When my kids were younger, I used to dread getting one kind of text in the middle of my workday from my wife: “I need you to come home asap.” I knew exactly what that text meant. It was a desperate call for reinforcements. She was past her limit and needed me to come home and deal with five disobedient children. I must admit that I didn’t usually offer up a prayer of thanksgiving to God on my ride home. My one focus was restoring order, and feelings of anger usually prevailed as I busted through the front door like John Wick approaching the criminal underworld.
Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians to restore order in the church. This church had a lot of problems: divisions, pride, sexual immorality, to name a few. Yet, I’ve always been struck by Paul’s introduction. He doesn’t launch right into his criticisms. He begins his letter calling them “saints” and wishing “grace and peace” to them. He then tells them that he habitually thanks God for his grace in them through Christ. Paul began so many of his letters in the same way. He made it his habit to begin with thanks.
Beginning with thanks isn’t just a great way to start a letter; it’s a great way to start each day of our lives. Our culture disciples us to focus on what we lack. Every marketing campaign in history seeks to cultivate dissatisfaction. Messages of lack and need surround us daily through the thousands of ads that we subconsciously imbibe on our phones, TVs, and laptops. Our market economy majors on one message: You don’t yet have what you really need. This way of thinking is not an intentional choice we make; it’s the air we breathe. We habitually dwell in thought patterns that breed dissatisfaction.
I can’t think of a mindset more contrary to the mind of Christ than dissatisfaction. If we are focused perpetually on lack, we are not living in the freedom and joy of the gospel. Christ has saved us by grace, is currently providing everything we need by grace, and promises to complete his work in us by grace. We have been blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3), and we have an eternal inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Peter 1:4). Paul models habitual thankfulness in his letters because thankfulness is the antidote to dissatisfaction. Paul knows that thankfulness replaces the God-dishonoring mindset of discontentment by focusing our minds on Christ.
That sounds so simple. Even as I type it, I’m burdened by the disconnect between the ease of how it sounds and the difficulty of how hard it is to live. We are emotional people. In a moment of calm after reading an article, for example, habitual thankfulness seems doable. But in the heat of life’s battles, we are often driven by our emotions. When we’re honest, we must admit that sometimes we just don’t feel like being thankful. Sometimes it feels good to be angry or to feel sorry for ourselves. I don’t need to convince many people intellectually that they should be thankful. That’s not where our battle lies. We need help actually doing it.
What’s the best way forward? Again, let’s look at Paul’s example. He doesn’t write that he’s thankful as a way to capture his immediate state of mind. Thankfulness for him wasn’t an emotional state; it was a habit. He writes, “I give thanks to my God always for you” (1 Corinthians 1:4). Paul made it his habit to give thanks in prayer to God. Did he do this daily? He doesn’t specify, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea. What if you made a commitment to get up every day, and, no matter how you feel, get out a notebook and write some things for which you are thankful to God? Do you think this habit could change your entire mindset? Do you think dissatisfaction would continue to dominate your thoughts?
We are being discipled every single day. When we do something over and over, it becomes a habit. Once something has reached the stage of habit, we become emotionally tied to it. It feels unnatural and uncomfortable to go against it. A lot of our habits were unintentionally adopted. We picked them up by simply living in a world that ignores the reality of God and his grace. However, as followers of the Way of Christ, we must not conform to this world. We are called to replace self-gratifying habits of death with God-glorifying habits of life. Christ has saved us. Let’s cultivate thankfulness.