Ephesians 5:20, Psalm 96:1, Psalm 118:28, Hebrews 13:5
If I had to single out one lesson that God has been teaching me in this current season of life, it is to always be thankful. I’m learning to be thankful in those perfect-feeling moments, when my heart is so full of joy, and thankful during the difficult days, when I just want to crawl in bed and cry for the rest of the day. Recently, I’ve been learning to be thankful even when it is a straight-up sacrifice, taking a piece of my heart to still say “thank you” to the Lord. He is teaching that, although I don’t have to be thankful for each situation, there is always something to be thankful for in each situation.
The beauty of thankfulness is that it almost always turns into praise. We are commanded and created to be thankful people because of our great God. In turn, seeing how great God is, always results in praise. When we do what we are commanded and created to do, like thank the Lord (Ephesians 5:20), sing to the Lord (Psalm 96:1), and exalt the Lord (Psalm 118:28), something shifts in our hearts, changing our perspective, making us even more thankful and opening our eyes to the beauty of praise in all things.
Now, we don’t have to be artificially joyful, skipping along and handing out kitty-cats and lollipops. Being thankful means that we understand the weight of the circumstance – the sadness of death, the pain of sickness, or the ache of saying goodbye – and still choose to have a grateful heart towards Christ, always, no matter what. In giving thanks through all things, praise stays in our hearts because our joy is not affected by outward circumstances.
It is obvious Paul quickly caught on to the benefits of being thankful always, which overflowed in praise. We see this heart of praise illustrated by him in the stunningly rich doxology that he wrote, while he was in prison of all places. Let’s take a look at Ephesians 3:20-21.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
In her book, God Is Able, Priscilla Shirer explains the words Paul chose in Ephesians 3:20-21
“These words were not easy words for Paul to write or say. They represented something he couldn’t see with his eyes in the darkness of his current, personal condition, where loneliness cried out and the walls closed in around the stifled stench of his stark reality…somehow a doxology bubbled up within his spirit until, unable to be contained, it burst forth onto parchment paper. Paul experienced and exclaimed the ability of God amid his limited mobility, the greatness of God amid his tightly trapped existence, the awesome presence of God amid his frustrating lack of freedom.”
Paul was able to write this incredible doxology because he understood that true praise begins with thanksgiving. We are thankful for our salvation and the millions of other blessings in our lives, so, in turn, we praise. On top of that, when we keep a thankful heart and an attitude of praise, it changes us. It shifts our focus from our own problems to our perfect God. It takes our feelings and puts them in check because we know we always have something to be thankful for.
If Paul can be in a cold, dark, lonely prison cell and write such beautiful, sincere words of praise to His God. I think we can do the same in our own lives. Wherever we find ourselves today, even if you don’t feel like it, remember what you are thankful for, then begin to praise the Lord. He deserves the praise and it will change our lives for the better.
“Through him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that gives thanks to his name.” Hebrews 13:15
*Priscilla Shirer, God is Able, (B&H Books, Nashville, 2013), 34.