I spent an unforgettable summer in a rural village in Kazakhstan over 20 years ago and one of my take aways from that trip was learning not to take things for granted. Since that trip I have learned a new appreciation for hot steamy showers with steady water pressure. And almost every day since that trip to Kazakhstan, I have remembered to give thanks for the gift of hot water poured down the back. This practice of learning to give thanks for little things that bring us joy was something I was challenged to do in a more intentional way when I moved to Lithuania some years ago and someone gave me Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts.
That year had a lot of steep learning curves and difficult moments, but I kept adding to my thanksgiving journal week by week things that I could be thankful for:
A fireside conversation
Saturday morning pancakes and poetry
Reece Peanut Butter Cups
E-books that can be read in the dark
The triumph of daybreak…
However, there were a lot of things during that first year and afterwards that I didn’t feel thankful for: Late nights at the office, Long winters and Short days, Language barriers, Cultural confusion, Relational rifts, Money problems, Loneliness, Family upheaval, Emotional exhaustion.
I Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” And for a long time I thought that meant that I was meant to find something to give thanks for in each day, but it doesn’t say “in each day, give thanks…” but rather “in everything give thanks…” As a goodbye present from my church in Michigan one lady gave me a kitchen towel that I keep now in my office. It says simply two words, “Celebrate Everything”. What bold and audacious words! Do I dare to try obey them? I am fine with celebrating my successes, I am learning to notice small gifts in every day and give thanks to God, I am getting better at focusing on the positive in the situation rather than focusing on the negative… Isn’t that enough?
I feel like God is asking me to take a step further on the stairway of faith and choose to give Him thanks in everything – especially in those areas that I wish were different. I hear Him asking me, Can you give Me thanks that I am sufficient to meet your financial needs, before you see the provision? Can you give Me thanks for my grace and redeeming presence in the midst of your failures and mistakes? Can you give Me thanks for trusting you with the experience of being single when you would rather be married? Can you give Me thanks for my perfect timing in your seasons of waiting? Can you celebrate My faithful character when it seems like your relationships are breaking apart? Can you thank Me for the hard things that I allow in your life knowing that I love you and that your story is far from over? Can you give Me thanks, not just for the blessings, but offer up a sacrifice of thanksgiving in every situation that is weighing down your heart? The sacred practice of giving thanks takes the spotlight off of you, and turns it on the One who has promised to “work all things together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Sabina Wurmbrand (wife of Pastor Wurmbrand) talks about the power of giving thanks in the midst of her own trial when she was torn away from her son and put in a communist labor camp. In order not to give in to despair, she and other Christian prisoners agreed to remind one another to give thanks to God in the midst of grueling abuse and work load and deprivation by greeting one another “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His loving kindness endures to all generations.” This simple greeting of thanksgiving from God’s word so transformed the atmosphere of the camp that other prisoners who were not Christians came to them asked to be taught this same greeting.
So, I hope that you can also echo these words wherever you find yourself today. May they remind you that God is truly our Makor (the Hebrew word meaning ‘Source’) and because we can give thanks to Him in all things, we have freedom to celebrate everything because we can trust that God’s fingerprints there molding, recreating, and making all things new. Thank you, Lord, for being in the midst of my everything!
“We give thanks to God not because of how we feel but because of who He is…”~Ann Voskamp