Right now many Americans are hurting. Though most of us have what we need, millions of others are either without work or have jobs but are still struggling to make ends meet and provide for their families. Even as we thank God for His blessings our hearts break for those who suffer and we continually pray for God to meet their needs while also seeking ways we can help.
Unfortunately, it’s far too easy for us to harden our hearts to God’s blessings, so that we become “habitually insensible,” no matter the circumstances. But the Bible teaches that gratitude has little to do with our circumstances and everything to do with our hearts. The Apostle Paul understood that. He wrote to the Philippian Christians:
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4: 11-13).
Paul and Silas actually sang praises to God after being beaten and imprisoned in Philippi for preaching Christ. As a result, they were released, and the jailer and his entire family were saved. The city experienced the power of God’s love.
What is the secret of being content in any and every situation? It’s seeing every event in our lives—whether it brings pleasure or pain—in the light of eternity. To be fully content, we must see everything through the lends of God’s ultimate gift: salvation. We must see everything as a blessing, not something we are entitled to.
This spirit of gratitude transforms how we receive everything else. It allows us to enjoy the obvious gifts, such as the pleasures of a warm house and a healthy family. We should not reject these pleasures because of a legalistic desire to suffer, but must not clutch them greedily. It’s not about what we have, but about what has us.
Many Americans are discontent because they have failed to cultivate a spirit of gratitude, not because they suffer lack or hunger. Even with increasing unemployment, most of us have our basic needs met, with some left over. We enjoy freedoms that earlier generations could only imagine. As bad as COVID was, it failed to cause the deaths originally predicted. We have also eradicated diseases that killed millions of people just a few decades ago. We live twice as long, on average, as our ancestors did a few generations back. Ordinary people enjoy more food, technology, leisure, and entertainment choices than the greatest kings and queens in history. Advances in technology happen so fast that our computers and cell phones are obsolete before we figure out how to use them.
If we don’t cultivate a spirit of gratitude, then even the most delightful blessings can cause us to forget to be thankful. I pray God will grant us the grace experienced in the New Testament to “count it all joy when we face various trials.” I hope that we will look for opportunities to help those in need. In doing so we will be giving thanks to God, encouraging others, and seeking ways to share life and love more freely.