Overflowing With Thankfulness

By Scarlett Stough

(This article was originally given as a talk at the Women in Christ Women's Retreat in February of 2009.) 

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.
Colossians 2:6-7

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 gratitude?

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 promise:

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. (John 16:20)

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 turn out.

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 fall short.

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