by Circumstances
    • Contentment is shielded from ever changing circumstances. Paul said he was content in any and every circumstance.
  5. Rebellion and not waiting on God
    • A contented person waits on God and does not rush ahead of Him

I am so thankful this trait can be learned because I can struggle with contentment! Just the other day one of our kids forgot to turn off the faucet in their upstairs bathroom…and due to a slow drain, the bathroom flooded, which caused extensive water damage to both the upstairs and downstairs. This in turn ushered in large-scale, unexpected, home repairs. My initial thoughts after the accident were, “Why God? You could have stopped this?” Nevermind that God had given us lots of time to fix the slow drain and we had not!

But during the month-long process to get the house back in order, God reminded me of His love over and over again! Insurance took care of the majority of the expenses! Sam already had planned time off during part of the process! When we didn’t have any floors or ceiling and were down to 1 bathroom for 6 people without access to the kitchen for most of a week, we had beautiful weather! So it wasn’t a problem to have school in the garage and eat our meals outside! And despite the contractors’ busy schedule, they were able to squeeze us in and get our house repaired in just a week. All the flooring and other supplies were available when needed and the process went smoothly. And at the end of the day, our house looks better now than before the water incident. God makes all things work for the good!

A mature friend once told me that during her divorce, the only way she was able to get through it was by telling God, “Thank You” all day long. This simple act of praising and thanking God even during this dark time helped her immensely and can help us too!

How to Cultivate Gratitude in our Kids

We can consistently model gratitude year-round with our attitude and actions. Focus on the Family shared a great article on how to teach this beautiful character trait to our kids.

  1. Include Gratitude in Our Conversations
    • “Wow, I am so thankful God gave us beautiful weather today! I am so thankful God brought Daddy home safely today!” Include this at meals, before bedtime, and anytime during the day. It is beautiful to hear children give thanks and praise to God from their own thankful heart! How it must warm the heart of our Father!
  2. Show Gratitude Even Under Bad Circumstances
    • Find the bright spots in any given situation. When stopped in traffic, pray for those in car accidents and the first responders. Be thankful you were not in the accident. Our kids are always watching us and modeling our behavior. If they see us acting poorly when things don’t go our way, they will model this too. Conversely, if they see us acting positively no matter what, and drawing from God’s deep reserves, they may learn to do that instead! I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always do this well.
  3. Service & Awareness
    • Discuss how much need is in the world. Show pictures, watch videos, travel to developing countries, or even look for the needs in your community. Who are some people in your circle that are battling cancer? Lost jobs? In the midst of a divorce? Recent loss? How can we pray for them and be of help during their hardship? Attend the funeral? Bring flowers? Remember their birthday? Bring meals or give financially? Babysit, clean their house, or mow their grass? Visit them at the hospital? Help a coworker with their workload? The ideas are endless! Include your kids in your service and as they age, allow them to participate more. It is always neat to watch kids see needs and respond on their own!
  4. Practice Self Denial
    • When we learn to live minimally, it develops simple tastes…not to mention room in the budget, our closets, belts, and calendar! And it helps us to be that much more grateful when nice circumstances come our way! Be intentional and ask yourselves, what can our family give up or live without to develop this mindset of simplicity, generosity, and minimalism? A few times a year our family goes through closets to purge and give away toys, clothes, etc. to not only get in the mindset of generosity but also to regularly not get attached to stuff. At Easter this year, we decided to participate in Lent and give up sugar and electronics for a few weeks. It was such a small thing but helped us remember that Jesus had sacrificed everything for us – His life!
  5. Memorize Verses of Gratitude
    • A fun and easy AWANA verse our family has memorized is Psalm 118:1.

Resources

Here are additional tools on contentment:

  1. Charles Stanley Podcast

2. Focus on the Family articles

3. “Thank You Lord” song

4. Erik Raymond’s article for the Gospel Coalition

5. Thomas Watson’s book written in 1653, The Art of Divine Contentment

Conclusion

With God, contentment is possible! Trusting Him in all circumstances is not easy, but can be learned. Remember to thank God during the peaks like the Samaritan leper, as well as in the valleys when all seems dark and bleak. Paul teaches contentment can live in us no matter the circumstances. Go to God today and ask for victory over this struggle…I know I am! Thank you, Lord, for your abundant love, mercy, and provision! You deserve all our praise! Amen!

Edited by Allie Anson

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