We think about Thanksgiving as a holiday here in the United States, but it’s more than that. It is the appropriate response when we realize we stand in debt of God. Our very salvation is something we ought to be thankful for, that Jesus went to the cross and died for our sins. The Gospel, the good news, is the truth we live with day in and day out. At minimum, we can say thank you for that.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18 Paul says, “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
We’re commanded to give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. There’s a difference.
Paul is not saying to thank God for your cancer or thank God that someone died. No. He’s saying that in those situations God is still at work. Even in the midst of what may be the most difficult thing you’re dealing with, God is working for the good of those who love him.
This message isn’t just for you, if in this season you feel warm, safe and loved. This message isn’t just for you, if you are grieving, or hurting, or lonely. This message is for all of us, whether we’re experiencing tragedy or joy – we are always to give thanks.
This idea of giving thanks in all circumstances isn’t a cheap thing. We can’t always see how God is working in our season of suffering. Sometimes, we don’t understand any of it until the pain passes and we look back. With time and the gift of hindsight, we can be thankful for what God has done. But there is a benefit to giving thanks on the spot, and whenever possible, we need to practice this.
You look at your car and it has a few dings. Maybe it doesn’t shine as well as it used to and has a rip in the leather somewhere. You want to complain about it; but, instead, you’re going to say, “Thank you! Thank you God, that I have a way to get to work.”
Maybe you see your boss coming your way and you know he’s critical. He’s going to give you more work to do than you can handle. He’s not going to give you that raise you asked for. What are you going to say? “Thank you! Thank you God, that I have a job.”
Maybe you are looking at yourself and you see your body isn’t working the way it used to. You have that annoying arthritis and things are shifting. You’re like, “Oh, my! What’s happening to my body?” Instead, you’re going to say, “Thank you for this body, God. I am alive today!”
Perhaps you’ve lost a loved one, and your heart is deeply broken. You cannot see how you will go on without him, or her. You may consider praying, “Dear God, I am in so much pain. Please comfort my heart. Thank you for the love I experienced with ____. Thank you God for the gift of our relationship. I am grateful for the time we shared together, however short it was. I will cherish it for the rest of my life.”
Notice that Paul says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Just in case you thought Paul made this up, he’s making the point that this is God’s Word. This is what Jesus wants for us.
God desires for you and I to give thanks no matter what’s going on in our lives, because it’s good for us.
God knows this is what we need to do. Gratitude isn’t just about feeling good. Gratitude doesn’t mean we have to be happy. But gratitude leads us to joy. It elevates us, at least for a moment, from the things of this earth into the heavenly realm.
Gratitude does not require us to minimize our pain. Admit the reality of your challenges; but also, look for where God is working in that.
I used to struggle with gratitude. I have a hypercritical mind and a perfectionist drive. Years ago, I decided to pray and ask God for a grateful heart. I actually prayed for it every day for about a year. I put a sticky note on my bathroom mirror so that every time I brushed my teeth, I would be reminded to pray for a grateful heart. And God did a mighty thing! Over time, he give me so much gratitude.
That was years ago. However, as all things do, ingratitude creeps up once in a while. It crept up again this week, in a moment of doubt, when I was wondering if I’m really making a difference as I teach God’s Word. I started feeling critical and ungrateful. Then I heard God’s spirit remind me: “Be faithful with what I give you. Be grateful. I will do the rest.”
My heart shifted when I started thinking with thanksgiving.
My most ungrateful moments come up in the middle of the night, when I wake up with worries and concerns. But, I found out that one cure for not being able to sleep is gratitude. When I cannot fall back asleep, I recite Psalm 63 to myself. I just think about all the things God has already done in my life and all the things I have to be grateful for:
Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:3-8
Before I know it, I’m back asleep. I’m grateful again.
Gratitude, even a short moment of thankfulness, is like a candle, a little light that can dispel the darkness in a room. Let there be light!
In preparation for Thanksgiving, light a candle every night. Remind yourself to be that light of gratitude and kindness wherever you find yourself this holiday season, and pray for God’s faithful grace to help you see every circumstance with a heart of gratitude.