So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue
to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you
were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Most of my life, I would not characterize myself as “overflowing with
thankfulness.” I think that most of us find gratitude, contentment, and joy are
not usually our response to life’s situations. Life can be tough. Can we
realistically expect everyday to be full of laughter and bubbling over with
Since Jesus told us that we would have trouble in this world (John 16:33),
how is it possible to overflow with thankfulness? He does not whisk us away to
Shangri-La to live out our days in a spa of delights. The car breaks down. The
kids get sick. We lose a job. Money is either tight or non-existent. We find
ourselves in tears or just enduring more often than we rejoice.
Does God expect a Christian to be all smiles all of the time? God inspired
the writer of Ecclesiastes to write:
There is a time for everything, and a season for every
activity under heaven….
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance….
Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4
Isaiah described our Savior as “a man of sorrows, and familiar with
suffering….” (Isaiah 53:3)
John recorded that “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)
The writer of Hebrews under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit said, “During
the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud
cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard
because of his reverent submission.” (Hebrews 5:7)
Paul admonished the church at Rome to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn
with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)
Life in Christ is an abundant life with all the riches of its challenges,
troubles, victories and defeats. We are not expected to have one response to the
variety of situations we face. The Psalms have laments as well as praises. Our
prayers can have laments as well as praises. But underlying all of it is the
certainty that God is faithful. Our gratitude comes not out of situations that
make us feel good. We are not expected to force ourselves to put on smiles when
our hearts are breaking. Our gratitude is toward the God who loves us and is
working every situation to form us unto the image of his Son and to bring us
into his kingdom.
Jesus did promise joy: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and
that your joy might be complete.” He also said, “Ask and you will receive, and
your joy will be complete.” (John 15:11; 16:24)
There is a time to mourn and there is a time to rejoice. Jesus made this
I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world
rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman
giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her
baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is
born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will
see you again and you will rejoice and no one will take away your joy.
Why am I talking about joy in a talk about thankfulness? I believe gratitude,
contentment, and joy are connected with each being necessary for the existence
of the other.
What is the joy Jesus left for us?
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who
endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary
and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3)
Trials and troubles are temporary in this life. We get through them the same
way Jesus did. We look forward to the joy we will experience when God’s purpose
is worked out. We may not understand until years later how God brought good out
of bad situations. But we can have faith that he did create some good out of it.
We may not be able to rejoice in every situation, but we can rejoice in the Lord
because we can bring all of it to him. We can share our pain as well as our
happiness. He cares for us. He is not powerless to help as we sometimes are, but
he does use his power with wisdom for our good.
In the letter to the Philippians, God inspired Paul to write, “Rejoice in the
Lord always….in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present
your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:4-9) No matter how bad things are, we can
always find something for thanksgiving. The act of giving thanks to God
strengthens our faith. Faith strengthens our sense of gratitude. All of these
life situations work together to create Christ in us.
In that same chapter four, we are admonished to think about whatever is true.
Our thoughts need to be based in reality. God does not expect us to ignore or
deny the troubles we are facing or how we feel about them. We are not expected
to live in some fantasy in which everything turns out the way we want them to
True gratitude comes out of our hearts when we experience the help God gives
us as we endure our difficulties. In the Book of Ruth, Ruth’s mother-in-law
Naomi thought God had abandoned her. Her husband and both her sons had died. But
God had not abandoned her. He sent Ruth with her to care for and comfort her.
Sometimes God sends people to help us and we can see his love through them. We
can be grateful to God for every person who befriends us. We can also be
grateful for the difficult people who challenge us because through them we can
practice the qualities of forbearance and forgiveness; or at least see where we
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has
given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their
overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
(II Corinthians 8:1-2)
Thanksgiving also overflows when we extend help to those who need that help
who themselves go on to overflow with thanksgiving to God.
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also
supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of
your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can
be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will
result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only
supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many
expressions of thanks to God. (II Corinthians 9:10-12)
We have innumerable opportunities to give God thanks:
Every time God rescues us, we have an opportunity to thank him.
When our faith gets shaky, we can offer God thanksgiving for his
character of unfailing love.
When we sin and repent, we can thank God for his pardon.
When we’ve had it up to our eyeballs with bickering, rebellious kids, we
can thank God for each child because he intends them to be a blessing.
When God blesses us, we can thank him.
When he disciplines us, we can thank him because he is doing it out of
love for us.
When we fall ill, we can thank him for the healing systems in our bodies
and the health we had been enjoying.
When we see death around the corner, we can give God thanks for the
future resurrection and the life we’ve had.
We can always thank God for continual access to his throne room.
Gratitude is a choice we make whether we feel like it or not. We can choose
to be thankful for God’s provision whether it is little or a lot. (Deuteronomy
8:10, 18) The act of giving thanks helps us become grateful to God as we
remember what he has given us.
Contentment is a quality we learn as we realize that much of our discontent
is over things that matter very little. We come to know God does provide exactly
what we need in the perfect amount. (Philippians 4:10-13)
Joy is a product of the Holy Spirit which is Christ living in us. (Galatians
5:22) That joy is not always expressed in laughter and a happy demeanor.
Sometimes we weep because the situation calls for it, but we can know that joy
will be ours when the time for weeping is over. (Revelation 21:4)
Gratitude now is an expression of our faith in that joy to come.
Overflowing with Thankfulness Discussion Guide