By Pastor Rob Bloss
The next footsteps in the corridor, he knew, might be those of the guards taking him away to his execution. His only bed was the hard, cold stone floor of the dank, cramped prison cell. Not an hour passed when he was free from the constant irritation of the chains and the pain of the iron cutting into his wrists and legs.
Separated from friends, unjustly accused, brutally treated—if ever a person had a right to complain, it was this man, languishing almost forgotten in a harsh Roman prison. But instead of complaints, his lips rang with words of praise and thanksgiving!
The man was the Apostle Paul—a man who had learned the meaning of true thanksgiving, even in the midst of great adversity. Earlier, when he had been imprisoned in Rome, Paul wrote, “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:19-20, NIV).
Always giving thanks for everything—no matter the circumstances! Thanksgiving for the Apostle Paul was not a once-a-year celebration, but a daily reality that changed his life and made him a joyful person in every situation.
Paul is not the only contributor to the Bible who encourages an attitude of thankfulness, rooted in God’s blessings, and His eternal promises. King David was a man who experienced the highs and the lows of this world. He started as the youngest brother and a lowly shepherd, becoming the hero of his people, hunted by his king, then made king himself. He had an affair and lost the baby. His oldest son turned against him, and that son also had to die for David to return to his throne.
Even during the lowest points of his life, David’s Psalms are full of praise and thanksgiving. He declared, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Psalm 107:1). David could thank God for the good things in life when he had them, and for God’s eternal love and goodness when he had nothing.
Our eyes turn to gratitude next week with Thanksgivings likely to be lonelier. I know this is why many have broken with tradition and decorated for Christmas much earlier than normal. I don’t agree, but I get it! You’re looking for something shiny and bright. You want something to sing about. You need some Good News!
In 2020, the world has faced a multitude of calamities all at once. From COVID-19, to political unrest, and financial hardships, it seems harder to find the blessings for which to be thankful. Everything seems chaotic and uncertain. Focusing on blessings can seem difficult…
But I know you know this: Nothing turns us into bitter, selfish, dissatisfied people more quickly than an ungrateful heart. And nothing will do more to restore contentment and the joy of our salvation than a true spirit of thankfulness.
God made us. We are made in His image. So long before doctors and psychologists figured this out, God knew that it was more blessed to give. He knew our cultivating an attitude of gratitude, would transform our lives. The results are scientifically proven.
1. Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Not only does saying “thank you” constitute good manners but showing appreciation can help you win new friends.
2. Gratitude improves physical health. Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people.
3. Gratitude improves psychological health. Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.
4. Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression.
5. Grateful people sleep better!
6. Gratitude increases mental strength and may play a major role in overcoming trauma. Recognizing all that you have to be thankful for —even during the worst times—fosters resilience.
On a personal note…
One year ago, we were celebrating our first worship service in our new building. That seems like such a long time ago! It’s surreal to be drawn back to that memory of a day that overflowed with so much energy and excitement, with so much joy.
I’ll confess that I’ve had moments where I have teetered on the edge of bitterness, my heart anxious and beating with the regret of unmet expectations and dashed dreams. I’ve needed, really needed, the benefits of giving thanks! To stop and count my blessings, pause and savor the amazing grace of God, to open my eyes to see His light in the midst of the darkness, and to give thanks for the greatest Gift ever given, for the Good News of Jesus Christ. And, to give thanks for those around me, including each of you.
Thank you for enduring this season of such challenge and change at Covenant. Thank you for hanging in there, for being gracious and generous and faithful. I count it an incredible privilege to work with our gifted staff, to partner with our elders and deacons/deaconesses, and to be part of Covenant. I give thanks for all of you and pray for you constantly.