There are some of the instructions in the Bible which we just don't "get" because they seem so counter-intuitive to what life sends our way. Whether it is "turn the other cheek", or "give and it shall be given to you", the instructions seem a little "opposite" of what most of us would think as being "rational" or "sound reasoning". Turning the other cheek means I may get hit again - resulting in TWO wounded parts, not just one. Giving what I have doesn't seem to make sense because everyone knows we need to have a "nest egg" of sorts to fall back on, so if I give away something I may need down the road, what sense does that make? For most of us, the thought of being "cheerful no matter what" is almost as counter-intuitive as the other two. Yet, this is the way God want us to live - so it behooves us to understand how to incorporate these attitudes or actions into our lives.
Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18 MSG)
Bad stuff doesn't elicit high spirits and praise from me most of the time - how about you? When the stuff hits me like a load of bricks, I seldom just jump up and down with the lightest of spirits and embrace it with an ungrudging attitude. In fact, I want to whine a little! I want to throw a pity party - not a celebration of praise! Yet, God doesn't want us to live in misery - even when the "bad stuff" comes our way. So, figuring out how to "deal with" the things we might not think of as remarkably wonderful in our lives is pretty much not an option in his eyes!
Really, the crux of our instruction comes not in the reminder to "be cheerful no matter what", but in the next two instructions of "praying all the time" and "thanking God no matter what happens". These two actions result in a change of heart (and attitude) which actually helps to "deal with" the bad stuff which has landed in our laps. Prayer is more than words - it is an attitude of heart and mind. I don't spend a whole lot of time in what some might call "structured prayer". I do spend a whole lot of time in purposeful consideration of the issues at hand and thoughtful repose before God waiting on him to give me a little revelation into the next step I should take. Prayer is more than the words we utter - it is the attitude of heart and mind we maintain when we are faced with the stuff we don't understand.
In other words, God is reminding us to keep our minds attentive on him and our hearts affixed to his. These two actions do more to keep us from begrudging the circumstances we may find coming our way at times than any other actions we might take. Wherever our minds tend to wander, that becomes the focus of our hearts. So, reining in our thoughts is often the first step we take in facing things with a cheerful heart.
Thanksgiving is something which stems from a right perspective. Whenever we see things as "unfair" or "one-sided" it is usually because we only have our eyes on ourselves. God's instructions to be cheerful at all times and be thankful no matter what happens requires us to look beyond ourselves and see the vastness of the world around us. We need the "bigger picture" perspective. When we look beyond ourselves, we often begin to see how the "load" we may be asked to carry today is actually helping someone else be relieved from a burden they have been carrying for a while all alone.
Thanksgiving is really a sense of gratitude - being cognizant of the blessings we have, but also of the need to sometimes step up our game to go beyond what we are comfortable doing. We have been given so much - more than we actually need in truth - so learning to be grateful even in the times we are asked to carry a little more than what seems "fair" at the moment is truthfully just a response of heartfelt appreciation for the many blessings we actually have.
Cheerfulness is the attitude of heart and mind the world often sees long before anything else. They may not know our many blessings for which we are grateful for, nor may they realize how much we rely upon our "secret conversations" with the one who knows the end from the beginning. What they do see is our attitude of heart. So, our instruction is to continually display the heart of Christ - even when the going gets a little tough. We have the resources to make it through - we just need to maintain the right attitude in the journey. Just sayin!