I recently read a quote by Ray Edwards about his reflections on a year as it winds down. He said he makes two lists: 1) What am I thankful for this past year?, and 2) What do I want to be thankful for next year at this time? Those two questions pressed me to think about certain things in my life. It seemed easy enough to make a list of things for which I am thankful. However, there had to be some intention if I was going to create a list of things I wanted to be thankful for next year at this time. There is an often quoted passage from the Bible in a book the Apostle Paul wrote called Philippians that says No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.” There is some danger because looking back can often lead to going back. A desire for the “good old days”. When our focus is constantly on the past, we often miss what bright future that lies ahead. I have heard it said that the greatest hindrance to our success tomorrow, is our success today. We cannot relive yesterday, whether it was good or bad. We can only use it for perspective. Paul is not discounting what has happened previously in his life because on several occasions he recites some of that. He does, however,  have a clear understanding of where he is headed and what his final destination should look like. I want to give offer some assistance in your two lists and see if we can gain value from where we have been and begin to be intentional about where we are going.

What am I thankful for?

One of the best attitudes we can cultivate is the attitude of gratitude; learning to be gracious in all of our circumstances. Paul wrote to his protege Timothy “to be thankful in all circumstances”. We do not necessarily have to be thankful for every circumstance, but we can find things to be thankful for in every circumstance. He is reminding us that our attitude about every situation and circumstance is critical. Cultivating the right outlook is imperative. Our quality of life improves as our gratitude improves. 

When you begin making a list of things you are thankful for over the last year, try not to be in a hurry. What you will often find is that one thing you are thankful for will lead to another. Often, I am surprised at the list and how it will change my ideas, thoughts and emotions as I read over the good things. Reflection also gives me a perspective I may not have had in the middle of certain situations. It is during that reflection that I have time to see something good come from what appeared to be a difficult situation. It is difficult to prepare for good things ahead until we have the right attitude about the things that have already passed.

What do I want to be thankful for?

This is not a daydreaming exercise, but an opportunity to set the bar for the coming year and be intentional about what is going to take place. When I think about twelve months from now, what do I want to be thankful for? This allows us to think about the things that will need to take place over the following year that will allow other things to happen for which we want to be thankful. For example, if you want to be thankful for a better marriage, what steps do you need to take for your marriage to improve? If you want to be debt free, what actions must happen for that to be on your “thankful” list in twelve months? You may want to be thankful for being a better leader or parent, have more income, attending church regularly, starting a new business or losing 10 pounds. Whatever you want to be thankful for, prepare and plan so those things take place. 

In the verse we quoted from Philippians, Paul uses the expression “I focus on this one thing”. He does not overload himself with trying to accomplish everything. He is committed however to one thing. Every problem you have or every goal you desire cannot be accomplished in one year. But at least one of them can. Take the time to think about what you want to be thankful for and then be intentional on making that happen.

As we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, it is a good time for some reflection and planning. Looking back to improve our attitude and looking forward to change our direction. Be thankful for what has happened. Plan for the things for which you want to be thankful. Intentional gratitude will change your life.