Feelings and Thankfulness

Reports of mass shootings, tsunamis, floods, earthquakes and raging fires fill our newspapers and televisions regularly. We can be overwhelmed with feelings of sadness and frustration because of these circumstances; especially if we or loved ones are directly affected. We might even wonder whether thankfulness is possible.

Paul, an apostle of Jesus, wrote about thankfulness while he was imprisoned for his faith. According to historical documents, the Roman prison where Paul spent time was called “House of Darkness” because it was a damp, over-crowded, smelly, dark, filthy hole in the ground. Prisoners were shackled with 15 pound chains in order to limit mobility and there were no flush toilets, showers or clothes washers. Their chains rusted over time which caused incredible skin irritation and infection which sometimes rendered limbs useless. There was enough food to barely sustain life. When prisoners died, bodies were piled in corners and taken out when it suited the soldiers. Yet, in the midst of these horrific conditions Paul wrote: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell within you, with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:15-16)

Likely there were feelings of anger and despair all around him and he was probably not feeling very healthy himself. Yet, Paul wrote of singing, encouragement, peace and thankfulness! At another time he also wrote: “pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:17-18). This does not indicate thankfulness for struggles but in spite of them. Note also it is God’s will that we are a thankful people regardless of our feelings or circumstances.

The kind of thankfulness emanating from Paul was because of what God had done in the midst of his circumstances. The same should be true for us. Believers have the promise that “he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (Titus 3:5a) Knowing this, we can be incredibly thankful no matter how we feel. Therefore, we need to keep our minds focused on what God has done and what He gives us daily. “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Elizabeth Elliott described feelings and thankfulness very well with these words: “If you dwell on your own feelings about things rather than dwelling on the faithfulness, the love, and the mercy of God, then you’re likely to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Our feelings are very fleeting and ephemeral, aren’t they? We can’t depend on them for five minutes at a time. But dwelling on the love, faithfulness, and mercy of God is always safe.” Let’s do God’s will by being thankful people!