Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.—Philippians 4:8
…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.—1 Thessalonians 5:18
Here is a little tidbit for anyone who is trying to understand the Bible better and to walk more closely with Jesus: The Bible never tells us to do anything unless it is within our power to do, with God’s help. Everything the Bible commands is possible. This doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult, or even that it won’t require the supernatural assistance of the Holy Spirit. It just means the writers of the Bible were clear on the things that are our responsibility, and the things that are God’s responsibility.
The Bible never tells pastors, for example, “Make sure no one in your church ever gets divorced,” because this is not within our power to do. It never tells parents “Make sure your children become whole-hearted Christ-followers who never make bad choices,” because that is not entirely up to us. It doesn’t say “make sure the laws and morals of your society line up with Biblical teaching,” because the unbelieving world typically doesn’t ask Believers their opinion before deciding what will be considered right and wrong. God never lays burdens on us that are beyond our power to bring about.
But the reverse is also true: if God does lay a burden on us, we can do it. This is important because the Bible sometimes give commands about things that we tell ourselves we don’t have control over, like our emotions, attitudes, and responses to life. We act like victims when we are not. “I behaved like that because she made me so mad.” “I’m grumpy because nothing is going my way.” We want to blame people and circumstances for the condition of our heart. But the Bible teaches that our heart is our responsibility. Paul tells the Philippians in Chapter 4 to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” This must mean that rejoicing is an act of the will; we can choose joy. Specifically, we can always rejoice in Jesus, in the beauty of who He is and what He has done.
Then Paul tells them to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Apparently I am in charge of what I think about. I am not at the mercy of whatever thought comes into my head; the Bible tells me to think about good things instead of bad things, so it must be within my power to do this.
Choosing what I think about is on my mind lately because Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away, which is a holiday named after an attitude. It’s a day, or a season, set aside for us to be intentionally grateful, to focus on the good things we have been blessed with. It’s an especially appropriate holiday this year, when so many things have happened that we could choose to be frustrated about. I believe it is a part of our fallen nature that most of us are natural critics and complainers. Negativity comes easily, but if we want to be thankful, we have to work at it. So I am working on intentional gratitude, on keeping the good things at the forefront of my mind and shoving aside the complaints that rise to the surface when I let my mind wander.
This season and always, I want to remember that I am grateful for Jesus. Without Him I would be living for meaningless things, sinning much more than I already do, in ways that would cause me to hide my true self from others out of shame. I would have no hope for eternity, no inner source of joy and peace, no assurance that I am loved by my Creator. I am grateful for His love, His strength, His humility, His cross, His resurrection, and thousands of other things I don’t have room to list. He is God’s greatest gift to me, and I am grateful.
I am grateful for life. I’m grateful for a body and a mind, for work to do, for family and friends, for busyness and down times, for good food, for the mountains and the ocean and the colors of the changing leaves. I’m grateful for my parents and my children and the mystery of how we age and grow. Life in this fallen world is hard sometimes, but it is good, and I am grateful.
I am grateful for my wife. To make our long story very short, it was 4 and a half years from the time I began wishing Carey could be mine to the time I took her on our first date, to see Toy Story 2 at the big movie theater in downtown Spokane, Washington. She is the greatest answer to prayer I have ever received, and the biggest reason outside of Jesus that my life is as happy as it is. Marriage in this fallen world is hard sometimes, but it is good, and I am grateful.
I am grateful for the church. I’m grateful for brothers and sisters to be on the journey with. I’m grateful for people who are faithful in prayer, for people who have a hunger to know God better and to share His love. I’m grateful for genuine worshipers and faithful volunteers and sacrificial givers of themselves. Church in this fallen world is hard sometimes, but it is good, and I am grateful.
And that is just the beginning. I am grateful for my country, for my home, my health, for challenges that have shaped me, for the things God has protected me from, and so much more. What are you grateful for? Let’s not wait until one day in November to rattle off a quick list of good things in our lives before the turkey gets cold. Let’s take God’s word seriously and choose to be thankful. If He commands it, we can do it, with His help. And if He commands it, you can bet it is good for us. I hope you have a great week, full of good things to be thankful for.
…And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.—Colossians 3:15-18