It’s true that yesterday was an official American holiday called Thanksgiving. And it’s true that, on this day, many families take extra time to be thankful, sometimes even incorporating a formal time of thanksgiving into the annual feast. But from a biblical – and psychological – perspective, we should always be thankful. It is God’s explicit will for us, and it will benefit our soul.
Paul wrote this in one of his first letters: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, my emphasis)
Did you get that? We are commanded to rejoice, to pray all the time, and to give thanks in all circumstances. It’s actually something that, with God’s help, we can do. It’s a quality choice that, by grace, we can make.
Similarly, Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:18–20, my emphasis).
You might say, “But how I can possibly be thankful when terrible things happen?”
That’s a great question.
How can you be thankful in the midst of a divorce, after you spouse abandoned the family?
Or how you can be thankful on the anniversary of your child’s death?
Or how can you be thankful when your friends have betrayed you?
Or how can you be thankful when your business collapses, leaving you bankrupt?
Or how can you be thankful when your body is racked with pain and the doctors give you little hope of recovery?
Be thankful? Really? For what?
First, you can be thankful because God Himself is good. God Himself is full of life and light and hope and beauty. God Himself is wonderful!
That means you can say, “Father, I feel terrible right now and I’m fighting depression and hopelessness. But I thank You because You are good. Always. In all circumstances. So, I praise and thank You for Your goodness.”
Something really happens when we do this.
It’s as if there’s a shift in the spiritual atmosphere along with an adjustment in our perspective.
Rather than focusing on ourselves and our problems, however real those problems may be, we are focusing on the infinite goodness of our Lord. We’re looking at the light, not the darkness, at the hope, not the despair. Sometimes this alone is enough to lift our mood.
Have you ever been at a funeral, where the atmosphere is filled with grief and pain, but there’s a young mother there, holding her little baby boy in her arms?
That baby is overflowing with life and completely oblivious to what is happening around him. And when your eye catches his, he bursts into the most joyful, innocent smile.
All you can do is smile back. There is joy in the midst of the sadness.
In the same way, when we glimpse the goodness of God, when we’re thankful, our perspective changes and even the spiritual atmosphere changes. A glimpse at the face of Jesus lights up the room!
In His presence is fullness of joy, and the joy of the Lord is our strength (see Psalm 16:11; Nehemiah 8:10).
Second, we can give thanks in all circumstances because we know that in and through those circumstances, God is working for our good.
The circumstances themselves may be terrible, even demonic. And the bad things happening to us may be the result of our own foolishness.
But if we will submit ourselves to God afresh, He will use this for our growth as well.
In the famous words of Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Or, in the more familiar language of the King James Version, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”)
My friend, “all” means “all”!
All things, however bad and catastrophic they may be. God can work in and through all of them, making us more like His Son, Jesus and ultimately, working for our own good.
That is something for which we can always be thankful.
Third, regardless of what we’re going through, there is something we can be thankful for, however small it might be.
If you know the Lord, you can be thankful for that. Your sins are forgiven, even if your house went into foreclosure.
If you still have breath, you can be thankful for that, even at the funeral of your best friend who died in a car crash. You can make your life count. You can bring hope to others. And you can also be thankful for the memory of your departed friend and for the times you had together.
There is, of course, a time to mourn and grieve. And there are moments of pure and total grief. That’s how acute the pain is.
But then, after that, there are choices we must make.
We will focus only on the loss, or will we give thanks to God in the midst of it? We will think only about the pain, or will we thank God for the good He will bring out of it?
And in the general course of life, when so many little things bother us and get us down, from a traffic jam to a nasty colleague and from a stubbed toe to a stained carpet, will we be grumblers and complainers and faultfinders, or will we be those who give thanks?