Thanksgiving is one of the foundational principles of living by faith,
“Always be joyful, pray continuously, in all things give thanks, for this is God’s desire for you in Christ Jesus.”1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NRSV)
Years ago, I read a fascinating article called “How the New Science of Thank You Can Change Your Life.” Apparently, scientific research has now been able to prove what God has been teaching people since the days of Cain: practicing gratitude can actually make us healthier – literally!!
Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at UC Davis, was able to prove, in his lab, that being thankful can change us for the better. He took three groups of volunteers and assigned each group to focus on one thing:
- The first group concentrated on everything that went wrong, or irritated them.
- The second group homed in on situations they felt made their lives better.
- The third group was asked to think about ordinary life events.
After the experiment was over, the people who focused on gratitude discovered they were happier – in fact, the difference was so noticeable that others recognized it too. We will
- sleep better.
- be more enthusiastic, more interested, more determined.
- be less materialistic, less apt to connect life satisfaction with material things.
- be more energetic and actually exercise more.
- feel more optimistic and joyful, better resilience during tough times.
- be more likely to share what we have with others.
- have fewer headaches and colds and a stronger immune system.
- be less envious, less anxious, less prone to feel the blues and less stressed.
- be more alert and active.
- be more likely to help other people.
- actually live longer.
- have closer family ties.
- have a deeper spirituality.
And if we are willing to stick to it, being thankful, practicing gratitude, we will realize we are making progress toward our life goals.
Paul was no stranger to pain and hardship. He knew what it was to be hated, persecuted, beaten and left for dead. He did time in prison, dealt with chronic physical disability, and extended emotional distress. Sometimes, Paul was left holding the bag, when all his friends and fellow workers simply abandoned him. There was a lot about his life that you and I might find hard to be grateful for.
So how could Paul even write this sentence to the believers in Thessalonica? How in the world are we to remain joyful and give thanks when the person closest to us has betrayed us? When we’re facing an incurable disease, or live with constant pain? When our hopes or dreams are crushed? When someone close to us is dying? When we lose something, or someone, and we wonder how we’re going to make it, now? When we are facing ruin, or disaster, or calamity?
Let us look at what Paul wrote, again,
Always be joyful pray continuously in all things give thanks1 Thessalonians 5:16 (NRSV)
But, you might be thinking, but sometimes it feels like God is not answering my prayers.
Why did God not prevent this awful thing that is happening? I asked God to, I saw it coming.
Why does God not provide for my bills? I work hard, I am doing the best I can, but God seems not to care.
Why will God not give me a friend when I am so lonely? I reach out, I am nice to everyone. But here I am, still alone.
Why has God not healed me, or at least given me some relief from my suffering?
I have been on my knees, pleading with God in tears. I am at my most vulnerable, and I feel like nothing is happening. So what is the point of praying continuously?
Here is the point.
When you and I have Jesus’ Spirit within us, then He is there, with us.
The Lord is here. He is with us. His comfort, His strength, His compassion, His encouragement. When you and I pray continuously, we are remembering we are not alone, and we can survive even this because God is with us, and in us. God has wisdom for this moment, the Lord has courage and wherewithal for what we are experiencing.
Sometimes you and I are not asking the right questions and we are not looking for the answers that God is giving. Sometimes the answer is something we do not want to hear. Part of the reason is that you and I might be looking at prayer in a misinformed way. We are using the consumer mentality which has a list of things we have decided are good and we should have.
When God does not deliver, it feels like rejection, does it not?
Yet, God has our ultimate good, our eternal good, in mind, as well as God’s glory and God’s ultimate plan for all creation. Every prayer is weighed against God’s glory, and this good.
So what can we pray, then?
In a spirit of joyfulness, in a spirit of thanksgiving, when everything seems to be going up in flames?
Can we cry?
Is it okay to be sad, or angry, or afraid?