- In the stressful and troubled world in which we live, it can seem difficult for us to find something to be thankful for. When we listen to or read the news, it is mostly bad news that is reported. We hear of crime, terrorism, tragedies and disasters. We rush about at a hectic pace day after day, trying to keep up with the demands of modern life. And the list of problems could go on and on.
Yet, it is precisely because of the problems around us that we need to devote ourselves to giving thanks. When darkness grows around us, we cannot afford to become neglectful in this spiritual practice. Instead, we need to renew our commitment to thankfulness. In fact, being thankful can be therapeutic. It can bring healing to a troubled heart. On the other hand, a lack of thankfulness can lead to depression as we focus on negative things. However, Paul the apostle wrote that we should not let our minds dwell on negative thoughts. Instead, we should dwell on those things that are pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). When we make a practice of thanking God for His many blessings, we will be focusing on the good things He has given us, and He can begin to bring healing and strength to us.
Always Being Thankful
There are some key points to keep in mind concerning giving thanks. The first is that we should always be thankful. We should be thankful everyday, not just when we attend a church service or observe a special day of thanks. This is because there is always something to be grateful for.
We always have our spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus. For example, we have been forgiven of our sins through Jesus' death on the cross (Matthew 26:28). Despite our present imperfections, God has declared us to have right standing before Him (2 Cor-inthians 5:21). By God's grace and mercy we have been adopted as children of God (Romans 8:15). We are unconditionally loved by the Father, the Maker of heaven and earth (Romans 5:8).
In Old Testament times, the people of God would often sing something like this:
O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting (1 Chronicles 16:34, NAU).
There are also the temporal blessings we receive from God. He sends us rain, sunshine, and provides us with natural resources. Many of us have abundant food and more than adequate shelter. These and many other blessings are often taken for granted, but we need to have hearts full of gratitude for all of the wonderful things he has given us, whether great or small.
In All Circumstances
As mentioned above, we live in a troubled world that can threaten to overwhelm us with the pervasiveness and magnitude of its troubles. It can affect us not just in our global outlook, but also in our individual lives. But no matter how bad our circumstances may be, we can always be thankful to God. Our circumstances themselves may not always inspire thankfulness, but if we turn our thoughts to God's many blessings, both spiritual and temporal, our hearts will again be filled with thankfulness to Him. The Apostle Paul said:
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18, NRS).
Even in difficult circumstances, we should continually keep in mind that God desires to bring good out of the situation that we are in.
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 (Romans 8:28, NIV).
This does not mean that every situation is good in and of itself, or that every situation leads to something good by itself. On the contrary, it is when God actively works in a situation that good can come out of it - even in the darkest of situations.
Often the good that comes out of a situation may not be readily apparent. We shouldn't expect God to turn every outward circumstance in our favor. Instead, God often works in situations to strengthen us inwardly by His Spirit and to mold us into the image of Christ. This is brought out clearly by the context in the following verse.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers (Romans 8:29, NIV).
However, we need to be cooperative with what God desires to do in our hearts for the molding process to be the most effective.
The Extent of Our Thankfulness
A crucial issue for believers is the issue of how much we should be thankful for. An important verse to consider is the following:
Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20, NIV).
So then, should we be thankful for every single thing, or only for every good thing? For many Christians, the answer to this question will be determined largely by their theological or church background. Nevertheless, when we carefully study this verse in the context of the whole Bible, it will be easier to determine what the best answer to that question is.
First, we need to recognize that the Bible contains many figures of speech. In this verse, Paul is not intending that we understand him to mean that we should give thanks for "everything without exception". When we consider the context of the whole book of Ephesians, we see that Paul is referring to every blessing that comes from God. For in Ephesians, Paul speaks often of God's blessings. In Ephesians we find the word "grace" twelve times, the word "love" fourteen times, and a reference to spiritual "riches" four times.
Clearly, Paul is not telling us to be thankful even for things that are evil. Can you imagine saying, "I give thanks to God the Father for this evil thing, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ"? It would be unbiblical and ungodly. Paul elsewhere wrote, "Hate what is evil" (Romans 12:9). The psalmist wrote, "Let those who love the LORD hate evil" (Psalm 97:10). Hebrews says that Jesus Himself "hated wickedness" (Hebrews 1:9). These verses reveal that it is impossible to rightly understand Ephesians 5:20 as saying that we should be thankful for all things without exception. Evil is certainly an exception.
Seeing this one exception can help us to understand this verse better. It is better understood to mean that we should give thanks for "every good thing", "every blessing", or "everything that is worthy of thanks". We don't need to give thanks for evil, or for every adversity or difficulty. Those things that are of God we should be thankful for. But those things that are from Satan we should take spiritual authority against. And adversities that are a result of this fallen world we should pray about, and even take action to change them as we are led by the Word and the Spirit. We must beware of falling into the trap of passivity concerning those things that are not of God.
Summing It Up
How can we sum up all of these principles? Here is one suggestion concerning how we should align our hearts, words, and actions regarding thankfulness to God:
Always be thankful to God in all circumstances for all of His blessings.
Copyright 2003 by Steven Halter. Used by permission.
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