Giving thanks is such a beneficial activity, Scripture is saturated with reminders and encouragements and admonitions and enticements. It is good to give thanks–to one another, yes, but in particular to the One who is the Source of it all: The Living God.
“It is good to give thanks to the Lord….”(Psalm 92:1)
We’re coming up on the Thanksgiving season, everyone’s favorite time of the year.
Wonder why we even have such a season, though. One would think giving thanks would be like taking the next breath: something we do automatically, constantly, naturally, without needing to be prodded.
I’m reluctant to say what follows, for the simple reason that I make myself vulnerable to someone saying I’ve done the same thing. But here goes….
I have occasionally knocked myself out for a pastor or a church or a religious group, and gone to great lengths to serve them–sometimes buying a passport and doing the multitude of things one has to do to travel internationally or driving a long distance and enduring the interstates for hundreds of miles–only to return home and never hear a word from them again. Not a note, an email, phone call, nothing. I would assume they thought the check they handed me said everything that needed saying.
It didn’t. In no way was my work with them a commercial transaction. We did not sign a contract.
This is a ministry. And a faith one at that.
I simply wonder why some people–not all, thankfully–cannot go to the trouble of saying “thank you; good job.”
Now, if I were insecure, I would obsess about the shouted silence from those who invited and hosted me, then sent me on my way with a check and not a word since. I would lie awake at night wondering if I failed them in some way, if they were unhappy with what I did, if their silence speaks volumes about their negative feelings.
I would, but I don’t.
Where’s the point in that?
Do you suppose God in Heaven lies awake at night wondering if He has failed you and me in some way, since He never hears a word of thanks or appreciation from our direction?
We know the answer to that one, don’t we?
God does not need anything from us. He said, “If I were hungry, I would not ask you. The cattle on a thousand hills are mine” (Psalm 50:12,10).
God has so constructed you and me that we need to give thanks–to each other, but particularly to Him.
Something good happens within me when I express thanks to you. Something fine and godly takes place when I express it to the Savior.
Here are ten favorite “Thanksgiving texts,” all with their own contribution to the practice of looking Heavenward and praising the Father who started it all, holds it in the palm of His hand, and will someday bring it all back to Himself.
1. Habakkuk 3:17-19
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, and there be no fruit on the vines; Though the yield of the olive should fail, and the fields produce no food; Though the flock should be cut off from the fold, and there be no cattle in the stalls. Yet, I will exult in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength. He has made my feet like hinds’ feet; He causes me to walk on my high places.”
There is nothing else like this passage in the entire Bible. It deserves to be highlighted in the Bible and hidden in your heart.
Anyone can give thanks when the pasture is filled, the fields are beautiful, the orchard is loaded, and the barn is bursting. But let’s see you praise Him when the crops failed, the rain did not come, the herd has died, and the trees did not produce. Let’s see you give thanks when the pantry is empty and the fridge is bare.
Give thanks to God although your job is moving to Mexico, your spouse is serving you with divorce papers, the doctor is ordering more tests, and the kids are failing in school. Do that and people will wonder about you. Either, they will conclude, you’re nuts, you’re not facing reality, or you know something.
You know a Big Something. And that makes all the difference.
Thank God in good times and bad.
2. Luke 10:20
“Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in Heaven.”
The disciples were sky high. Filing into the Upper Room after returning from their mission assignment, they brimmed over with joy. “Lord, it was wonderful. We saw miracles–people saved, lives changed. Even the demons were subject to us.”
Jesus assured the twelve that they were right, that things had gone swimmingly. “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven,” He said, and don’t we wish we knew more about that.
Then, He said, “But I do not want you to rejoice over the results of your mission trips. I do not want you to find your affirmation in how many get saved. Your joy is to be rooted in your salvation, that your names are written in Heaven.”
Those whose joy is bound up in the results of their church visitations and mission trips will be up and down, depending on the latest numbers. The Lord is not pleased in that. He wants our joy to be confident, our attitude to be level, our thanksgiving to be unending.
Finding our joy in our eternal salvation–that our names are recorded in Heaven–is an oblique reference to the security of the believer. If we can have salvation and lose it, get it back and lose it again, then Jesus was off base commanding us to rejoice in something this ephemeral. But salvation is secure, and His promises are everlasting.
Thank God for your eternal salvation.
3. Philippians 4:4
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice!”
Our joy–that is, our appreciation and thanksgiving–must not be dependent on externals such as results, big numbers, compliments, awards, promotions, and such. We are to rejoice “in the Lord.” And since He is unchanging, the One Constant in this universe, our joy is strong and steady and unassailable.
Interesting that Paul felt it necessary to repeat his admonition to rejoice. Earlier, in Philippians 3:1, he said the same thing. So, he’s actually three-peating the command! What are we to make of this?
In his commentary on Philippians 4:4, Professor William Hendriksen writes, “The exhortation is repeated probably because on the surface it seems so unreasonable to rejoice in obedience to a command, and perhaps even more unreasonable to rejoice always, under all circumstances no matter how trying…. A Christian can be joyful within when without all is dark and dreary.”
Don’t ever stop thanking God.
4. Luke 10:21
“In that hour, Jesus rejoiced in the Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight.”
Two things in particular strike me about this prayer. One, our Lord was frequently giving thanks to the Father. (See Matthew 15:36; 26:27; Mark 8:6;14:23; and John 6:11,23) Giving thanks recognizes a dependency, a blessing which one has received and which has made a genuine differenc. Jesus is both expressing His gratitude to the Heavenly Father and modeling the same for us.
Second, notice what He’s giving thanks for. God has hidden some things from earth’s know-it-alls and seen fit to deliver them to the simple-minded. And why did He do this? “He wanted to.” (That’s the essence of “Even so, for so it seemed good in thy sight.”)
Have you given God thanks for the counter-intuitive ways in which He does a thing? His standards and methodologies seem backward to our ways, but they have a heavenly wisdom about them causing us to stand in awe.
Give Him thanks for the way God does things.
5. I Corinthians 15:57
“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This line of praise, coming at the end of a long essay on death and eternal life, is a fitting tribute to the Lord of the resurrection. In such a short burst of praise, Paul looks Heavenward in thanks while looking backward to the cross, the grave, and the empty tomb all at the same time. It’s all the work of God, it is the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it’s all ours. He “gives us the victory” through what Jesus achieved. And how good is that!
To repeat the refrain sounded again and again above, we who are the beneficiaries of God’s grace ought to be filled with thanksgiving and praise on a daily, even hourly, basis.
Thank God for the cross and the empty tomb.
6. Philippians 4:6-7
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be known unto God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
It’s easy to tell a friend “Don’t worry.” Don’t be anxious. Try turning off your anxiety just because a preacher told you it’s sin, and you’ll see how ineffective such commands can be.
However, after commanding an end to our anxiety, Scripture gives us an antidote: in every situation we are to pray and give thanks, telling God our particular requests.
That’s a recipe for peace that works.
The thanksgiving portion of that command is what I find most insightful. As we are asking God to take away the angst we feel about some event or condition (a test, a medical finding, a performance), He wants us to give thanks. In many cases, this means we are to reflect on similar situations in the past when we faced such circumstances and God came through in mighty ways. Do that, and you’ll soon find a sense of calm flowing over your troubled soul. However, don’t forget that after such reflection, the next step is to tell the Lord what exactly we are needing from Him.
Next time you’re worried about the future, thank the Lord for all the times He came through for you in the past.
7. I Thessalonians 5:18
“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Some have mistakenly interpreted this text to say we are to give God thanks “for” everything that comes our way, whether evil or good. That’s almost right, incidentally. But just a tad off.
We are to give God thanks and praise “in the midst” of everything that comes our way. That’s different. True, it’s often difficult, goes against our natural inclination to gripe and complain when circumstances go against us, but is the very wisdom of God.
When we find ourselves facing harsh circumstances not of our doing, we are faced with numerous choices: run, hide, blame, retaliate, etc. The first thing we should do, however, is to pause and acknowledge that the Lord is present, knows your situation, sees all that is going on, and is still in charge. By “thanking Him” in the middle of that mess, you are submitting yourself to His plans to use this for His glory and your ultimate good.
Substitute complaining with thanksgiving.
8. Romans 1:21
“Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
What strikes us about “nor were thankful” is that it comes in the midst of a lengthy indictment against a generation of the ungodly who turned against the Creator and have abused and misused His gifts. Similar to “disobedient to parents” (1:30), our culture tends to see these as minor issues which we would have omitted in that litany of heavy and major sins. And we would be wrong.
An unthankful heart for the gifts of Heaven–in nature, in life, in each day–is one of the roots of evil. John MacArthur writes, “They refused to acknowledge that every good thing they enjoyed came from God (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:15-17; I Timothy 6:17; James 1:17). ”
An unthankful heart is a danger sign on the downward road which culminates in the washed out bridge where everything that happens is bad.
Show God a heart of gratitude; it’s a great sign that things are right within you.
9. Luke 18:11
“The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.”
Not all prayers of thanksgiving are acceptable to God. Some are merely boasting. This prayer, cited by the Savior as a prime example of how not to approach the Throne, reminds us of the times we have prayed: “Lord, I thank you that my kids got straight As in school, that I got the raise, and that I was able to travel to Italy for that convention.” It’s a small step from there to looking down upon children who did not do so well in school, employees who did not get the raise, and others in your situation who would never have been chosen for the Italian trip.
The best test of your prayer is its inclusiveness. Do you pray for others? Do you give the Lord thanks for the achievements of others? Do you pray for the struggling whose children are not doing well, for your co-workers whose work is of inferior quality?
Remember not to turn your thanksgiving prayers into self-centered boasting, but intercede for others also.
10. Hebrews 13:15
“Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips giving praise to His name.”
The Old Testament mentions the priests bringing “sacrifices of praise” to the Lord (Leviticus 7:12 and Psalm 54:6).
I am struck by something that Paul and Silas did on their second missionary journey. As a result of their effective ministry in the Macedonian town of Philippi, an evil group complained to the magistrates who had the two missionaries arrested and beaten, then thrown into the prison where they were locked into stocks. Their wounds were untreated, they were in misery, and yet: “Along about midnight, they began to pray and sing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening” (Acts 16:25).
I have a question for you. Do you suppose Paul turned to Silas in that horrible setting and said, ‘Si, I just feel like singing?” Not on your life. They were miserable and hurting. Sometimes, I suspect, you sing because it hurts too bad to do anything else.
That’s what “a sacrifice of praise” looks and sounds like. It’s a sacrifice. It was hard to do and took everything inside them.
But it was pure gold when it arrived in Heaven. And as you know from Acts 16, God blessed and used their praise to do incredible things.
The best kind of thanksgiving is the hardest to give.
May He use our praise and thanksgiving for His wonderful purposes also.
The Lord has this wonderful way of bringing us up short. After posting this article on our website, in which I had complained just a tad about doing ministry and receiving no word of thanks, I got home, opened the mail, and found 54 thank-you notes.
Fifty-four. I counted them.
A month ago, while in revival in Beardstown, Illinois, we had spent all Thursday morning over at the adult day care run by the Cass County Human Resources department. I sketched every “client” and every employee. Now, they were properly appreciative at the moment, don’t get me wrong. But the huge envelope last evening brought individual notes from almost every person I sketched, with a small photocopy of the drawing on their card. It was wonderful.
Forgive me, Lord. I receive far more appreciation than I deserve.
In fact, after posting the “top ten texts” on thanksgiving, I could not get out of my mind that I should have included the parable from our Lord in Luke 17:7-10 in which Jesus says, “When you have done all the things commanded of you, say to yourself, ‘I am only an unprofitable servant. I have only done my duty.”
Thank you, Father, for the little comeuppance.
Thank you for this blog, and all the others you have written that I read, reflect upon and then fail to tell you how much I appreciate the time and effort that goes into your writing. I praise God for His faithful servants who labor for the Kingdom and all too often receive little feedback from those of us who benefit.
Thank you, Ron. How kind.