As the month of Thanksgiving draws to a close, it is important to remember just what it means to be truly thankful. I will admit that for far too long, I treated giving thanks as an obligatory thing; something to get out of the way before getting to the important stuff. I began my prayers with thanks because I was taught you should always thank God before asking Him for something. I said grace before eating my food because it was the proper thing to do. My family never actually did this, but my in-laws would go around and say what they were thankful for before breaking into the Thanksgiving meal. Giving thanks was a hurdle to jump, a threshold to cross.
It is so much more than that, however. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 it says: “Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.” (MSG) Thanking God isn’t just a threshold; it’s an integral and necessary part of living in Christ. It’s the last directive in the series, not the first. And it’s something you do no matter what.
Paul wrote in Colossians 4:2-4: “Pray diligently. Stay alert, with your eyes wide open in gratitude. Don’t forget to pray for us, that God will open doors for telling the mystery of Christ, even while I’m locked up in this jail. Pray that every time I open my mouth I’ll be able to make Christ plain as day to them.” (MSG) Yes, Paul was writing about gratitude while in jail. He was in jail for professing his faith, and he remained grateful to God for everything. Pastor Flo asked how many of us would be willing to go to jail for professing our faith. It wasn’t an easy prospect to imagine. After all, jail sounds…uncomfortable, to say the least. And we’re supposed to be grateful while we’re there, too?
The focus of Sunday’s message came from 2 Kings 5, where the story is told of the King of Syria and his general, Naaman. Naaman was a highly valued servant of the king, and was afflicted with leprosy. When he learned from his wife’s captive maid about a prophet in Israel that could heal him, he immediately went to his boss and told him of this opportunity. The king of Syria sent gifts to the king of Israel in gratitude for healing Naaman before Naaman was even healed.
What’s the takeaway from this? Well, gratitude doesn’t have a time constraint. You don’t have to wait until after you’ve received your blessing to thank God for it. In fact, you should get in the habit of thanking God before receiving any of your blessings. How is it that we hold our thanks hostage until we’ve received what God graciously gives us? It is only because of God that we even have tongues to give thanks. We should re-condition ourselves to consider thanksgiving a constant and overarching principle, and not some sort of “payment” due God for bestowing a “service” upon us.
Back to Naaman: So Naaman went to Israel with a letter and extravagant gifts from his master, where Elisha the prophet told him to go wash in the Jordan in order to be healed. Well, he sent a messenger to tell Naaman, to be exact. Now, Naaman’s kind of a big deal. So this prophet first insults him by not even meeting him personally. Then he has the audacity, the unmitigated gall to tell him to go bathe in the filthy Jordan river. Naaman was fit to be tied.
Naaman’s servants straightened him out; telling him if he had been told to do something much more complicated, he wouldn’t have had any problem with it. Naaman got his head back in the game, washed himself in the Jordan seven times, and found his skin good as new. Not only was his leprosy cured, but his skin was restored to baby-softness.
What this means for us is that gratitude and thankfulness have restorative properties. When you live in a spirit of gratitude consistently and completely, you reap more than you even expect. So while we might be asking simply for leprosy to be cured, when we walk in gratitude, we might receive baby-soft skin. You don’t just get the dents smoothed out; you are restored to brand-new.
That is powerful; and when you think about it, it doesn’t make it all that far-fetched to imagine being grateful even while in an unfavorable situation, like jail. Because gratitude can do so much for you, why wouldn’t you adopt it during a time when you need a blessing the most? Now does it make sense?
What are some ways you can incorporate more thankfulness into your life? How has the spirit of thankfulness benefited you in the past? Would you be willing to go to jail for your faith, and can you imagine being grateful in that situation? What about any bad situation?