Thankful Hearts

“With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God.”
Philippians 4:6b

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Sometimes in reading Scripture, it’s the little words that capture my attention.

“Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God. Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand.”
Philippians 4:6-7 (CEV)
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Did you spot with and then? Paul speaks a powerful truth to me here in Philippians 4. He tells us that a thankful heart, anchored in Jesus, is the gateway to a peaceful spirit. What a beautiful promise. Gratitude on my part is honored by the Lord; it is he who supplies incomprehensible peace to my thankful heart.

John Ortberg says, “Gratitude is the gift God gives us that enables us to be blessed by all his other gifts, the way our taste buds enable us to enjoy the gift of food.“

There is an old movie that I love. It’s a Civil War drama called Shenandoah. In it, Jimmy Stewart plays a widowed father of a large farm family. He is a man with a keen sense of self-sufficiency. At the beginning of the film, he prays before each meal (because his wife made him promise to do so before she died), but it is a pretty testy prayer. “Lord, we cleared this land, we plowed it, we planted it, we harvested the crops, and we fixed the food. We worked till we were dog-boned-tired. None of this would be here if it weren’t for us, but thank you anyway. Amen.”

Then the war comes. He loses everything. His family is ripped apart. Brothers fight against brothers. He suffers the loss of two sons. His youngest son, who reminds him so much of his wife, is carried off as a prisoner of war and lost to him for many years.

Deep into the war, the remnant of the family gathers around the table for a meal. Jimmy starts to pray the old prayer, “Lord, we cleared this land, we plowed it . . . “ but he chokes up and can’t go on. Suffering and loss—he is heartbroken, no longer feeling self-sufficient.

Ironically, it is loss and pain that open the door to gratitude. Toward the end of the story, against all hope, Stewart is sitting in church when his youngest son comes home to him, limping down the aisle. And they stand and sing together, “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow . . . “

Stewart’s character comes to realize something powerful…in spite of circumstances, it’s really all a gift. His life was a gift. His children were gifts. The seeds…and earth…and rain…and sun…and growth were gifts. His work was a gift. Life itself was a gift. And God graced him with one more incredible gift—the capacity for gratitude.

The Lord likewise graced the apostle Paul.

“… for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”
Philippians 4:11

Gratitude comes from the same word as freedom (gratis = free). Gratitude is the freeing expression of a free heart toward the One who freely gave, says Ravi Zacharias. A free heart and a peaceful heart—because we belong to Jesus and are thankful.

“Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness,
And for His wonders to the sons of men!
For He has satisfied the thirsty soul,
And the hungry soul He has filled with what is good.”
Psalm 107:8-9

by Connie Grosse