The Joy of Giving Thanks

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In Numbers 21:4-5, the Israelites complain about the manna God has provided them with during their period of wandering in the desert. Manna, as many know, was the food source that God gave the Israelites during this time when there was little else to eat. “There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!” the Israelites complain (v. 5). In the previous chapter, God miraculously provides drinking water gushing from a rock. The Israelites have everything they need to survive, yet they still complain. They learn the hard way to thank God for their blessings (read verses 6-10), but the point is they learn.

It’s easy to become frustrated with the Israelites’ ungratefulness, but we all can be just like them. Luckily, God is forgiving and loving because He still provides for our needs, despite our complaints. By thanking God for the little things, that thankfulness leads to joy. I used to confuse joy with happiness, but the two are different. Joy is an attitude toward life and happiness is what follows when you have joy. In my experience, joy comes from thanking God for his blessings in life and praising Him for His kindness.

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Take my life right now: I’m working odd hours at a job I don’t love, but I’m thanking God for providing income and health insurance. In addition, I live in a house with near-strangers. It feels sometimes like I’m a hermit because I don’t come home from work until 3 a.m. and the house is quiet. It sometimes feels lonely, but it gives me plenty of time alone with God to give thanks. Joy changes your entire attitude toward life and makes working around life’s problems easier. For example, I accidentally hit a deer on the highway not long ago, causing significant damage to my car. But the situation could have been far worse. Neither myself nor my friend who was with me were injured and the car is completely drivable. I can’t open my hood right now or my passenger door, but the damages could have been more expensive. I’m choosing to thank God for providing money to fix my car through my job.

I didn’t always have this mindset. Like the Israelites, I had to learn the hard way not to complain. I was not so different during the past year when I moved back in with my family in Kansas after graduating college. My family provided multiple meals for me every week, helped me purchase my car, and offered to buy me groceries. In addition, the job I worked was a convenient five minutes from our house. I was sitting pretty. But from time to time I would complain about my situation: I missed my friends in Oregon and I wasn’t content with the job I had. I felt like my life lacked meaning, but I had no right to complain.

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My family pointed out my negative attitude and my lack of joy. I wasn’t giving thanks and I had forgotten that God is my provider. I wondered where I could learn to have more joy. My good friend Zach, who loves Jesus more than most people I know, exudes contagious joy. I assumed that if I was to gain joy it was from him. It wasn’t long before I realized I was wearing Zach out. I was syphoning joy off him and it was hurting our friendship. He taught me that a joyful heart comes from the Lord. By training myself to focus on God throughout the day and give thanks for His blessings I learned to “renew” my mind in Him. Now when I’m feeling down or anxious, I praise God for all that He has done in my life.

If you want to be more joyful, hang out with God. Don’t just read the Bible or go to church: Talk to the Holy Spirit when you’re alone like he’s a dear friend who cares about your problems. Tell Him when You’re upset and ask Him to provide for your needs. I converse with God when I’m driving home from work most often. I’ve found that by involving Jesus in my life, like a friend I’m excited to spend time with, I grow closer to Him. Not only this, but I feel inner peace when I talk to Him.

As Philippians 4:4-7 says:

"Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! […] Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus."

Shifting your mind from complaining into thanksgiving brings so much joy. Just try it for yourself and you’ll see God’s goodness. He is a good Father, faithful and loving.