by David L. Chancey
The nineteenth century English writer Harriett Martineau was an atheist. One day she was walking with a friend and enjoying the glories of a beautiful fall morning when suddenly she burst out, "Oh, I'm so grateful!"
Her Christian friend replied, "Grateful to whom, my dear?"
If we are going to say "thank you," then logically we say "thank you" to somebody. Pausing to express gratitude to a great and mighty God is the reminder of this national holiday. But Thanksgiving is more than a holiday for the grateful believer-it is a way of life. Bo Baker said, "Thanksgiving is grace dressed in unselfishness, gratitude spelled out in personal concern, and character showing its colors like the lovely leaves of fall."
Thanksgiving is an attitude, a natural part of Christian character. Let us look at one short verse of Scripture, 1 Thessalonians 5:18: "...in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
First, thanksgiving is appropriate in every occasion. "Give thanks" is a command, an imperative. Giving thanks is not an option for the serious Christian. Also, this command is present tense, so the instruction is to keep on giving thanks.
Give thanks in everything, in all circumstances. Paul is not saying give thanks for everything, but in connection with everything that happens. In every circumstance, no matter what or where, you can still thank God. That's God's imperative to the growing Christian. Paul is speaking here of a life marked by thanksgiving.
Not everything that happens to us is good, but God uses everything that happens to work for our good. Sometimes we don't know whether something is good or bad, but we can be thankful God is working for our good in everything.
Not only is thanksgiving appropriate in every occasion, but also: thanksgiving should abound naturally in the life of every growing Christian. Thanksgiving is the natural response to the grace and goodness of a great and wonderful God who cares and provides. Thanksgiving should overflow from the life of the Christian. Listen to these appeals for a grateful heart:
"And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful" (Col. 3:15).
"And 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).
"Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving" (Col. 4:2).
Paul in this Colossians passage ties thanksgiving closely to prayer, as he also does in the 1 Thessalonians verse. Overflowing gratitude springs from a life of continuous, ceaseless prayer (1 Thess. 5:17). Thanksgiving should be a natural part of the Christian's prayer. How can we pray without first giving thanks for all He has done? When we pray thanks, we must also live out thanksgiving with our words and actions.
A father was asking the blessing as usual at breakfast, thanking God for His bountiful provision. Immediately afterward he began to grumble about the hard times, about the meal, and the way it was cooked. His daughter interrupted,
"Daddy, do you think God heard what you said when you prayed a little while ago?"
"Certainly," the dad replied with confidence.
"And then did He hear what you said about the bacon and coffee?" she asked.
"I'm sure He did," the dad replied, not so confidently.
"Then which did He believe? the little girl asked.
What naturally abounds in your life? Gratitude or grumbling? Is your prayer of thanksgiving consistent with your life of thanksgiving?
Finally, thanksgiving is the secret to a happy Christian life. The key to contentment and wholeness for the Christian is learning how to express thanks; not complaining, criticizing or grumbling. For many people the first response is criticism or grumbling. That's the sign of an ungrateful heart. If God uses everything to work together for good, how can we not be thankful? When trials come and work for our spiritual maturity, how can we not count it all joy?
Paul said being thankful, along with rejoicing always and praying without ceasing, is God's will for our lives.
An immigrant shopkeeper had a son who kept complaining, "Dad, I don't understand how you run this store. You keep your accounts payable in a cigar box. Your accounts receivable are on a spindle. All your cash is in the register. You never know what your profits are."
The old man responded, "When I arrived in this land all I owned was the pair of pants I was wearing. Now your sister is an art teacher. Your brother is a doctor. You are a CPA. Your mother and I own a house and a car and this little store. Add all that up and subtract the pants and there is your profit."
That was a man with a grateful heart and a thankful life. He's a good example for all of us-grateful for what he had.
When Martin Rinkhart wrote one of our most popular Thanksgiving hymns, it was the worst of times in Europe as the Thirty Years War was taking place. Rinkhart and his congregation suffered the full force of war's savagery. Their little village in Germany was invaded and sacked three times, with almost everything of value destroyed. Many died.
Rinkhart looked death and destruction squarely in the face and sought God's strength in deep, searching prayer. When he rose, the burdened minister had his answer from God. Nothing had really changed. They could still praise God with a thankful spirit!
God's presence and power were so vivid in his hurt that Rinkhart expressed his feelings on paper. Then he composed a tune and shared it with a few members. It caught on and became "Now Thank We All Our God," a hymn that expresses profoundly our deepest feelings of gratitude.
This Thanksgiving, let's express genuine gratitude that springs from a life of giving thanks to God.
David L. Chancey
Preaching Resource, Inc.