Thursday is the American holiday of Thanksgiving, and for some of you giving thanks to God will be easy because of the abundance of His blessings you’ve known this past year. For others gratitude that is not just lip service, but a real expression of your heart, is difficult because of grievous calamities or grinding stress.
Giving thanks frequently receives short shrift when we talk about it, because we tend to discuss it either superficially when we are at ease in our circumstances or else in denial of the pain of our difficulties. We give moralizing lectures about it or sometimes present the idea of giving thanks to God as a sort of magic charm (how many times have you been told about the “power of praise”?). In our shallow treatment, we skate over the reality of life in a fallen world and fail to acknowledge that sometimes in our giving of thanks to God, we hold on to God in faith in His character and care for us in the midst of our griefs. Gratitude gives us insight into our understanding of life, of other people, of ourselves and of God. Even Cicero of pagan Rome recognized its importance and stated, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”1
Giving thanks is the antithesis of Romans 1:21. It’s intriguing to me that the long litany of sins in that chapter finds its root in these words:
“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
In True Spirituality Francis Schaeffer gives a penetrating discussion of giving thanks as he connects ingratitude with the downward spiral of sin. Schaeffer begins with Romans 7:7-9, the verses in which Paul tells us he knew he was a sinner through the command not to covet. Schaeffer’s thoughts hinge on these verses:
Coveting is the negative side of positive commands, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind….[And] thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:37.39).
Love is internal, not external. There can be external manifestations, but love itself will always be an internal factor. Coveting is always internal; the external manifestation is a result. We must see that to love God with all the heart, mind, and soul is not to covet against God; and to love man, to love our neighbor as ourselves, is not to covet against man. When I do not love the Lord as I should, I am coveting against the Lord. And when I do not love my neighbor as I should, I am coveting against him.
“Thou shalt not covet” is the internal commandment that shows the man who thinks himself to be moral that he really needs a Savior….2
The command not to covet was given regarding other people, but in our coveting against one another we indicate that we are not in that moment honoring God as God or being thankful to Him for what He has given to us. Schaeffer goes on to say:
A quiet disposition and a heart giving thanks at any given moment is the real test of the extent to which we love God at that moment. I would like to give some strong words to you from the Bible to remind us that this is God’s own standard for Christians.3
He then pursues Paul’s teaching through several New Testament passages as he traces the theme of giving thanks in all things: Ephesians 5:3-4, 20; Romans 8:28; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 3:15, 17, 4:2; and 1 Thessalonians 5:18-19.
These words about thanksgiving are in one sense hard words. They are beautiful, but they do not give us any room to move—the all things includes all things.
...God says to us: in everything give thanks.4
Have you ever thought about the humility, dependency and trust in God necessary to truly be thankful in all things? These are hard words because giving thanks calls from us that which we do not have except by God’s mercy and grace.
Schaeffer comes to the verse I quoted above, Romans 1:21, and writes:
…The beginning of man’s rebellion against God was, and is, the lack of a thankful heart. They did not have proper, thankful hearts—seeing themselves as creatures before the Creator and being bowed not only in their knees, but in their stubborn hearts. The rebellion is a deliberate refusal to be the creature before the Creator, to the extent of being thankful. Love must carry with it a “Thank you,” not in a superficial or “official” way, but in being thankful and saying in the mind or with the voice, “Thank you” to God.5
Giving thanks is the fruit of faith in the personal God Who Is There.6 God does not mock us in affliction by demanding our thanks for pain—although that is what Satan and our natural self will tell us. He calls us to trust Him when we are caught up in the inscrutability of suffering and live in gratitude for what He has given to us.
How have I seen God help me to give thanks—to believe and trust Him in gratitude when I struggle with fear and despair? Through His people—those who have been through the valley and stand on the other side and reach out a hand of help and a heart of love to encourage me to trust God. My friend Lisa did that as she came down into my valley to walk beside me. She told me that she found solace in reading the Puritans and the Psalms.
God helps me by enabling me to see life through His eyes as I read His Word, giving me courage to endure. There have been so many times I’ve turned back to Paul who has given me such help as he endured so much. His example of counting all things as loss for the surpassing gain of knowing Christ is an enduring one for all Christians.
Finally, through the Lord Jesus…
…Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Philippians 2:5a–11
When I wrote this post in 2010 I didn’t publish is until after Thanksgiving. It took me a long time to put it together because it has probably been the hardest one for me to write. As I write or teach I’ve always tried to heed John Owen’s words: “to have the power of truths professed and contended for abiding upon our hearts, that we may not contend for notions, but what we have a practical acquaintance with in our souls.” Many times it remains a struggle to give thanks to God in the midst of hardship—my family has been through difficulties to the extent that we could no longer maintain our own household, and we do not yet see things beginning to turn. I continue to walk with faltering steps. I tell you this so you will know I write out of reality.
Just this week I’ve been helped immensely by reading the story of the Pilgrims during their hot and parched summer of 1623—that time when they feared their crops might fail. In Sweete and Gentle Showers I told the account of their day of humiliation, fasting, and prayer, and of their day of thanksgiving two weeks later. When they wrote of their utter dependence on God, it wasn’t just words, it was the reality of their lives. If we can only declare truth from the shelter of a hothouse environment, then it will only be good for those who are privileged to live in hothouses. But Christ came, not to a place of shelter, but to a shattered and sinful world, and we speak His gospel to that world. Paul wrote that, “We carry this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.” He closes that chapter by saying,
“For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:15-18
Paul endured affliction so that the spreading of God’s grace to more people would cause…
“the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.”
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”
2 Corinthians 9:14
May God bless you and keep you.
Waiting: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
1Robert A. Emmons, Thanks! (Houghton Mifflin Company, New York NY: 2007) 15.
Dr. Emmons is not a Christian, and I have my points of disagreement, however, his book contains careful research and profound thinking on gratitude.
2Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1971) 8.
3Schaeffer, True Spirituality, 9.
4Schaeffer, True Spirituality, 11.
5Schaeffer, True Spirituality, 11–12.
6This is Schaeffer’s phrase. I’ve quoted previously from his book, The God Who Is There.
Copyright ©2012 Iwana Carpenter