For some of you giving thanks to God is easy because of the abundance of His blessings you’ve known this past year, but for many 2020 has been a tough year and gratitude that is a real expression of your heart is difficult.
Giving thanks frequently receives short shrift when we talk about it, because we tend to give lip service to being thankful when we’re at ease in our circumstances or we may simply not want to think about our problems.
We can give (or hear!) moralizing lectures about gratitude. Giving thanks to God can also be discussed as a sort of magic charm to get God to do what we want Him to do—have you ever been told about the “power of praise”?
In our shallow treatment of gratitude, we skate over the reality of life in a fallen world. We fail to understand and acknowledge who God is: a good God in whom we can trust. Sometimes in our giving of thanks to God, we are learning to hold on to God in faith in who He is and His care for us in the midst of our griefs and bitter disappointments. When Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica about giving thanks, he was not writing to a church at ease.
“You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word during great affliction with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia.”1 Thessalonians 1:6–7–
If you go back to Acts 17, you’ll find that a mob had attacked Jason’s house in Thessalonica, and Paul and Silas had to leave the city by night. Paul had suffered greatly in bringing the Gospel to the Thessalonians, yet in each of the first three chapters of his letter written to them a short time later, he thanked God for them (1 Thessalonians 1:2, 2:13, 3:9). He knew, and they knew, more persecution could come at any time. Paul, himself, was an example to them in giving thanks as he wrote:
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”1 Thessalonians 5:16–18
Giving thanks to God in everything reflects a heart grateful for who God is and what He has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Giving thanks in the midst of hardship and suffering reflects a heart trusting that God will cause all things to work together for good.1
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”Romans 8:28
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.”2
Have you ever thought about the humility, dependency, and trust in God necessary to be thankful? Giving thanks is the fruit of faith in God, but we all have our times when giving thanks is so very difficult—when giving thanks calls from us an understanding and recognition we cannot have except by God’s mercy and grace. He does not mock us in affliction by demanding our thanks for pain, but He calls us to trust Him when we are caught up in suffering and to live in gratitude for who He is and what He has given to us.
This post is a milestone for me. I wrote the original version of this post 10 years ago today at a time our family was flattened financially, and just before Thanksgiving that year my husband and I were dealt a double blow when both of us didn’t get jobs we had wanted, hoped for, and thought we could excel at. It was without a doubt the most difficult post I’ve written since I began this blog. I struggled to give thanks to God, and it was like pulling teeth to put that post together. At times I thought I would never be able to finish writing it. I also felt that if I could not do so, I would have to stop writing anything unless I could. I did finish it, and the next year in early September when I linked posts together to write Journey Through The Storm, it was the post I used as I began that story.
I tell you this so you know I’m not glibly throwing words on a page. I want to encourage you to trust God and give thanks to Him whatever your circumstances. I also want to encourage you to encourage others who struggle. Be a blessing to them, and walk with them through their valley. You will be helping them have grateful hearts when their days are hard.
Let us honor God as God together, and give thanks.
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1I am indebted to Francis Schaeffer’s discussion of giving thanks in 1 Th 5:18, Ro 8:28, and other verses in the first chapter, “The Law and the Law of Love,” of his book, True Spirituality (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1971). He has helped me so very much over the years.
2Robert A. Emmons, Thanks! (Houghton Mifflin Company, New York NY:2007) 15. Dr.Emmons is not a Christian and I have my points of disagreement with him, but his book contains careful research and profound thinking on gratitude.