A Year Of Gratitude
By Eric Elder
We’ll be returning next week to our study of the book of Romans and the “Lessons in Renewing Your Mind.” But while the New Year‘s still fresh, I wanted to give you a prescription for how to have the best, brightest, and most fulfilling New Year you’ve ever had.
It’s simpler than you might think, and the price is within reach. The prescription is this: give thanks in all circumstances.
The idea was sparked anew within me over the holidays after reading a great book called 365 Thank Yous. The book was written by John Kralik, who was a lawyer in L.A. when he wrote it.
At 53 years old, he thought he was at the end of his rope. He had been through two failed marriages, his most recent girlfriend had just left him, and his business was on the brink of financial ruin.
So he took a walk into the mountains on New Year’s Day. As he walked a voice seemed to speak to him saying that he shouldn’t focus on what he wanted or had lost, but should be grateful for what he had. Looking at his life, though, he couldn’t think of even one thing for which he could give thanks.
Then he remembered his grandfather, who at John’s age had already retired and was spending his days golfing and watching the stock market. John remembered a lesson that his grandfather tried to teach him when John was young. His grandfather had given him a silver dollar and told him that if he were to write a thank you letter for the silver dollar his grandfather would send him another silver dollar. That was the way thank you letters worked, his grandfather told him.
True to his word, his grandfather sent John a second silver dollar upon receiving the first thank you note. But John says he failed to learn the lesson. Having received the second silver dollar, John never sent a second thank you letter, and thus never received a third silver dollar.
Reflecting on this lesson on his mountain-top walk, John came up with an idea. He had a stack of stationery in his office with a return address that might soon become obsolete. He decided he would try to find one person to thank each day. At the end of the year, he would have written 365 thank yous, he would have used up his stationery, and if his grandfather was right, he would have a lot more to be thankful for at the end of the year.
The only problem was, he couldn’t think of even one thing in his life for which he could be grateful.
The rest of the book describes what happened as John set out to find something to be thankful for each day, whether it was a tie that someone had given him for Christmas, or a kind word spoken by someone who regularly served him coffee at Starbucks, or the fact that one of his clients had actually paid their bills on time.
The response he got from people varied from shock and delight to overwhelming emotion, as so few people had ever received a hand-written thank you note from anyone, let alone from John. But this simple act of finding something to be thankful for every day began to release a wave of return in John’s life that he could have hardly imagined that day on the mountain. His relationship with his estranged son was restored. Some of his paying clients began to refer other paying clients to him. He began to take notice of those around him, from co-workers in his office to the maintenance man at his apartment.
His heart began to soften to the plights of those around him, and his attitude about his own frustrations began to diminish, too. By the end of the year, and by the end of the book, John was in a new place on many levels: personally, professionally, spiritually and emotionally. What he learned from his grandfather had turned out to be true. Blessings abound for those who give thanks.
And isn’t this just what the Bible says? Even though John Kralik’s book is not particularly spiritual, per se, what he says underscores the wisdom of the Bible in many ways. There’s a blessing of peace and joy that comes to those who have a grateful heart. The book of Philippians says:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition,with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
God wants us to present our requests to Him. But He wants us to present them to Him with thanksgiving. When we do, the peace of God follows.
The book of Colossians says:
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:15-17).
Three times in these three short verses thankfulness is mentioned. The same God who called us to peace has also called us to be thankful. Peace and thankfulness go hand in hand. The God who wants us to teach and admonish one another and to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs also wants us to do these things with with gratitude in our hearts to Him. And in whatever we do, whether in word or deed, God wants us to do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
The book of First Thessalonians tells us when we should give thanks:
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
If you’d like to know God’s will for you this coming year, here is is, at least in part: be joyful always; pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.
This doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to give thanks in all circumstances, but it does mean that the peace and joy that might be eluding you now could be easier to recover than you might think. God’s peace doesn’t come from getting everything you want, but by being thankful for what you’ve been given. Being thankful changes your heart, your mind, and your attitude in a way that can bear a fruitful return in your life.
I wish I could read you all the stories in John Kralik’s book. While it doesn’t have a fairy-tale ending, it does show that the powerful impact that gratefulness have have. And what did it cost him? Just a little time to reflect each day on those things for which he could be truly thankful, and the cost of a stack of notecards and stamps so that he could express his gratitude to others.
In the short time since reading the book, I’ve already had several occasions to express my thanks to those around me. On a visit to a dermatologist with my daughter this week, I was able to tell him thanks for a treatment he had done on my foot several years ago. It was a painful treatment, but now it’s healed and I’m pain-free. But I never had a reason to go back to his office after that treatment, so I never told him thanks. I was able to write some thank you notes for some Christmas gifts, not out of obligation, but with a renewed sense of thankfulness in my heart towards those who took the time to give them to me. I’ve been able to thank my wife and my kids for things that I might otherwise have overlooked. I can tell in my own life that the gratitude that is welling up in my heart is already bringing about a new level of joy and peace.
It’s amazing what a little simple act of gratitude can do–both for you, and for those around you.
As we head into 2012, I’d like to encourage you to make this, “A Year of Gratitude.” A year where you put the Bible to the test and see what happens when you “give thanks in all circumstances.” If you do, I believe you’ll find that the Bible will prove true for you on this point just as it has proven true on so many other points that people have put it to the test and found to be true. And if you follow this prescription, I’m confident that you’ll have a better, brighter, and more fulfilling New Year than you’ve ever had before.
And if you’ve got some thank you notes handy, why not take one out from time to time to express your gratitude to those around you? John Kralik suggests that the notes don’t have to be long, just three or four lines at most. Start with “Dear So-and-So,” he says, then identify the gift specifically (“the red and white tie”), and say one sincere thing about why you like it (“It’s a perfect match for my blue suit.”) Remember that thank you notes don’t have to be just for those who give you gifts, but for anyone who has been a blessing in your life, whether it’s helping you through a crisis, or serving you with a smile.
With all the other New Year’s resolutions that you could start this year, one of the simplest, yet most beneficial is to be thankful for at least for one thing each day. Or for best results, as the Bible says, “give thanks in all circumstances.”
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for giving us another year of life. Help us to live each day with gratitude in our hearts toward You and toward those around us. Help us to express that gratitude in ways that others can benefit from it as well. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
P.S. I’d like to say a sincere “thank you” to all of you who have taken time to read these messages this past year, sharing them with your friends, praying for our ministry, helping us financially, and writing me your own notes of gratitude. While I try to respond personally to as many notes as I can, I’m sorry I’m not able to respond in that way to every note that comes in. But I do read every note, and want to let you know that I very much appreciate hearing from you. It bolsters my faith, gives me encouragement, and is exciting to see how God uses His Word to touch people’s lives. Thank you!
While I don’t have copies of John Kralik’s book to send to you (I got mine from the library), I’ve included a link below to the book on Amazon if you’d like to get a copy for yourself. Thanks to Greg Potzer for recommending the book to me! Now I’m glad to recommend it to you!
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