My wife and I play some casual games on smartphones or tablets, often in the evening after a long day. Since matching colors and lining up boxes isn’t very intellectually stimulating, both of us have picked up a word-find game, where letters must be ordered to make words. (There are many of these games, which fall in the same genres as, say, Boggle or the newspaper feature Jumble.)
So, when playing this game, I find myself looking at a collection of letters, trying to figure out what words can be made out of them. Sometimes, I stare at the letters, and don’t see any words that can be made from them at all. Or, maybe I find a few and think that I’m doing pretty well, but then notice that the game expects me to find many more.
However, as a few words start to appear in the letters, it seems that it becomes easier to find more. One word builds off of another, and a particular fragment of a word can be re-used with other letters to make even more. Once I get started, more and more words appear within the same group of letters, even when I didn’t find anything at first.
In that light, consider the following verse from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi:
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
Philippians 4:6 NLT
The first three instructions in this verse could be life-changing on their own: For those of us who worry too much, we learn that we shouldn’t just worry less. Instead, we shouldn’t worry at all (see Matthew 6:25-34). For those of us who don’t pray enough (which is probably most – if not all – of us), we have a reminder to pray more. Our prayers shouldn’t just be reserved for special occasions, or for cases where we’re really in a jam, but rather they should be “about everything” (see 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). And, for those of us who are a little too self-sufficient, we are called to tell God what we need. Yes, He is omniscient and knows already, but we are still commanded to tell Him.
Let’s take a look at the last part of this verse, though, about thanking God. We aren’t just to thank God for a few things, like answering our prayers or distracting an acquaintance that we’re avoiding. We should thank him for “all he has done”. That’s a lot!
But what about when we don’t feel blessed? Like me staring at a bunch of letters and not seeing any words, how do we thank God when we don’t know what to thank Him for? Personally, I think that the the old song, “Count your Blessings” (see https://www.hymnal.net/en/hymn/h/707) probably had the right idea, back in 1897. The very process of listing out what we know, and building from there, causes us to become aware of more and more things that God has done for us. The act of counting something doesn’t actually change things (except maybe in subatomic physics), so when we count our blessings, we aren’t increasing the number of things that God has done for us. However, we have the opportunity to thank Him for more of what He has already done, and to trust Him more for the future as we appreciate His continued faithfulness to us.
So, if you’re ready to obey this verse, but still feel short on things to be thankful for, I encourage you to try this out in a practical manner: Take a sheet of paper or a blank document on your computer, and commit to writing out as many things that God has done for you as you can in a fixed amount of time, say, 5 or 10 minutes. See if, as the hymn suggests, “it will surprise you what the Lord hath done”.
If you’re not sure where to start, consider these ideas as a starting point:
- Blessings given to all people, like the life-giving sun and rain (Matthew 5:45), life itself (Genesis 2:7, 1 Timothy 6:13-14), and the offer of salvation (Titus 2:11, Hebrews 9:27-28).
- Praises that others have written to God, like those found in the book of Psalms.
- Jesus’ list of blessings that we sometimes call the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12).
Like staring at letters in a puzzle game, it may be difficult at first, but there are plenty of blessings to be recounted once we get going. I believe that if you ask God for insight, as you start list a few of these blessings, you will discover that there are more and more to be found!
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.