IN EVERYTHING GIVE THANKS

BY: PAMELA STEELE
Leader of MomsLife
In Everything Give Thanks … Really??

Thankfulness. The dictionary definition means feeling or expressing gratitude; to be appreciative. Thankfulness is the act of being contented, grateful and satisfied.
If you’ve been in Christian circles for any amount of time, you’ve likely heard the scripture from 1 Thessalonians 5:18 that says, “In everything give, thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

If you feel like inserting an eye roll here or a, “Are you flipping kidding me!?”, you’re not alone. If we’re all honest, this verse can come across as an unrealistically high expectation mandated by the Almighty himself without any understanding of your current reality. This verse can also be used like a mallet by which fellow brothers and sisters in the faith beat up those who are down and going through hard times. “Remember, brother, in ALL things give thanks.” Their cheerful words and greetings can feel like salt in your wounds.

How can you be thankful when life sucks? How can you be thankful when your marriage falls apart, your spouse cheats on you, you have received bad news from your doctor, you loose a child or loved one, you are failing financially, you’ve lost your job, you can’t find work … the list goes on and on. Sickness, divorce, death, pain; these are all the result of a world full of sin. These are the consequences  of sin. They are real and the pain and difficulty one feels and has to walk through when faced with them is also real.

The dark reality of sin’s consequences do not, however, change or negate the character of God. He is always good. The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is not the cause of your pain. In fact, it is Jesus who came and gave his life, so that you can experience eternity free of pain and sorrow, in everlasting joy and peace together with him.
The positive thinking movement has become a misleading narrative in our society. For many, positive thinking and positive affirmations are nothing more than speaking out phrases or focusing your thoughts on positive - yet completely unrealistic thoughts and phrases - as if they hold some sort of magic power to change your outcome. This is not helpful in creating true peace or effecting any positive change in your situation.

To be thankful does not mean you pretend that things aren’t difficult. It is important that you are kind to yourself, and that you give yourself permission to actually feel and walk through pain and loss. When you try to downplay the level of battle you are fighting, you are invalidating your emotional self. On top of whatever issue you are working through, you now have added a heaping dose of guilt for feeling the less than positive emotions that you feel.
Thankfulness by definition is to express or feel gratitude; to be appreciative. True positive thinking and true thankfulness are rooted in truth. They don’t deny your current reality. Rather, they acknowledge it, and work hard to find positives either in the situation or completely outside of it - just something, anything to be thankful for.

It’s very easy to fall into negative thought patterns. Often times our negative thought patterns are ways of thinking that we’ve learned either by example of those who were role models for us, or patterns of thinking that developed as you experienced life and interpreted your experiences in a negative light. These thought patterns can become your default way of thinking without you making a conscious choice to be negative. This is because your brain is wired for efficiency. When you repeatedly do an action or respond to a situation in a particular way, your brain creates nerve pathways. The more the action or thought is repeated, the more your brain develops that pathway. Eventually, your brain will put a myelin sheath around the new neural connection and you now have a new, subconscious habit or behaviour to default to when subjected to the same stimuli.

When you have negative thoughts, your brain chemistry changes and releases stress hormones into your body like cortisol. The more stress hormones your brain releases, the more receptor sites for these hormones your cells will create. In turn, your cells divide and duplicate themselves as part of their normal cycle. Thus, by being stuck in negative thinking patterns, you are actually, over time, making yourself more prone to experiencing negative emotions because your cells begin to have more receptor sites for the stress hormones than the feel good hormones like dopamine.

The same is true in reverse when you are in the habit of being thankful and positive. As you train yourself to find reasons to be thankful in every situation, your brain will begin to build new highways with new positive thought patterns. And just like with negative thoughts, positive thoughts change your brain and body chemistry. "Feel good" hormones are released. The more feel good hormones that are released, the more receptor sites for these hormones your cells will focus on creating. Over time, you actually build into your physical body, the ability to feel more joyful and more thankful. It’s fascinating how your mind can actually have a direct affect on your physical self.

Have you ever taken time to think about how God feels about our thankfulness to him? There was a time during my years as a single mother that I got a quick glimpse of what God must feel when we express thankfulness to him. Money was tight. In fact, although we never starved, there were days I’d get called from the kids’ schools checking in because the kids only had bread in their lunch, or maybe a banana or something otherwise small. Canned beans and cold sausages became a school lunch staple for my kids for a number of years. It’s taken years, but they will finally eat canned brown beans again haha.
One day, I had splurged and I not only bought yogurt for the kids’ breakfasts that week, but I had also picked up some fresh berries - raspberries, strawberries and blueberries. I set the fruit and the yogurt in front of my son who was seated on a bar stool on the opposite side of the counter, facing me. His eyes widened when he saw the yogurt. Then, when he saw the berries, his eyes  lit up and a huge smile took over his face, and in excitement he exclaims, “Yogurt AND berries!!! Wow! Thank-you, Mum!” The sacrifice of this simple breakfast was not lost to him, and he was truly and deeply thankful. In that moment I could have given him them world if it was within my power to do so. My heart was so full seeing the contentment and thankfulness of my child.

God feels the same way when we are thankful to him.
It’s all well and good to talk about thankfulness; why you should be, the benefits of thankfulness, how God feels about it - but, how can you be truly thankful when you are walking through your darkest times? God isn’t requiring you to be fake and pretend that you aren’t hurting, frustrated, angry, lonely or depressed. He already knows the reality of the what you’re walking through. He gets it. It’s worth considering again the verse in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God … for you.” If you even just look at the physical and mental benefits to you when you start to learn to practice thankfulness, it’s safe to say that God knows that thankfulness is good for you! Not only does it please his heart when you’re thankful to him as your father, but it also pleases his heart that your thankfulness benefits you as well. He wants good for you, and thankfulness is good for you.
If you’ve been stuck in negative thought patterns for a long time, your thankfulness is like a muscle that has atrophied from inactivity. It needs to be found and exercised. You will need to start putting your thankfulness muscle through physiotherapy. Start small. Be real. Find anything to express thankfulness for. A wonderful way to start building that thankfulness muscle, that new neural pathway, is to start building a gratitude journal. It will feel strange, and possibly unauthentic at first, but don’t stop. Even if the first day you can only muster up one thing to be thankful for, it’s a start. Everything counts. If your first journal entry is, “I’m thankful my husband didn’t eat beans tonight before bed,” it’s a start.

God gave us a step by step game plan to start conquering the battle in our mind using thankfulness. He gave us the key to beat anxiety and depression. In Philippians 4:4-9 it starts with this statement, “Be anxious for nothing.” Thankfully it doesn’t end there. It goes on to say , “But, in everything, by prayer and supplications (petition or appeal), with THANKSGIVING, make your requests known to God.” He wants you to come to him, in relationship, and communicate your requests to him. But the verse doesn’t just end there. It says to do this with thanksgiving. That means you are to make your requests and then be thankful. Be thankful for who God is. Be thankful, that he knows all things and promises to work all things out for your good. Be thankful that he’s hearing your prayers and answering you. Communicating your needs to God through prayer, with thanksgiving is step one of this heavenly game plan.

The verse closes by saying that once we have done this, “ … the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” God promises to bring peace to you. Not just any peace - His peace; His peace that is beyond comprehension. His peace means wholeness, completeness, nothing missing and nothing broken. He says that His peace will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus. The Bible refers to your heart as your emotional center, your “wellspring” of life. He promises to guard your heart, your center, that wellspring of life in you - He promises that he will protect it with His peace. Not only will he guard your heart, but he promises that His peace will also guard your mind. This is a vital piece in the battle against negative thought patterns, depression and anxiety.

Following this amazing promise, God gives you step 3. He shows you how to start building a new way of thinking by giving you a stringent criteria by which to judge all thoughts that want to take up residence in your mind. He says to think about things that are true, noble, pure, lovely, of good report, anything of virtue (moral excellence; goodness; righteousness), or praiseworthy. When those familiar, nagging or negative thoughts make their appearance, force them to come to your mental desk and go through the above criteria. If they miss the mark on any one of the points, take them to the mental “EXIT” in your brain and give them the boot out the door.

So here’s the bottom line. Whatever you are facing, God sees. He knows. He understands and he loves you and his heart hurts with yours. He’s not asking you to pretend. Instead, in his grace, he has given you a step-by-step game plan on how to re-wire your brain for thankfulness. He doesn’t need you to be thankful, but it fills his heart with joy when you are. He’s a good father and loves to hear your thanks and praise to him. He also has created you so wonderfully, and amazingly to be able to physically effect positive change in your body by being thankful - so amazing.

Take your needs to God. Start expressing thanks to him. And start being a strict thought police for your mind. It’s time to start resting in His peace and experiencing His joy despite your present circumstances.


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