LCN Article
In Everything Give Thanks

November / December 2021

Richard F. Ames

As we in the United States prepare to celebrate our national Thanksgiving Day holiday on the fourth Thursday in November, we may remember that other nations have their own days of thanksgiving. In Canada, Thanksgiving Day falls on the second Monday of October—which means it sometimes occurs during the Feast of Tabernacles, giving Canadian brethren a sort of double reminder to be thankful. Canadians trace their nation’s first Thanksgiving celebration to 1578, more than 40 years before the Pilgrims in Massachusetts. The Chinese nation, amazingly, has been keeping a national Thanksgiving Day for more than 2,000 years!

Christians need not hesitate to participate in godly observances of their nations’ secular days of thanksgiving. Jesus Christ kept the Jews’ national festival of Hanukkah, giving thanks for the Maccabees’ miraculous stand against their Greek oppressors (John 10:22–23). But even though our nations may encourage us to be thankful, as Christians our more important concern is what the Bible tells us about thankfulness.

Don’t Be Thankless

First, let’s see what the Bible says about un-thankfulness. The Apostle Paul instructed the young evangelist Timothy about what people living in the end-times would be like:

[They] will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Timothy 3:2–5).

We are living in prophesied times of ingratitude. Paul warned about those who are unholy and unthankful. Christians, by contrast, are a thankful people. We appreciate God’s love for humanity, and we are conscious of His grace, His love, and His mercy towards us. We need to have and exercise the attitude of thanksgiving. It’s an aspect of godly character and it’s a continuous state of mind. Writing to the brethren in Rome, Paul warned:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, 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 (Romans 1:18–21).

Notice the connection between recognizing God, glorifying Him, and being thankful. Those who stubbornly deny the evidence of a loving Creator persist in making themselves foolish, with darkened and unthankful hearts. The same applies to those who admit that there is a God but refuse to glorify Him. But if we recognize God’s handiwork all around us, we have constant reasons to be thankful, even in the midst of trials.

In All Circumstances

In the New King James Version of the Bible, the word thanks occurs 71 times; the word thanksgiving occurs 31 times. It is a recurring theme throughout Scripture. Paul gave this command to the Thessalonian brethren: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). Can you give thanks in everything?

One scripture that is difficult for many to follow is James’ well-known admonition: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials” (James 1:2). How can a trial be joyful? It can seem almost callous to think of telling brethren to be joyful when they are suffering. But why does James give us this instruction? He wrote this “knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (v. 3).

Yes, even in times of great trial, we should be thankful that God is working with us to produce in us His holy and righteous character, which will endure long after every trial has passed. But what about situations where something truly evil and awful is occurring? One Bible commentary reminds us, “We cannot of course thank God ‘for all circumstances,’ including those which are evil and displeasing to him; but we can and should thank him in all circumstances or ‘whatever happens’” (John Stott, The Message of Thessalonians, 1991). We don’t thank God for what is sinful, but amid a sinful world we can and must still thank Him for all that He does for us—even in the midst of troubles.

Our thankfulness is a recognition of the reality of God as the source of every blessing, every good and perfect gift that comes down from the Father of lights. God’s wrath is against those who refuse to acknowledge that He is the source of life and breath and the way to happiness and abundant life. James also reminded us, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights” (James 1:16–17).

Thankfulness in Christ

Paul wrote these inspiring words to the Ephesian brethren: “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Ephesians 5:18–21).

Think about Paul and Silas, put in prison with their feet fastened in stocks. What did they do? “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). Even before a miraculous earthquake led to their escape (v. 26), they were praising God and giving thanks! They were living by a principle Paul shared with the Colossian brethren: “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” (Colossians 3:17). That should be our pervasive attitude—“24/7,” as they say. Also, remember that “name” doesn’t just refer to what you call someone. When you act “in the name of” your Savior, you are acting under His authority. You are acting within His will, not rebelling against it. And if you are living under Jesus’ authority, you can be thankful for that—and for everything coming from that!

Like Paul and Silas, we should abound in our faith with thanksgiving! As Paul reminded the Colossian brethren, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving (Colossians 2:6–7).

Prayer and Thanksgiving

But what should you do if you have a trial or an unmet need? Should you worry? No! Scripture tells us, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7).

And Jesus Christ is our High Priest. What does that mean?

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14–16).

Jesus Christ is there to help us find mercy and grace. He is our Intercessor. And we don’t need to be shy in asking for His intercession—we are to come boldly before the throne!

Yes, we should pray boldly for our concerns and our needs. And we should pray not with anxiety, but rather with thanksgiving! A trial may bring us very real suffering, but our faith in the midst of the trial should give us the strength to endure—and not just to endure, but also to thank God for everything He does for us and gives to us! One of our ministerial widows made a practice of almost every day writing down five things for which she could be grateful. She started doing that when she heard the suggestion in one of my sermons many years ago. She eventually wrote down more than 39,000 things for which to be grateful and is continuing the practice daily. What a powerful way to maintain a positive mind even in times of trial!

As an aside, Paul’s admonition to the Philippians may call to mind an important and helpful booklet, The Seven Laws of Radiant Health, written many years ago by Dr. Roderick C. Meredith. One of those laws, which really makes possible the other six, is Maintain a positive and tranquil mind. That’s not always easy, and I have to admit that I still work on it regularly. One of the lessons I’ve written to myself in my little lesson book is Be cool at all times. That’s a choice—and we can choose to be thankful even when we are tempted by worry and ungratefulness. Of course, we must also be passionate about God’s way of life!

Thankfulness for Correction

Most of us want to learn as much as we can the easy way—the spiritual way—by prayer, study, fasting, and meditation. But sometimes we may have a character flaw that, because of our weakness or unawareness, may only be overcome with God’s loving correction. It may be hard, but we need to thank God for such correction. We read, “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives’” (Hebrews 12:5–6).

Yes, we can ask God to correct us gently, in His mercy. But even His loving and gentle correction may hurt us for a while. It takes strength of character to give God the thanks He deserves for giving us the correction we need.

And it may take some of us years to accept the most difficult correction of our deepest flaws and weaknesses. Our Savior lived a perfect human life for more than 33 years, and some of us need much longer than that to become teachable in some areas of our lives. It has taken me 50 years or more to learn some lessons, and I know I have more yet to learn. So, I need to maintain a teachable attitude so I can learn from the remaining years God gives me. I am thankful when I’m able to learn a lesson through prayer and meditation, but sometimes I need to learn a painful lesson through experience—and part of that lesson is to be thankful, despite the pain, knowing that God is correcting me in love.

Follow the Example of Jesus Christ

Throughout His ministry on earth, Jesus Christ was not always welcomed. He was persecuted, reviled, and eventually killed by His enemies. Yet He remained thankful. After lamenting how the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida had rejected His message, He still kept the “big picture” in mind and remained grateful. We read, “At that time Jesus answered and said, ‘I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight’” (Matthew 11:25–26).

Christ thanked His Father for revealing to His disciples understanding, truth, the Way of life, the revelation of what’s right and wrong, the Way of love, the Way of the Ten Commandments, and our very purpose—that we can be born into His Family. And, if we want to consider an example of remaining thankful in trials, let’s remember that Christ showed us an amazing attitude of thanksgiving at His final Passover meal: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins’” (Matthew 26:26–28). Could we remain thankful like that, even knowing we would soon be put to death? I hope so—and we have the best example of all in our Savior!

Respond with Genuine Thanks

Sadly, not everyone Christ encountered gave Him the thanks He deserved. Notice how ten lepers reacted after Jesus healed them: “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, ‘Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?’” (Luke 17:15–17). We must be that one, not one of the nine who were ungrateful and refused or didn’t bother to give thanks to their Healer.

Of course, there is also a kind of “false thanks” that is really an expression of vanity, not humility and gratitude. Consider the gospel account of the Pharisee and the tax collector coming to the temple to pray.

“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. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:11–14).

Does this apply to any of us? We should be thankful for our calling always, but if we let ourselves think that because of our calling we are “better” than others around us, we are just like that Pharisee. We have received the indescribably wonderful gift of our calling, which should fill us with humility and thankfulness—not with pride, self-righteousness, and a false sense of superiority.

Reasons to Be Thankful

Yes, our calling and our salvation are the greatest reasons for us to give thanks. But if we take time to think about it, we can find an almost unending list of reasons to be thankful, like the list that I mentioned earlier. You might not have 39,000 items on your list just yet, but consider that many of us live in nations that God blessed mightily in the past, and that still retain many blessings unknown to poorer countries. Many of us have almost complete freedom to worship, unlike some of our brethren in repressive nations where religious minorities face brutal repression or even death. We aren’t facing the dangers that were experienced constantly by those who have fled Syria, or Afghanistan, or other failed states. Most of us are blessed with access to healthful food and clean water. For many of us, our air is cleaner than it was a generation ago.a woman writing a thankyou card

Don’t forget the simple blessing of a sunny day, for example. Many older brethren may remember a popular song from the 1950s, “The Best Things in Life Are Free.” It reminded us:

The moon belongs to everyone and the best things in life are free.
The stars belong to everyone; they gleam there for you and me.
The flowers in spring, the robins that sing, the sunbeams that shine;
They’re yours, they’re mine.
And love can come to everyone; the best things in life are free.

On one level, it’s just an upbeat, popular song. But we in God’s Church understand that soon the moon and the stars will literally belong to us—we have a destiny in eternity that few today can even begin to understand! Yet the greatest gift of all is God’s gift of salvation—a free gift that we dare not throw away through ingratitude, and a gift through which He promises to build within us His holy and righteous character.

God’s character, nature, power, and glory are revealed in His word:

Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created” (Revelation 4:9–11).

Yes, there is thanksgiving always at the throne of God.

Do you thank God for His Church? Paul’s epistles are filled with expressions of thanks for the various congregations to which he wrote (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:4; Philippians 1:3; Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2–3; 2 Thessalonians 1:3). With the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, I hope that most of you reading this article have gained an even greater appreciation for your local Church congregation and what our scattered and homebound brethren are missing because of their circumstances.

Express Your Thanks

As you know, I like to write poems from time to time, and this is one I wrote a decade ago, in 2011. It’s another way of expressing thanks. I call this poem “Another Prayer of Thanks.”

Thank you for the wind and rain; thank you for the hills and plain.
Thank you for the sky above; thank you for eternal love. 
Thank you for the coming King; to Him we pray, we love and sing.
Thank you for the words You say, the world at peace in Your great day.

I like to encourage our brethren to express themselves creatively, even with poems like this one. But most importantly, I urge all you readers to express your thanks to God through your transformed life. Thank one another for kindnesses. Thank God throughout each day. Always use the expression Thank you. In our household, my wife and I say, “Thank you” several times a day. It helps our communication and our relationship.

And don’t forget to thank God for your calling—a blessing given to very few in this present age (1 Corinthians 1:26–31). Thank God for giving you a part in His Work. Thank God for blessing His Work, and thank God for His revelation, His grace, and the very sacrifice of Christ. Let’s go forward to fulfill our purpose and our mission with thanks for God’s continual guidance and blessings. May we always abound in thanksgiving. May we always exemplify an attitude of gratitude and in everything give thanks.