A couple of years ago, when I was in Grade 12, I was blessed to be a part of organising the time of worship in our school assemblies. Being at a Christian school, the teachers made sure to take time for worship and the word every week. We played a bunch of songs, but a stand out favourite was 10,000 reasons: Every. Single. Week. For about 15 weeks straight, and no, that is not an exaggeration. We sang that song until it was as beat as the old chalk dusters that still managed to hang around the school from a bygone era. But it did make me think: Is it really possible? ’10,000 reasons for my heart to find’ to bless the Lord?
Turns out, there probably is! It just takes a long time to find them all! I started a journal to document day by day where I saw the Lord working, and what I was grateful for. I have taken the liberty of being thankful for a couple of the same things repeatedly over these three years, but I truly do believe that God has poured out the same blessings continually. Generally, I spend a few minutes replaying the day, taking down three or four moments where I encountered God. Most of the time those moments are in people; I am grateful to see what God is doing in their lives, transforming and conforming them to the likeness of his son. Other times it can be as simple as the sun coming out after a few days of rain. So far, with the exception of a couple of months, I have kept it up every day for three years, and have so far found 4,250 reasons to bless the Lord and be thankful. Hallelujah!
The Bible is full of paradoxical ideas that don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense at first glance, they certainly don’t parallel the world, and the Bible’s teaching on joy and gratitude exemplifies this. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances”. Here in the closing exhortations of this letter are some of the most backwards teachings to grace the world. Got a flat tire? Rejoice! Been fired from your job? Give thanks in all circumstances! Your health is looking dire? Best to thank God! This kind of thinking seems utterly ridiculous! And that’s the beauty of it. It doesn’t make sense to the world, and God gives us assurance in this: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” – 1 Corinthians 2:14. James affirms this counter-cultural idea in chapter 1:2-4 of his letter, saying, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”.
This here is where the world will digress. They don’t have faith in Christ. Sure, if life was going terribly and I had no hope outside my own strength I would probably feel rotten, too. But faith in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, changes the entire scenario. Faith in Christ is faith in power and wisdom greater than your own, and trials that test our faith are simply instances that test whether we actually trust in Christ or not. If we truly do trust in Him then we generally continue in faith, knowing that His plan and will is much greater than ours, and we submit to his authority and wisdom. The tensions that we feel when our faith is tested tend to be the grating of our own will against what God is doing, desiring a way that is alternate to his will. Therefore, instead of grumbling like the world, we must rejoice in times of hardship, because rejoicing and giving thanks in times of trial (whether they originate without or within) produces in us a steadfast character, which, at its culmination, conforms us to the likeness of Christ. This development of character is no accident though, and takes diligence to cultivate it. It requires constant consecration (total giving of ourselves to God) and the decision to choose joy, to choose gratitude. Cultivating and attitude of gratitude is hard because it feels unnatural, but it will inevitably bring you nearer to the heart of Christ.
On the day I turned 19 I had a fight with one of the girls with whom I was in Melbourne 614’s ‘Order 614’ program. I was stressed and burnt out, struggling with a resurfacing addiction to pornography, emotionally spent, our mentors were moving out and the two of us were switching apartments that day. It was basically a recipe for disaster at that stage, honestly. That fight kick-started a speedy spiral into crushing depression, and I found myself thoroughly angry and constantly desiring to be violent for the first time ever. Eventually after 6 weeks of stewing in my darkness I had to ask myself whether or not I wanted this attitude and heart that was so far removed from God’s to define my life. I chose not, and began what was a grueling effort to find the restoration of joy.
I sung in worship at every chance I had, I forced myself into a routine of prayer every night, and continued to seek gratitude and joy intently though my journaling. Most times I didn’t want to choose joy. It would have been easier to stay in that darkness, but it would have lead to my spiritual death. As I chose living for joy a most bizarre thing occurred, and I didn’t take much notice of it until I had recovered. My journaling had increased to at least 8 or 9 gratitudes every night, sometimes up to 13 or 14 in the depths of my depression. I am amazed that I found the most joy in the midst of my pain, and I found it not because it fell into my lap, but because I was seeking for it. Over time, choosing gratitude had become constant, an attitude that I had worked intensely to cultivate that brought me to a place of daily consecration, even in the depths of my pain. I remember praying often, ‘God I don’t have much to give, but what I have is yours’, and he used that faith, little by little, and grew it into steadfastness. Eventually, after weeks of this, I began to regain some equilibrium, as that steadfastness was perfected by Christ. He brought me into a place of intimacy that was as powerful as the depression had been. His faithfulness with my little, given entirely to him, was enough.
Take time to thank God. Cultivate an attitude of faith and gratitude that Satan will envy and try to strip from you. Choose to rejoice in Christ and his will that is greater than any of our circumstances. It’s backwards, but it brings us closer to harmony with the will of God, and conforms us to the likeness of Christ, which is just what God desires for us.
Grace and Peace