Slightly over a year ago on 1 Dec 2014, my wife and I were having dinner with a Korean missionary couple and the subject of Thanksgiving came up as the Americans had just celebrated it. He said his church in America had encouraged him to make it personal by listing down the things that he is thankful for at the end of each year. He encouraged me to do likewise and to make it a habit.
So armed with my Evernote, I started ambitiously by having a goal of listing down 500 things I am thankful for in 2014. It was hard going at some points but for the next 30 days, I started writing. By the time 31 Dec 2014 arrived, I had completed my list of 500. I was amazed that I did have 500 things that I am thankful for!
At the end of 2015 last year, I decide to slow down a little by targeting 100. I would like to chew on each item a little longer so that I can savour and linger on the blessing and grace of God over the last twelve months. What have I learnt from these exercises?
The psalmist exhorts us to “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;” (Psalm 100:4a) Being thankful and contented is a virtue. Thankfulness is reflected throughout all of Paul’s letters. Despite being a man who had borne the brunt of persecutions, sufferings, hardship, dangers, poverty, rejections and even when he wasn’t healed of a lifelong ailment, he remained in a state of thankfulness. His assurance from God was “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:7-8).
This heart of thanksgiving is encapsulated in this exhortation: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thes. 5:16-18) It is easy to give thanks when things are good. We see that all the time on social media. Rarely have I seen someone who gives thanks when things are going wrong. Except one in the recent weeks where a brother gave thanks to God for his wife who had just gone home to be with the Lord due to cancer. His facebook post: “It has been 11 days since my beloved went to be with the Lord. She is walking and leaping and praising God and I am so happy for her. It still leaves me in a place of loneliness and aching heart but I am OK because my God is supplying all that I need.”
It is not always easy to give thanks in ALL circumstances, but this is precisely the thing we must do to experience God’s grace in our lives. Two things happen when we inculcate a heart of thanksgiving. First, it breaks the power of the enemy over us. It is a powerful weapon of spiritual warfare. When we are thankful we invite God’s pleasure over us and the enemy no longer has any ability to hold or manipulate us in our discouragement, despair or anger. We begin to learn to ask not so much of the WHY-is-this-happening in our circumstances but the WHAT-can-we-learn. We may never know or control the whys but we can certainly decide to learn from the whats.
Second, thanksgiving brings contentment. Apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy was “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Tim. 6:6) He reminded the young man that they came into the world with nothing and will take nothing out. As long as they have food and clothing, they ought to be contented. Elisabeth Elliot who faced the tragedy of losing a husband in the mission field was quoted as saying “Discontent dries up the soul.” She wrote "To love God is to love His will. It is to wait quietly for life to be measured by one who knows us through and through. It is to be content with His timing and His wise apportionment.”
Another obstacle to contentment is that we tend to compare upwards. We look at what we don’t have rather than what we have. One of the easiest ways to die to that is get involved with people who are less fortunate than us. Some of the finest people I know are people who are serving the poor and the less fortunate. The poor have a way of reminding us how blessed and fortunate we are. Never wish we could be someone else or compare ourselves with them. Be happy with or learn to accept who you are because you cannot change that.
Therefore here’s a practical way to start you going, by writing your thanksgiving list before year end. What a great way to end the year by re-aligning our attitude and start with hope. By all means, list down the blessings, but avoid the temptation to ignore the failures, losses, missteps or defeats. Pause when you need to for some items. Often the journey may be more important than the destination as it is God’s way of moulding us for what He is preparing us for.
The Lord reminded me that we can go one step further. We can be instrumental in helping someone be thankful. Last week at a shopping mall, as I was waiting for my turn to pay at the parking token machine, I notice this elderly Malay gentleman hesitating in front of me in the queue. He was holding a RM 100 bill and he said he had no smaller bills. He didn’t know whether the machine will accept it. I told him to give it a go. The machine displayed RM6 as the amount owing and upon inserting his RM100 bill and it was rejected. Instinctively, I took out a RM10 bill from my wallet, inserted it into the machine and gave him the paid token. He didn’t have time to react but I could see his concerned face break into a smile and insisting on paying me at least with the other one ringgit bill he had. I walked away saying “No need, it’s my pleasure.” The phrase “It is more blessed to give than receive.” (Acts 20:35) flashed in my mind. No doubt it is something small and probably insignificant. But if that man was to write a thanksgiving list, he may write about the stranger who helped him pay RM6 in that time of his need. The Lord reminded me to be listed on someone else’s thanksgiving list.