To many Americans, Thanksgiving is a big turkey with dressing, cranberry sauce and other side dishes. It is a time of leisure, dining and entertainment with family and friends who spend the afternoon and evening in front of the TV, engrossed in a football game or Macy’s parade, concluding with fun and games and a few drinks to enliven the “spirit of Thanksgiving.” This is, sadly, modern America.
What is wrong with this little drama? Everyone seems happy enough, but one thing is missing: thankfulness. Many do not even pause to offer a prayer of thanksgiving. The day passes with no thought of God, our gracious Provider and the Sustainer of our lives.
But it isn’t surprising in this “I want more” culture “on my terms.” As a nation we have become unholy and godless.
In contrast to what is all around us, God would have us be thankful in everything—and for good reason. Unthankfulness translates to unfaithfulness; and unfaithfulness leads to self-centeredness, greed, hate, and lust.
It isn’t a new attitude. God led the children of Israel out of Egyptian slavery and promised them a land flowing with milk and honey. Were they thankful? No, they wanted to make themselves a captain and return to Egypt (Num. 14:4). One time when the people complained, a fire of the Lord burned among the people, consuming some of them (Num. 11:1). Even after God had worked with the children of Israel 40 years, showing them great signs and wonders and sustaining them, they were not thankful. They were ungrateful, unholy, living corpses, as it were; and many perished in the desert.
Is there any reason to think Christ will be less tolerant when He returns as God’s own anointed King? These same traits, out of control, are now seen in epidemic proportions in drug addiction, those who commit violent crimes and terrorists. There is a reason why God cannot perpetuate one who will allow himself to commit even a minor infraction of His law.
God wants His chosen ones to be thankful in all things; almost none even came close during the time the Israelites were led out of Egypt, and they were not allowed to live. Should we not be concerned about our own lack of thankfulness to God!?
How can one be thankful in all things? Do I even want to be? Is it even possible? Yes, it is possible. It is a command: “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17)––God would not ask what we cannot do.
It seems easy enough to be thankful for things we really want. It is even difficult not to be thankful for something we suddenly obtain, after having suffered from the lack of it. But what about those times when everything seems to go wrong? Yes, even then we can be thankful.
There are several points to remember about thankfulness:
1. Being thankful has benefits: While we cannot mention all the benefits, I would like to mention three: Learning to thank God in every situation promotes faith in God, a positive outlook on life and good mental health. We cannot enjoy a full measure of any of these until we are thankful.
2. Being thankful is a learned trait: Parents, grandparents, teachers and caregivers begin teaching children to say, “Thank you” before they can say it plainly, and as adults we are still learning to be thankful. Sadly, only a remnant learns thankfulness at the high level Brother Paul advised; “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18).
3. Being thankful is a choice: In any given situation, we have our choice. We can choose to thank God, or we can choose to be irritated, angry, complaining. We can choose, as Paul put it, “sexual sin, impurity of any kind.... greed,….obscene, flippant or vulgar talk.” Or we can “let there be thanksgiving” (Eph. 5:3-4 ISV). “Always give thanks to God the Father for everything...” (Eph. 5:20 NCV).
Thank God for everything? What about this: “I think I had good reason to be upset when I ran out of gas in that rental car because the gas gauge wasn’t right. And I was cold and soaked to the skin in that cold rain as I walked to the gas station for a can of gas!”
Is it possible to be thankful in a situation like that? Perhaps we can thank God that we only ran out of gas—better than being injured in an accident, or hospitalized for an illness, or attacked by some errant wayfarer.
If we are convinced that God is using our circumstances to work with us and fulfill His promises to those who cooperate, then when we are faced with adverse circumstances, we know we can trust God to be in control. “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). If we can bear it, we can be thankful. Perhaps our very circumstances are part of God’s way of training us to always be thankful.
If we have done wrong and are feeling the consequences of our wrong, we can be thankful that God has not given up on us. If for no apparent reason we find ourselves in straits, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves we can remember that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28)––another reason to be thankful.
We cannot build a house or accomplish anything worthwhile without labor and sacrifice; nor can we build a character God approves without labor and sacrifice. And if we promise to serve God, we can know that He will test us––not to make us unhappy or miserable but to help us be stronger and become fit to be a part of His everlasting Kingdom where we will always have our cup of joy running over.
Then we will truly be thankful! –GP