But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us spreads and makes evident everywhere the sweet fragrance of the knowledge of Him.
2 Corinthians 2:14
It’s a delight to be around thankful people. They fill up a room with their optimism, thoughtfulness, and peace. In his letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul said such people act as a fragrant perfume that brings pleasure to every corner of a room.
Grouchy people give off a fragrance, too, but they smell like something besides perfume! Each of us knows people who seldom have anything positive to say. Even when things go well, their cynicism Spurs people around them.
What makes people thankful? They are known for two connected actions: remembering God’s past blessings and realizing God still gives them wonderful gifts. They look forward to the future, trusting that the One who has abundantly provided will provide yet again. Don’t assume thankful people are blind to the often painful realities in life. In fact, they can be more honest about hurts and disappointments because they don’t need to hide from those things. But their hope focuses their attention away from the hurts and disappointments and onto God’s character. They are convinced that sooner or later He will give them the wisdom, strength, direction, and blessing they need. Looking back at God’s past faithfulness gives them confidence in Him for the future.
Each day come forth from the hand of God newly created and alive with opportunities to do His will. We, for our part, can accept and offer back to God every prayer, work, and suffering of the day, no matter how insignificant or unspectacular they may seem to us. Between God and the individual soul, however, there are no insignificant moments, this is the mystery of divine Providence.
The following two verses, 15 and 16 tell us that the fragrance we bear is incense.
For we are the sweet fragrance of Christ [which ascends] to God, [discernible both] among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the latter one an aroma from death to death [a fatal, offensive odor], but to the other an aroma from life to life [a vital fragrance, living and fresh]. And who is adequate and sufficiently qualified for these things?
2 Corinthians 2:15-16
Paul is referring to a practice that I’m sure while in Rome he had observed many times. As the emperor would enter the city, going before him would be those who carried vessels of incense announcing his arrival to the waiting crowds. This fragrance also made its way to the prisons where prisoners were waiting to be sentenced. Some would be given life and liberty and others would receive the sentence of death and execution. Paul says that the fragrance of Christ descends to all producing to those perishing an aroma of death but to those who are alive in Christ an aroma of life to life.
In other words each person is smelling the same aroma but how they respond to is is as different as life and death. So it is with all the things that comes to us in this life. We can choose to view them with grateful hearts looking for the good that God has for us even in the pain and suffering or we can choose to respond with complaints and ingratitude.
In the wilderness, the children of Israel had many such opportunities to respond to God with thankful hearts, but sadly we read that often instead of thanksgiving, they responded with murmuring. One would think that after they were delivered from slavery they would be grateful but instead at every point of adversity they complained. Even after God brought them through the Red Sea and destroyed their enemies, they found reason to complain that they had no food. God in His gracious generosity provided them manna and then they complained that they had no meat. God in His mercy provided them meat and they still complained. We read that they were so ungrateful and unthankful that they died in the wilderness still longing for Egypt, still unhappy with all the blessings of God and never received the future blessings of the Promised Land.
We, too, have opportunities to be either thankful or to be cynical. We can look for blessings in every situation or we can find something to be unhappy about. The old saying of the half-empty or the half-full glass is a reality. It’s the same glass with the same amount, but each viewer sees it different. I read a story of a little boy who was praying for a pony. As he went out to the barn, there was a pile of manure. He looked at the pile and said, “There’s a pony here somewhere.” That’s the response of a grateful heart. A grateful heart will look at the challenges of life and say to itself, “There’s a blessing here somewhere.” If we were to reverse the story of the little boy, we would tell that he was given a pony and his response would be, “Oh well, now I’ve got to clean up manure.” Same situation, different outlook.
And this is true for us in our time right now. We can view all the things happening around us as opportunities for us to see God work through us in amazing ways or we can view all the things as interruptions and unwanted change. Each of us face to a large degree the same things but those who choose to approach life with thanksgiving will find themselves living in the peace of God. Those who are thankful are those who trust. Often those who are in thankful really at the end of the day are not people of faith and trust. My response whenever I’m asked how I’m doing is either “I am blessed” or “Can’t complain.” Usually I get the response “Well everything must be going well for you then” as though we can only be blessed and thankful when things are going our way. Truth is things seldom go my way but I’ve learned that if we approach life with gratitude somehow the sting of disappointment and the pain of suffering is mitigated by the blessings that come with them. In a few weeks we will celebrate Thanksgiving Day but what if we choose to have 365 days of thanksgiving? Thankfulness is attractive and people want to be around those kind of people. Complaints may draw an audience for a season but eventually the one who complains the most will get tired of a constant barrage of complaints and look for a thankful person. I wonder what would happen in churches if every member sought to find things to be grateful for instead of finding things to complain about. Perhaps that church would become attractive to the community and would grow. At the end of the day as Paul tells us it’s a decision. We will decide whether we will be thankful or whether we will be unthankful. The choice is ours. For me I choose to be thankful for all the goodness of God even in the midst of adversity.