Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18 NRS)
When I was a college student, I had a summer job with a company out of Nashville selling books from door to door. In our training, in addition to teaching us basic sales principles, they also instilled a philosophy of positive thinking. Among many other phrases that we learned was this one: "It's not doing what you like, but liking what you're doing." Rather than dwelling on the distasteful aspects of door-to-door selling, such as having a door slammed in your face, they said we should view the job as, "Sipping tea with Mrs. Jones."
Little did I realize at the time, what a valuable lesson that was. I think psychologists refer to this as "reframing." We can't change our circumstances, but we do have a choice on where we will focus our attention and on how we will react to the situations in which we find ourselves.
Surely something like this must be what Paul had in mind when he said, "Give thanks in all circumstances." You and I can choose our thoughts and see the glass of water as half empty or half full. And even if the glass is completely empty, we can be thankful that at least we have a glass and go out and find some water to fill the glass.
I recently read excerpts from the book "Hot Lights, Cold Steel," written by Michael J. Collins. Dr. Collins was an orthopedic surgeon at Mayo Clinic. He describes some important lessons he learned from various patients. He tells about a beautiful eighteen year old blond, named Sarah, who needed to have one of her legs amputated in order to survive in her fight against cancer. Following the surgery, Sarah kept thanking the doctors for all they were doing. She was bright and happy. The doctor was amazed that she could have such a positive attitude after having lost her leg in the prime of life.
Finally, curiosity got the best of him and the doctor asked the nurse about Sarah. The nurse replied: "Of course she is sad about losing her leg. But she says it's made her realize how many things she hasn't lost. She says it's like a millionaire who loses a thousand dollars — he's sad, but he's still not that bad off."
How's that for reframing?
What do you have to complain about today? Wouldn't it be better to decide to look at all the things you have not lost rather than to dwell on your problem? As far as I can tell, that is the key to having a thankful spirit — looking at what the Lord has given us, rather than thinking about what we lost or what we don't have. I think all of us would be much happier if we would just follow the advice of the old hymn: "Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done."
We live in Rio de Janeiro. It is a big city and can be rather daunting to visitors who come for a visit, especially if they don't speak Portuguese. For the past few weeks, we have had four young people from Tennessee staying with us. The first week they were here, they caught the bus from the church to ride back to our house. The problem was that they got on the wrong bus and got lost. Since they don't know the language, it was a rather scary experience. They showed our address, which they had written on a piece of paper, to the bus driver and he put them on another bus and they eventually made it to our house safely. After they arrived and got over some of their anxieties, one of the young men who has his pilot's license told us that in aviation they say: "Any landing you can walk away from is a good one!"
Maybe things are not going quite the way you like. Perhaps you have recently experienced a great tragedy. However, things could probably be much worse. If you are reading this right now, you are alive. You can see — or can at least hear this read — and your heart and lungs are working. You know how to use a computer and have access to one. You have faith in God. You believe in the hope of heaven. Most importantly of all, God still wants to use you to bring him glory and touch the lives of others.
God has blessed all of us in many ways. How many people in the world would like to have just a few of the many blessings that you and I have received? Perhaps it's time for you and me to refocus. Can you see the Lord working in your life?
Lord, help me see your blessings and your presence, even when times are dark and nothing seems to be going right. Help me see the rainbow behind the clouds. Remind me that nobody and nothing can take away the promises that you have given us through Jesus Christ your Son.
Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need. (Philippians 4.11-13 NLT)