Have you seen advertisements for products that are meant to purify your blood? You’ve actually already got a liver and kidneys to do that. They work full-time pulling poisons out of your bloodstream.
Your soul has something similar. Day by day you encounter pain and suffering – this is normal in this sin-damaged world, as the Lord promised, “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). But your soul is not meant to fill up with the poison of pain and sorrow, or turn septic with anger or cynicism; you have a mechanism that’s meant to purify the poisons from your soul. It is called thanksgiving.
The saints, with the wisdom of experience, tell us to give thanks even for betrayals, insults, disasters, and injustices, “Knowing that the trying of your faith works patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:3-4) We thank the ones who rob and do us wrong, because they help free us from the sicknesses of soul called love of possessions or love of our rights.
But many of us are not strong or wise enough to give thanks for all things (Eph 5:20). So for us, it is vital to taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8) and meditate on “his goodness, and his wonderful works to the children of men!” (Ps 107:31) Then when a stone falls in our lives, we are not crushed by our grief – because we can “give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his mercy endures forever” (Ps 136). “I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High” (Ps 7:17), “for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knows right well” (Ps 139:14), for “he hath done all things well” (Mk 7:37). “With thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).
Gratitude is a discipline, not a mood. We don’t withhold thanks when we don’t get our own way; God will not be coerced, but will continue to permit “rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Mt 5:45).
If we will allow thankfulness to have its full work in us, it will purify the poison from our sufferings, and “you will be blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15).
And don’t stop with merely verbally saying that God is good: DO good, especially when you have been wronged.
“When someone throws a rock at you, throw back bread instead!” — Luba Fomin, 99-year-old concentration camp survivor.
This is a virtue the Bible calls philótimo (Rm 15:20; 2 Cor 5:9; 1Ths 4:11). Philótimo is remembering how deeply we are indebted to the good God who loves mankind, so that we are filled with love for others – and without thought of our own rights, we honor and supply and serve others. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise — the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Heb 13:15-16).
Finally: Just as the steadfast love of God is not a feeling or a mood but a choice to act, thankfulness is not an emotion but a commitment and a discipline. It requires practice. No virtue becomes natural without being practiced daily, but with intentional repetition it may become our accustomed way of life.
The difference between the person who is hardened and destroyed by their suffering, and the one who is made compassionate and holy by suffering, is in the way they cooperate with the divine action of grace. Let thanksgiving open your mouth, so that your lips can teach your mind – and your mind can teach your heart.
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col 3:15-17).