Here’s a great verse: “The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy.”1
I have years of Bible study and learning under my belt, but I’m not sure I’ve heard this verse before. At least, its meaning has always slipped past me.
I remember when growing up as a boy in the USA, Thanksgiving was a holiday I looked forward to nearly as much as Christmas. I loved the fall season with its dramatic colors: the browns and yellows, oranges and reds, as the hardwood trees of the Ohio Valley burst forth with praises of thanks to God for the warm and sunny summer He had just given them. One last attestation to the glory of God before finally shedding their leaves and letting them float down to fertilize the ground.
When I was 17, I went with friends to spend carnival in the city of Salvador. We rented a very cheap house and slept on the floor like most of the locals. Even though our neighbors were very poor, they were exceptionally nice to us. The simple life they lived and the love and friendship they gave freely were the secret to the happiness and laughter they shared. It dawned on me, for the first time, that love was the answer for many of the problems of humankind.
It is a common reaction for people, when faced with a negative situation, to feel justified in complaining and dwelling on the negative. Others have discovered the power of positive thinking and find it beneficial. The power of positive thinking is multiplied when your thoughts are turned into praise for My goodness, protection, supply, and the many blessings in your life.
In a video clip I watched on YouTube some time ago, one of the participants in a panel was talking about a trying time in her life that had led to serious depression. A friend advised her to put together a list of 1,000 reasons for gratitude, so she started keeping track of the good things that came across her path each day, and slowly the tide of negativity turned.
The more you speak words of gratitude and praise Me for the good things in your life, the more you’ll develop a positive outlook, even about things you’re tempted to feel negative about. The more you cultivate a positive outlook, the more you will realize that I can use all things in your life to work together for good, to be a blessing to you in some way, and to help you to learn something important or gain a new skill.
I remember my mother often reminding us children to “look on the bright side” and “be thankful for the little things.” If we’d complain about the hot weather in mid-June, she’d point out, “At least we can go swimming, right?” If we’d complain about not having dessert one night, she’d ask, “Doesn’t that make you thankful for the nights we do have dessert?” She tried to teach us to take every seemingly “bad” or “sad” situation we faced and look for something that we could appreciate or be happy about. She called this concept “looking for the silver lining.”
As followers of Jesus, “grateful” should be our default setting when we consider that Jesus died to redeem us from an eternity of being separated from God. This should put a spring in our step and cause all the not-so-great stuff to bounce off as irrelevant. But I tend to succumb to less-than-grateful reactions, because, well, traffic, mess, stress, too little of this, too much of that. You know how it goes.
As a child, I had a lazy eye and blurred vision, which made it necessary for me to wear glasses from the time I was seven years old. In order to keep my myopia from worsening, I had strict limits on my reading—no reading at night, and any reading only allowed when sitting at a desk with a bright desk lamp and proper posture. Watching television or movies was something that had to be minimized, along with other eye-straining hobbies, such as painting, sewing, and crafts.
Occasionally I teach a Bible class at Sunday school for three- to five-year-olds. The group is very small, sometimes only four or five children. One of the girls, a frequent visitor, is very smart, outspoken, and strong-willed. On one recent occasion, she was refusing to come to class because her hair was messy, but she wouldn’t let her mother brush her hair because her mom forgot her favorite pink hairbands. I found pink ribbons in the arts and crafts box, and she graciously allowed me to braid her hair.