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the art of gratitude

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Throughout the holiday season, we are constantly reminded to be thankful for our blessings. But what does it mean to be truly grateful?

In 2018, I attended an event put on by Passion Global Institute called “The Supremacy of Christ.” During his lecture, Dr. John Piper said one thing in particular that I still wrestle with to this day.

“It is very easy for us to be thankful for the good things in our life, yet it is often much more difficult to be thankful for the bad things.” - Dr. John Piper

I realized that he was right when it came to the way I approach being thankful for the things God has brought into my life.

Dr. Piper's statement reminded me of a proverb I once heard about a farmer in ancient China.


A farmer in ancient China had a horse.

He was a strong, brown stallion, healthy and gentle. In ancient China, your horse was your livelihood. It plowed your field, it provided transportation, and it was your most prized possession.

One day, the farmer’s horse vanishes. Gone, with no sign of coming back. The entire village comes to console the farmer about losing his horse.

They say, “We’re so sorry to hear about your horse. That is the worst thing that could have happened. We can’t imagine the loss you must be experiencing.”

To which the farmer replies, “It's not good, it's not bad, it simply is what it is.”

A few weeks pass, and out of the window of the house, the farmer sees his horse walking toward him.

Trailing his horse is another horse. She is a gleaming white, beautiful, healthy, mare.

After hearing of the man’s good fortune, the entire village returns to offer their congratulations.

“We couldn’t be happier for you” they say. “What great luck you must have. This is the best thing that could have happened to you!”

To which the farmer replies, “It's not good, it's not bad, it simply is what it is.

A few more weeks pass and the farmer’s one and only son is out riding the black and white spotted mare. The horse gets unsettled and bucks the young man off of her breaking his leg.

The village hears of the young man’s injuries and visits the house to offer their condolences.

“We are saddened to hear of your son’s injuries. This is truly the worst thing that could have happened. This is the worst thing that could have happened.”

The farmer replies once more, “it's not good, it's not bad, it simply is what it is.

A few more weeks pass, and the country breaks out in war. Each family is required to send their sons off to fight for the province.

Except for the farmer’s son.

He is unable to serve based on the injury to his leg. The war ravages the province’s army.

None of the families’ sons return.

The villagers exclaim to the farmer, “You are so fortunate to have kept your son during this great war. If only our sons were fortunate enough to have been spared from the perils of battle. This truly must be the greatest thing to have happened to you.”

To which the farmer said, “It's not good, it's not bad, it simply is what it is."


What does this proverb teach us?

First, it makes us realize that everything is not as it seems to be.

What we would originally consider positive in the story ended up being negative, and what was originally negative ended up being positive.

Second, the proverb teaches us that both positive events and negative events are equally temporary.

Finally, and most importantly, this proverb teaches us that we as humans do not have the power or authority to label events in our life as positive or negative.


Because we don’t have the power or authority to know whether they will bring about a positive or negative outcome for us in the end.

For instance, you might win a $100 Million jackpot this week. Who wouldn’t want that?

It would be the best thing to ever happen to you, right?

You could quit your job, buy a beautiful dream house, drive a Ferrari, and sail off into the sunset!

Well, you might have been financially stable beforehand making $60,000 a year, but your new found financial confidence leads you into bankruptcy and a life of repaying debts on purchases you otherwise wouldn’t have made.

On the other hand, you could leave your house today, get in a minor fender-bender, and think that your whole day is ruined. Worst day ever, right?

What if I told you that little wreck saved you from a 10 car pileup down the road that caused multiple fatalities? You could have easily been one.

See what I mean? You and I have no power or authority to label things in our life to be positive or negative.

If we can commit to releasing control of labeling the events of our life as good or bad, we release the emotional attachment and stress of those events.

If we don’t look at death as negative, but rather as necessary, we begin to see it in a different light.

If we don’t jump for joy over a huge promotion, but rather see it as a necessary step toward God’s ultimate plans for our life, we begin to appreciate it for what it is; a stepping stone along the path of your life.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t be happy for good things you receive or sad when you lose something or someone; however, I want to challenge you to approach it in a different way starting today.

Homework: If you’re a praying person, which I hope that you are, when praying this week, try not to ask God for anything. Simply thank him.

I’ve tried it, and it’s more difficult than you think.

Praying this way allows you to realize how much more you have to thank God for than you ever have to ask of him. Anything you ask for, he already knows that you need.

But don’t stop at the things you've seen Him provide.

Thank Him especially for the things that he’s given you or that he will give you that you have never seen or felt.

This is faith. This is thanksgiving.

This is the art of gratitude.




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