Giving Thanks Always
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
We’re to be thankful in bad times and good times, for adversaries as well as fo blessings. All circumstances- whether favorable or unfavorable to our desires- are to be occasions for thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is not a natural virtue; it is a fruit of the Spirit, given by Him. The unbeliever isn’t inclined to give thanks. He may welcome circumstances that are in accord with his wishes and complain about those that are not, but it never occurs to him in either case to give thanks. If he sees life as anything beyond chance, he may congratulate himself for his successes and blame others for his failures, but he never sees the hand of God in his life. One of the most indicting statements in the Bible about natural man is Paul’s charge that “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21)
In his gospel, Luke tells the story of ten lepers who were healed by Christ (Luke 17:11-19). All ten cried out to be healed, all ten actually experienced Christ’s healing power, but only one came back to Jesus to thank him. How prone we are to be as the other nine, quick to ask for God’s help but forgetful to give Him thanks. In fact, our problem is far deeper than mere forgetfulness. We are imbued with a spirit of ingratitude because of our sinful nature. We must cultivate a new spirit, the spirit of gratitude, which the Holy Spirit has implanted within us at our salvation.
Thanksgiving is an admission of dependence. Through it we recognize that in the physical realm God “gives to all mankind life and breath and everything”(Acts 17:25), while in the spiritual realm, it is God who, “when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ”(Ephesians 2:5)
Paul gives us instructions in Philippians 4 as to how we ought to live as believers.
“Rejoice in the Lord always [delight, take pleasure in Him]; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit [your graciousness, unselfishness, mercy, tolerance, and patience] be known to all people. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious or worried about anything, but in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God. And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours]. Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart]. The things which you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things [in daily life], and the God [who is the source] of peace and well-being will be with you.”
Let’s break down this scripture.
We begin by taking pleasure or rejoicing in the Lord. It ought to be the case in every believer that they enjoy being with and in the presence of God. Prayer ought to be more than bringing our grocery list to God and reading it and then going on our way. Prayer ought to become a delightful conversation with our Heavenly Father, both speaking and listening. It ought to be a time that we can share our needs, dreams and plans with God and a time for God to share His desires and plans with us. When we come before the Lord in prayer, it ought to be an anticipated time of delight.
Once God becomes our delight and we know He is near we can then move to the next phase of not being anxious. Far too many believers live as though God is a million miles away especially when they are facing adversity. If we have made it a practice of drawing near to God we can be sure that He is also drawing near to us. Since God is with us and around us and for us then we find the assurance that we will be kept by Him in every circumstances. We are not anxious or worried about those things which we have given to God for we have recognized that He is capable of handling them. It is in the areas of our lives that we have not fully surrendered that we find ourselves anxious. Our anxiety is in direct proportion to our surrender and dependence on God. In every area where we have learned to depend on God our anxiety level is low but in those areas that we are still trying to manage, the anxiety level is usually pretty high.
Paul tells us that we are not to be anxious,first, because the Lord is near and then we are to bring everything to God in prayer and petition. It is so easy to call a friend and unburden our heart rather than seeking God and to unburden our heart before Him. I know that sometimes this is because we are afraid that God will not be receptive to our thoughts or feelings and we may feel that we can’t share them but we ought to know that He already “knows what we have need of before we ask.” So go ahead begin to tell Him all about it. Express your feelings, your desires, your struggles. Cast your cares and fears and needs on Him. Paul uses two words to describe the bringing our need before God- prayer and petition. Prayer is defined as simply asking. In human terms it is like saying, “May I please have……” Petition, on the other hand is defined as a request with intense desire made in humility to one in authority. The prayer of Hanna for a son is an excellent example of petition. Petition causes us to recognize our powerlessness and to literally place ourselves totally dependent upon God for an answer.
But Paul doesn’t stop here for he adds to this matter of not being anxious, having the Lord near and making our request known by saying that we approach God with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving has such power to help us. When we begin to thank God for all He has done it builds our faith for what He will do. Furthermore, we all know that to give to or help someone who is grateful is a delight but who is really motivated to continue to give to ungrateful people. We read that in the wilderness one of the charges that God brought to the Israelites was their grumbling and complaining. When He brought them out of Egypt, they complained at the Red Sea. When He brought them through the Red Sea, they grumbled about food. When He gave them manna from Heaven they grumbled for meat. It’s as though in almost every circumstance they found something to complain about. We, too, can find ourselves in such a trap of unthankfulness and ingratitude. I dare say that one of the great needs in the world and unfortunately in the church as well is gratitude. We have been so blessed that we take too much for granted and if everything isn’t exactly perfected to our desires we find ourselves with an attitude. It continues to amaze me that the people of God can so easily find something to complain about when all the time we are where we are on our way to heaven because “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” That very fact alone, whether God ever fixes anything else in our life ought to cause us to bow before Him in grateful worship and adoration.
Paul says if we bring our requests to God, recognizing that He is near, with thanksgiving then the immediate result is the peace of God. While we wait for God to work we don’t pace anxiously or wring our hands or complain, we rest quietly in the peace of God trusting that He is “working all things for our good.”
Last but not least, Paul say that we ought to focus our thoughts. We are to place a filter around our brain and only allow certain things to enter. Those things are defined as: “what is true, what is honorable, what is right as confirmed by God’s word, what is pure and wholesome, what is lovely and brings peace, what is admirable and of good repute.” Now I don’t know about you but for me I find that there is a barrage of doubt, fear worry, frustration and anxiety flung at me every day and so I need this filter over my mind and spirit. What I’ve discovered is that I don’t have the power on my own to filter out these things so I’ve learned to submit and surrender my mind- and I have to do this daily and sometimes many times daily- to the Holy Spirit and ask Him to guard my thoughts and wash away those that don’t belong. I’ve learned to become deliberately grateful to God and others on every occasion of blessing and I’ve learned that even in the dark places there is always something I can be thankful for, if nothing else that God is with me in that moment.
Let us as the people of God live and worship with grateful hearts. We might be surprised at how God will move among us and around us and through us in this ungrateful world.
Dr. John Thompson