Continuing with my thanksgiving theme this month is an article I wrote a long while back for Examiner.com…Most Christians have heard many times how we are to praise God in the storm, but what has always frustrated me is that nobody has ever told us how to do that. It’s hard to just begin feeling thankful when you’re in the midst of a financial mess or a loved one’s death. Merely understanding that you should do something doesn’t help you do it.
All devotionals on this topic will tell you to read the Bible and pray. This is obvious since we are trying to get closer to God and further away from our pain or struggle. This is also something we should do when we are not struggling. But just reading the Bible when you are struggling may not help your attitude turn to gratitude and you may not even know how to pray for a situation, especially if it has been a long and confusing one.
There are many devotionals on thankfulness that talk about this so I’m not going to spend much time on it since you’ve probably read enough of them to quote them verbatim. I’ll just say that it’s important to continue to pray and read the scriptures even when we are at our wit’s end and even when we are no longer able to envision that God would help us because, the moment we no longer seek God, we begin to drift away from Him. “Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights.” -Psalm 119:143
So how do we begin to feel thankful? Well, last week I prepared our hearts a bit by sharing with you what we should remember about struggles. But that often isn’t enough to bring us through from frustration and despair. After many years upon this earth, I have found some things that have helped me to become more thankful and bring me to the point where I can praise God during the storms of my life. By the way…I wrote this as much for me as I did for my readers.
1. Start small and build
Thank Him for whatever blessings you can think of, even if you have a hard time coming up with things you are thankful for and even if you don’t feel very thankful when you write it or say it. There is an old saying, “act as if.” If you begin to thank God for the blessings, no matter how small, in your life, you will begin to see more and feel it more as you go.
Somehow my attitude changes when I concentrate on the little blessings. I remember an old saying my relatives had when I was a child, “thank God for small favors.” It has become a popular secular saying that has come to mean something quite different so I don’t suggest you actually say this to yourself. I think it must have started out meaning that we should thank God for the small blessings in our lives to help us see the blessings He has given us. Unfortunately, what it has come to mean is a snarky commentary that God only grants us small favors.
See how your attitude changes when you say, “thank God for small favors” instead of “thank you, Lord, for these little blessings?” One suggests that’s all we expect the Lord to give us and the other reminds us that these are just the beginnings of blessings God wants to shower upon us. That one little communication change changes everything.
Think back to all the times when you had just missed a disaster. How do you think that miracle happened? Envision what God must have been doing to protect you and then feel the love that leads God to that act. I remember a time when we drove from California to ARIDzona to visit my folks. On the way there, we heard the brakes begin to screech. All the men at the event thought it wasn’t a major issue so we didn’t drive the car during our visit and headed home where we planned to have them repaired. There was a great deal of traffic that holiday on the way back and got progressively worse on that six-hour drive home. We were able to make it all the way home and, as we coasted into the garage, the brakes completely failed, leaving us unharmed and safely in our garage. Thank you, Jesus, for all the disasters we avoided that night alone!
Think back to all the times when NOTHING bad happened. What disaster might have occurred? Thank Him for those as well. How many times were you thinking of going to XYZ when something changed your mind and you narrowly avoided a known disaster? My husband once decided not to go to work one day because the only route there (70 miles one way) was covered in snow and notorious for closure. Later we found that many of the people who traveled that road were stuck down the hill unable to get home for a day or two. And what about all the other situations we have no idea we could have found ourselves in?
2. Blessings for worst not happening
In the midst of terrible pain, it’s often hard to see what could be worse and, to be honest, we don’t often care. We just know where we are now is bad. However, looking at the bright side can truly make a person thankful because, believe it or not, there are so many situations where we could be worse off.
Food prices up? Praise God that you have the money to buy them. Health bad? Praise God that you have the time to rest. Sick? As you pray for healing be thankful it isn’t fatal. Serious illness? Be thankful that there is still hope. And if a loved one has passed away, praise God he is no longer suffering and is with Jesus in heaven.
Now, these things may sound easy to some, but they are not at all easy to do when you are in the middle of a struggle especially when that struggle has already taken a toll on you for many years. However, if you start small, are consistent and build, your faith will increase, your sorrow will lift and your joy will return even if you aren’t happy about your circumstances.
In the midst of despair, sadness and being overwhelmed with struggle, we may find it difficult to just pick ourselves up by our Christian bootstraps and just “be happy.” However, these little things have helped me get just one step closer to being thankful and have reminded me that God is there with me and He’s working on my behalf even if I can’t feel Him through all that life throws at me. I pray they are blessings to you and you can begin to see how you can be thankful and praise God during your struggles as well.
3. Remember that joy and happiness are two different things
Keep things in proper perspective. Happiness, as defined by Merriam Webster as good fortune or prosperity, a state of well-being and contentment, joy or a pleasurable or satisfying experience.
Joy is listed as the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires, delight, the expression or exhibition of such emotion, gaiety, a state of happiness or felicity, bliss, a source or cause of delight.
So happiness is dependent upon external circumstances, whereas joy exists in spite of whatever is going on around us and is a result of what’s happening on the inside. You can still have joy even though you are not happy because you can have a hope because you are in God’s will and will be rewarded in heaven even if you aren’t here on earth. You can be joyous in your strength or your endurance or your obedience even if you are unhappy about your health or your finances or your relationships.
4.Do things that bring you joy
Look at pretty pictures of God’s world and remember how everything is delicately balanced for us and given for us to use. It’s hard to look at the beauty of God’s world and not feel some amount of joy.
Listen to uplifting music and sing along or sing harmony. I am a wannabe musician. I used to write songs and I was a voice major in college before I switched to Speech Communication. I can’t help but feel better when I hear beautiful music and sing along. It usually makes me feel better to sing along to praise and worship music sometimes the same song over and over again. Here’s one of my favorites:
Call a friend. Sometimes you need a real, living person you can talk things over with. Just talking through our feelings can help us feel a bit better because we have expressed them and someone cared enough to listen. Many times we aren’t looking for a solution because we already know what our options are, but sometimes we may be surprised at our friend’s ability to help us find one! Even if nothing gets resolved, you will probably find yourself feeling better just because you were able to share your feelings with a good and trusted friend.
5.Read encouraging devotionals
Not devotionals on being thankful, but ones that encourage you. Bible Gateway has devotionals you can subscribe to that I have found helpful: Encouragement for Today, Devotions for Women and Devotions for Moms. I don’t recommend the one called Standing Strong in the Storm because it’s mostly about people who have endured religious persecution. While that might be important to read and inspiring at other times, I find that they are not something we can relate to when we are in the middle of stress. Unless your struggle is religious persecution on a grand scale, I find I can’t relate to them and they make me feel bad for even being upset about financial or health or relationship issues which don’t help me feel any better about my situation.
6. Help someone else
I know it sounds a bit backwards, but it can often feel good to be the solution for someone else’s problem. Sometimes we are almost paralyzed by our fear or stuck in our sadness that we feel a complete lack of control over our lives. It can feel empowering or at least uplifting to be the solution to something, no matter how small the issue is. As they used to say back when I was a little girl, “try it; you’ll like it.”
You may not be able to become happy about your circumstances, but you can do things that bring you some joy. This joy will help us see the blessings God has put in our lives and this will, eventually, allow us to thank God and even praise him in the storm.
It’s been an incredibly difficult year for my family. As I said, I wrote this as much for me as I did for my readers. I have read it over about three times this week as I have needed these words as much as any of you. Please share your story. How can I pray for you?