Be thankful no matter what: “Deepening the Faith” devotional 20

This installment is part of a regular devotional series, “Deepening the Faith,” written by Gordon faculty and staff for the enrichment of the wider College community.

Pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. —I Thessalonians 5:17-18

Without a doubt, over the past eight or nine years, God has been working on me regarding thankfulness. He has made it clear to me that for the first three decades of my life, I took his daily blessings for granted. Now at times, this has been an agonizing process—but I believe the lesson has been clear.

The lesson has been highlighted in personal relationships. My wife, Ashley, used to oversee a 50-person care team for a student at my prior university. The student had cerebral palsy and many other health issues. Ashley also worked at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital at a clinic that was established for parents who had children with major physical and mental medical issues—which meant, even when the child simply needed to go to a primary care appointment, they often needed to be seen by five or more specialists.

It was also in Ohio that I began working at a ministry that served food to families who were homeless or simply without money to pay for dinners each night. I would see the gratefulness in their eyes, especially the eyes of the children, and it would remind me of how often many of us complain about things in our lives. We complain when the cafeteria does not have the food that we desire, but we forget there could be as many as a billion people in the world who did not eat at all today. We complain about our housing costs, but we forget about those who live daily without a home. We complain about our jobs, but we forget about the millions of people in search of work.

Quite simply, we take so much for granted in our lives. There’s an old Southern gospel song entitled “I Have Been Blessed.” One verse says, “Arms that can raise, a voice that can talk, hands that can touch, legs that can walk, ears that can listen, eyes that can see, I’ve got to praise him, as long as I breathe, I have been blessed.” So as I heard about the many patients that Ashley cared for who could not walk, it reminded me that I had to thank God for giving me legs to walk. How often do we thank God for eyes that can see? Ears that can hear? Legs that can walk?

Again, I Thessalonians 5:18 reads, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. That lesson is clear—we have no choice. We are to be THANKFUL in everything, even when life takes us in a different direction than what we had in mind, even when we get rejected by an individual or don’t get the job we desire or the promotion that we think we are deserving of. We need to be thankful to God.

But that brings me to the second lesson. As years ago I began mediating on I Thessalonians 5:18, I remember one day God finally hit me over the head and said, “Look at the prior verse.” In verse 17 it simply says, “Pray without ceasing.” I’ve found that thankfulness becomes part of my life when my prayer life is closer to where it needs to be. When I continually realize the importance of communicating with God, and I reflect that I have the ability to come into the Holy One’s presence, it reminds me of how blessed I am.

Jewerl Maxwell
Dean of Academic Initiatives and Global Education
Jewerl Maxwell is the dean of academic initiatives and global education and professor of political science at Gordon College. He holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from Miami University, and a B.A. (summa cum laude) in History, Political Science and Public Affairs from Muskingum University. His research interests include presidential unilateral powers, constitutional law and affirmative action policy. He recently co-authored Tough Times for the President, co-edited Rendering to God and Caesar: Critical Readings for American Government and published an article entitled “Has Barack Obama Embraced the Unitary Executive” in the journal PS: Political Science & Politics.