Years ago I had the privilege of teaching a class for third graders in the afternoons and I remember giving them an assignment asking them to write down all the things they were thankful for. It was a blast reading their responses, but it was even more fun to watch them brighten as they recognized all the ways they were blessed.
The reality is no one’s life is perfect. At any given moment, we can all list off several areas of our lives that we wish were different or better, but what about all the blessings we already have? Life is a mixed bag of days where we are on top of the world and other days where we are face-down in the mud!
The question is what perspective are we going to choose in those moments?
1. Learn to Be Content
I like what Paul says in Philippians 4:11-12 when he states, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”
Twice Paul uses the word “learned” to describe the process of arriving at contentment. Notice, he’s not living in denial about the down times; instead, Paul is acknowledging both the good and the bad. You see, it’s the full experience of life, the ups and the downs, that should cause us to appreciate what we’ve been given.
It reminds me of a statement that President Nixon said in his final speech as he was stepping down in disgrace from his presidency: “Only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.” How true.
When we have an eternal perspective, versus a temporal one, our entire mindset and attitude about our circumstances are different. That’s why Paul’s next statement is so important: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). That verse is encouraging in its broad application to all kinds of challenges in life, but in context what Paul is actually referring to is that God is the source of our strength to be content in any situation.
2. Recognize All Our Blessings
You see, when we keep our eyes on Jesus we’re reminded that every blessing we have is an undeserved gift of grace, so when trials or setbacks come, we can recognize that those hardships are swallowed up by the sheer volume of everything good that He has given us. This is why Job was able to say, even in the apparent midst of losing everything, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). That’s an eternal perspective!
Have you ever noticed that even in the hard times, there is far more to be thankful for? The scale is always off balance in favor of blessings. Maybe you have an unfair boss, but at least you’re employed. Maybe your house is a mess, but at least you have a home. Maybe you feel out of shape, but at least you’re alive!
We have a sign in our laundry room that says, “I am thankful for piles of laundry … it means my loved ones are nearby.” The truth is each of us is supremely blessed, but we have to make the choice to acknowledge that truth.
So do we praise God only when we are pleased with life’s outcomes, but curse Him when our plans fall apart? Or do we give God thanks even in the bad times, knowing that He is using those tough times to make us better? It’s not what happens to us in life that defines us — it’s how we respond.
The emotion of thankfulness comes and goes with the tide, but the mindset of being thankful doesn’t. If we can 1) learn to be content by the strength of Christ, and 2) consistently choose to recognize our blessings, then we’ll have unlocked the secret to maintaining a thankful perspective, no matter what life throws our way!