If you would have asked me a dozen years ago what it means to live in a spirit of gratefulness, my answer would have been, Remember every day the things for which you are grateful, and thank God for them. Today, I know it means so much more. Actually living in gratefulness is an attitude, a choice that leads to contentment and joy.
Gratefulness is necessary for joy.
Many years ago I endured a brief health crisis, a life-changing event. I was in torment, unable to sleep and barely speak for five days and nights. It felt as if God had abandoned me. I cried out to him, exclaiming that I knew he was with me because he promised he would never leave. “I don’t trust my feelings. You are a God who keeps his promises, so I know you are here!” At the end of the fifth day God suddenly ended my torment and I made a full recovery, despite the bewilderment of numerous medical doctors. God was merciful! A thousand thank-you’s could never express my gratitude. I am just. So. Grateful.
Through that experience God’s message to me was simple and concise, and I’ve continued to share it as simply as it was delivered: There is always hope.
Diminished to a vulnerable, helpless state, I had no recourse but to stand on God’s promise. In my darkest hour the torment shifted my perspective. In some ways, my suffering was a gift, although it took me many years to fully embrace that concept. In the end, I don’t know why God was merciful and chose to heal me when others are far more deserving. But I am eternally grateful!
A journey of growth through hard lessons, whether brought on by our own sin and poor choices or through no fault of our own, can cultivate a grateful heart. A joyous path, including positive efforts and good choices, doesn’t promise life will be spent high on a mountain where trouble will not find us. We cannot always control our circumstances, nor can we control the choices of others. So trouble will come. It is our response to life issues and tough situations that will influence the end result. Through pain and suffering we grow. No one is exempt from hard times.
Choices we make in life will affect our direction and even influence others along the way. In counseling and coaching I often ask people about their goals. Life isn’t just about reaching the destination; the journey counts! Imagining our time on earth as one journey, the ultimate destination for Christians must be Heaven. The promise of living in eternity with our Father can be a great motivator. For some, life will be extremely difficult. But we were designed by God, and he wants us to focus on him instead of our circumstances. There we find contentment.
The Book of Philippians in the New Testament shares Paul’s incredible account while shackled in a dungeon. Survival in prison at that time meant persevering through intense, often brutal, hardship. So how did Paul respond to his grim circumstances? He stayed connected to God. And he wrote. Paul sent letters to ministers and churches, encouraging them to hold on to joy. I find this book an amazing testament to Paul’s character and his commitment to God, in spite of his situation. Thousands of years later his words encourage us to persevere through the toughest of times, choosing a positive attitude and love for others.
Paul lived in a spirit of gratefulness during his capture, which radiated to the outside world. Those prison walls couldn’t bar the omnipotence of God. I imagine Paul reflected daily on the day God approached him on his way to Damascus and removed his sight. After three agonizing days God restored Paul’s sight and he would be forever changed, seeing differently. When God reveals himself in a way that is not to be denied or mistaken, it becomes a life-altering event. (When we witness his outpouring mercy, we see an undeserving sinner. God see’s his child.) Paul’s mind wasn’t locked in on his awful circumstances in prison; his sight was on the eternal. Paul had more concern for others than for himself, and he was driven to serve, regardless of the cost.
Through Paul’s example God shows us we can be content regardless of our circumstances – the key to joy.
A dear minister friend and mentor once told me, “When you’ve got nothing else to celebrate, you can still celebrate Jesus.” There is always hope, as long as there is a God of Hope.
My personal life Scripture (Phil. 4:8), if I had to choose just one, helps me focus and keep a perspective that is helpful in good times and bad. These words echo from inside a miserable dungeon:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think (dwell) about these things.” Philippians 4:4-8
I have spent a lifetime trying to understand the full grace of Jesus for the wretched sinner in me. To receive his unconditional love, and then to have experienced God’s mercy in this world, draws me closer to a very real God. He reveals himself to us every day. With child-like faith you will be able to see glimpses of him. Look for it. Do you feel his nudge? Be encouraged, friends. Rest in knowing Jesus reigns!
What helps you hold on to joy when life gets hard?
How do you stay focused?
(Leave a comment below.)