I know what the Bible says about giving thanks in all things. But doesn’t it feel like we should get a pass on giving thanks in 2020? Most of us can more easily come up with a lament list this Thanksgiving than we can a gratitude list.
A few reminders about the familiar command to “give thanks in all things” found in 1 Thessalonians 5. First, you know there was asterisk in the original text. You know the word translated “all things” literally means “all things,” right?
And you know the passage does not tell us to give thanks for all things. There are horrible things that happen in our lives and in our world that it would be wrong for us to give thanks for. Giving thanks in all things is very different than giving thanks for all things.
The command to give thanks in all things is the third of three staccato commands that come at the end of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Thessalonica. He has already reminded these new believers that all who follow Christ are destined to face afflictions (1 Thess. 3:3). But in the face of those very afflictions, Paul instructs them to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and in everything, give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
Giving thanks is an important attribute of our faith. God expects us to be grateful for His blessings.
In fact, Jerry Bridges says that for those who follow Christ, being grateful is not optional. “To fail to be thankful to God is a most grievous sin.” When Paul recounts the tragic moral downfall of mankind in Romans 1, he begins with the statement, ‘Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.’”
If failure to give thanks is indeed a grievous sin, we should clearly do more than set aside a day a year for thanksgiving. We should, Bridges says, learn to “cultivate a spirit of thankfulness that permeates our entire lives.”
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth agrees. She writes that most of us “tend to think of gratitude as an add-on, maybe a second tier—grace… right up there with going to church on Sunday night or cheerfulness or hospitality.”
In her book Choosing Gratitude, Nancy says “gratitude is foundational. We are always, always, always debtors. We owe him, we owe others. He doesn’t owe us anything. Yet God has given me Christ; he has given me his grace—He has lavished it on me. For me to be anything other than grateful is really, really wicked.”
Does that sound overstated to you? Wicked to be ungrateful? Wicked to not abound in thanksgiving to God?
Nancy says that she learned something about how to cultivate a spirit of thankfulness from Joni Erickson Tada. “She’s been for more than 40 years now,” Nancy writes, “a quadriplegic, in a wheelchair with very limited physical capacity. Things that come easily for us—just getting up, getting dressed, feeding ourselves—she can’t do those things by herself.
“Yet anytime anybody is with her, you can’t help but notice that she has this effervescent, joyful, hymn-singing, praising, thankful spirit.
“I asked her once, I said, ‘Joni, I’ve noticed that you are a joyful woman. You are a thankful woman. How do you maintain that spirit with the challenges that you have in your life?’
“She paused just a moment and then she said, ‘You know I think over all these years I’ve so disciplined and trained myself to give thanks in all things that that has become my reflex reaction.’
“She said a lot of things that day but that lodged in my heart and I pondered it after I left. I realized that the reflex reaction in my life was not to give thanks in all things but first to whine and then to get to the place of gratitude. I usually get there. But she had trained and disciplined herself to start by giving thanks in all things.”
Nancy went on to say “I have a friend who talked about one day as he was brushing his teeth just meditating on this verse, ‘in everything give thanks.’ He realized that he had never stopped to thank the Lord for healthy teeth and then he said this. He said, ‘If we would only have tomorrow that which we thanked the Lord for today how much would we have tomorrow?’ If tomorrow’s supply depended on today’s thanksgiving how much would I have tomorrow?”
When we cultivate the habit of giving thanks, and we learn how to focus on what we do have instead of what we don’t have, that leads to contentment.
If I was writing my own paraphrase of these verses, here’s what I would say:
Rejoice when there is reason to rejoice, and when there doesn’t seem to be any reason to rejoice. Remember that God loves you, that He has saved you, and that He is at work in all things. Rejoice.
And pray and pray and pray and pray and never quit praying. Never give up. Don’t even begin to think God isn’t hearing you or doesn’t care about you.
And remind yourself regularly just how much you have to be thankful for in life. Meditate often on these manifestations of His grace. Then give thanks to the God who is the source of every good gift, from the daily blessings we take for granted to the unexpected and extravagant blessings that also come our way.
When that is happening in your life – when you are joyful even in the midst of sorrow, and when you faithfully pray and don’t quit, and when you are a perpetually thankful person, even when life is hard, unbelievers who know you start to get curious. Because it is not natural for us to rejoice always, pray without ceasing or to give thanks in all things. It is super natural. It’s a work of God’s Spirit in your life.
God has blessed you in Christ with every spiritual blessing. Therefore, we ought to be at all times be moving in the direction of joy, prayer and gratitude. Those three things ought to be characteristic of us as His children.
Practice gratitude. Choose to give thanks this week. And every week. See the impact that spiritual exercise can begin to have on your heart.
DAVID O’DODD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CHRISTMAS SHOEBOXES
Let Pastor Matt know the number of gifts you’d like to provide. Text 859-771-6581 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Then simply mail your check, bring it to church and put it in the giving box or click here to make your donation to cover the cost of the gifts.
As part of your Thanksgiving celebration, why not decide how many David O’Dodd kids you’d like to provide a Christmas gift for this year?
To recap, last year at Christmas, we provided early Christmas gifts for every child at David O Dodd Elementary School. The kids were thrilled. And the teachers and staff were so grateful for our love and generosity. This year, in light of COVID, we are doing shoebox gifts a little differently.
Instead of having you shop for a specific child, we’re asking you instead to decide how many kids from Dodd you would like to provide a gift for. We’ll do the shopping, the packaging and the delivery. This way, each child receives gifts that are similar in value. And each child will also receive a small tract that explains the Christmas story and presents the gospel.
There are 175 total kids and we want to give them all something fun and meaningful this Christmas.
We’ll be spending about $25 per child for their gift. Please let Pastor Matt know how many children’s gifts you’d like to provide – this week, if possible.
You can text him at 859-771-6581. Or email him at email@example.com. Then simply mail your check, bring it to church and put it in the giving box or click here to make your donation to cover the cost of the gifts.
And pray with us that God will bless our efforts. Pray that the seeds we’re planting might bring a spiritual harvest in their lives of the students, their families and the teachers and staff at the school.
This Sunday, we’ll pause our study of John’s gospel to spend time preparing our hearts for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. In this season of social unrest, political upheaval, and a massive pandemic, there is still a reason for hope for God’s people. As we begin the season of advent, even those who feel like exiles in a hostile world can remind one another of where our deepest longings for hope are found.
See you (in person or on line) Sunday!
Soli Deo Gloria!