‘Dear God, thank you for my family and for a good church here and for my dear friends. Thank you for good teaching and for your mercy in my life. Thank you for saving my parents and for saving me and giving us so much to be thankful for. Thank you that there is so little in life to complain about…’
I don’t mean to sound odd or self-righteous but as I prayed this (perfectly sincerely) the other night, I paused at this point to reflect on that last statement. It struck me that I probably wouldn’t have said this just a few ungrateful months ago. Yet here I was counting my blessings instead of sheep as I tried in vain to sleep.
Upon consideration of the point, I wondered what I could justifiably complain about. Three things in particular came to mind but as I thought of each one, they seemed somehow ridiculous and immature. The first complaint was that most of my family are not yet saved. To be honest, this is a source of regular frustration and grief because most of them aren’t just disinterested but set against God. I supposed that it was acceptable to complain that the majority of my family are hell-bound but this thought never fully formed itself before my heart chirped that God is mighty to save after all so I need not worry but pray and bear witness. Anxiety nipped at my heels, reminding me of dying grandparents as I conceded the point.
Well your brother could walk out under a bus tomorrow and that would be the end of that. Or you could die. You never know (#YOLO) Just let the knowledge that the days are numbered lend a sense of urgency to aid you in prayer.
Alright. What about the chronic pain? It’s fair enough to complain when the pain is so bad that you spend the day wrapped in a duvet with your head in a bucket (that was an abnormally uncomfortable day). I’m used to taking myself in hand now and I found myself doing just that. I have a strong disliking for self-pity.
And what have you learned in it all?
That it is only by God’s good grace that I am capable of anything. Just like Paul said, I’m nothing without Him. Besides, you have not yet resisted to bloodshed.
Counting my complaints was half-hearted to begin with and quickly losing steam. I tried the last complaint a little sheepishly, a long-standing source of discouragement: All of my real friends live miles away. Childish, I know but it sure can get you down sometimes. Here’s the thing though; When your friends are close by, you inevitably begin to take them for granted. How can I complain about a little distance when it has taught me to treasure these gems so much more deeply?
I was glad at one in the morning with an aching side, hard-hearted family, distant friends, and no job because no one was there to see my smile in the darkness. Complaining does us no good if we are honest with ourselves. I find that when I am tempted to whinge, most – if not all – of my complaints stem from selfishness and a lack of faith. I have also discovered that the more we cultivate a heart of thankfulness, the less we will succumb to our society’s favourite pastime.
God has recently blessed me with a job. Working in the newsagent means that I spend a lot of time hearing people complain about everything from the weather to their husband’s eating habits. It is such a temptation to join in because the opportunity to grumble constantly presents itself. However, I spend a lot of time counting change too and it has taught me a far more valuable lesson. At first it requires some thought (I don’t use a calculator) but with practice, speed and precision become instinctive. THere isn’t a penny unaccounted for.
Shouldn’t counting our blessings be the same? Belly aching comes so easily but it is a hard thing for thankfulness to come naturally. It isn’t feeding orphans in Liberia or street preaching in Jordan, thankfulness is far harder than that and it is commanded of us throughout God’s Word. You’ll fail. I do all the time. But keep going because like so many exercises in godliness, it requires so much more self-control and discipline than we possess. That’s why we can add My grace is sufficient to things to be thankful for.
So I would like to encourage you to take up the challenge and train your heart in thankfulness. There is no shortcut. It may not be a ‘big’ thing but I can assure you that it is hard and the effects surprising. It is noticeable in a world full of griping when you meet someone thankful. They stand out like a desert lighthouse.
Lying there in the darkness, I know God saw my smile and smiled with me as I stopped counting, having run out of fingers and toes a hundred times over, just listing them instead, each one reminding me of something more.
‘And thank you that if you can save me, my family isn’t difficult for you. Thank you that this pain is teaching me to rely on you and thank you that although my friends all seem to be miles away, it makes them even more precious and reminds me that my Truest Friend is always there…’
A thankful heart is a hard, hard thing, sometimes it can feel impossible. But thankfulness pleases God and it is a never-ending task, a surprisingly enjoyable one. With a God like ours, being thankful ends only when His mercy and goodness are used up and as we well know, His mercies are new every morning.