“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
-1 Thessalonians 5:18
One of the most valuable lessons I learned was from a lay person in a church I served in Mineola, Texas a few years ago. I learn invaluable lessons everywhere I serve but this particular lay person taught me something that transformed the way I look at the world, my circumstances and my life. He taught me the lesson that being thankful does not have to depend on my circumstances.
His name was Leon Willingham. It’s customary for us to greet people by saying, “Hello, how are you doing?” or something similar. We generally expect the other person to reply, “Oh, I’m doing fine,” or “I’m OK” or “I’m doing well,” or something along that line. But when I first met Leon and greeted him, he replied in a way I didn’t expect. He said, “I’m blessed.” The first time he responded that way I thought, “Well, he must be having a great day.” But I noticed every single time I greeted him with, “How are you doing?,” he responded the same way, “I’m blessed!” After responding that way to me dozens of times, rain or shine, I finally had to stop and ask him, “Why is it every time I ask you how you’re doing you respond, “I’m blessed?” You always say the same thing. Why?
Leon smiled with that big grin he had and said, “Preacher, don’t you realize you’re blessed?” Confused I ask him, “What do you mean?” He asked, “Are you in Christ?” Puzzled I slowly replied, “Well…yes.” Then he said, “Well then, you’re blessed.” Then he explained to me, “If you’re a Christian and your centered in Christ, then you’re blessed. And that blessing doesn’t depend upon circumstances. Whether your situation is good or bad, you’re still blessed because if you’re living in Christ, you have great blessings neither the world nor the enemy can take from you! You have the blessings of God’s assurance, God’s grace, God’s love, eternal salvation and Jesus Christ!
Leon helped me to see my life in a new and different way. He helped me to understand that my thankfulness and gratitude does not have to depend on my circumstances. Now this doesn’t mean that I don’t feel pain in tragedy and suffering and that I don’t mourn in times of loss. But it does mean that no matter what my situation may be or how dark things may appear I can find good things from God for which I can be thankful.
Leon taught be a valuable lesson that I have carried with me to every church I serve. And that’s why when people ask me how I’m doing, like Leon, I respond, “I’m blessed!”
Gracious God, we thank you for the many, many blessings you have bestowed upon us through your Son, Jesus. Open our eyes to recognize these blessing in whatever circumstances we may find ourselves. This we ask in Jesus’s blessed name. Amen.