This Thursday, Americans will pause to consider the things they are thankful for, and perhaps also to reflect upon the Giver of these blessings. In a world full of turmoil, it is profoundly helpful to slow down periodically, and, in a spirit of gratitude, contemplate those essential gifts in life that we can enjoy. Scripture teaches us however to demonstrate such an attitude continuously, and not only in response to specific circumstances where God has blessed us. And although in a turbulent world it can be difficult to continually praise God, living in a spirit of thankfulness is a Biblical attitude which can profoundly shape how we view the world, and how others view us as Christ-followers. It is a simple, yet profound realization when we are able to come to the place where we can praise God not only for what He has done in our lives, but for who He is. God is worthy of our praise, irrespective of the circumstances we may find ourselves in, and by adopting a prayerful and consistent attitude of praise, we provide a powerful testimony to non-believers. In fact, one antidote to a misleading “prosperity Gospel” which promises health and wealth to those who are faithful, is to cultivate an authentic spirit of thanksgiving, which consistently celebrates God’s good and praiseworthy nature, whether in times of suffering or blessing. Let’s now take a look at some Biblical paradigms for living in a spirit of thanksgiving.
Praise God continuously—Psalm 118:24 reminds us to praise God for simple, repetitive occurrences, such as the creation of each new day. “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Paul then tells us in Ephesians 5:20 to make thanksgiving a way of life, “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 and Colossians 3:17, he expresses similar sentiments. Then in Philippians 4:6, that well-known verse, Paul recommends that any petitions or requests which we bring before the Lord be accompanied with thanksgiving. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”
Praise God for who He is, regardless of circumstance—We find this truth illustrated in the Book of Job 1:21-22, where, immediately after having received the devastating news of his entire family’s demise, and the loss of his family, house, and lands, Job responds by still praising God, rather than giving into anger or despair. An equally dramatic example comes in Daniel 3:17-18. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are to be cast into the fiery furnace for refusing to worship the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar. Their response reveals a steely determination to follow God, even if their own lives are not spared in the ensuing conflagration: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O King. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” Then in Matthew 5:45, Jesus reminds us that God at times sends blessings to both the righteous and the unrighteous–“your Father in heaven…make His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Therefore if God can bless unconditionally, we should learn to praise Him in the same fashion, offering thanksgiving consistently, even when things aren’t going well in our lives.
Praise God for His character—Psalm 107:1 emphasizes giving thanks to God for His eternal mercies towards us: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” And the entire message of Psalm 100 is about praising God for who He is, and His character as our Lord and Creator. This Psalm asserts as well that we should never enter the presence of God in worship or prayer without also praising Him.
Praise God even amidst adversity—When Paul and Silas are imprisoned in Philippi, their response is to sing hymns of praise to the Lord, with the result that not only are they freed, but their jailors end up being converted through their witness! (Acts 16:25-31). Then in Philippians 4:11-13, Paul reveals that he has learned the spiritual discipline of living in an attitude of gratitude, whether in a state of happiness or of need. “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 is often cited as a stand-alone verse. But taking that verse in its larger context enables us to recognize that Paul can face any challenge in Christ because he demonstrates a consistent spirit of thankfulness that is not tied to the vagaries of changing circumstances. Interestingly, Hebrews 13:15 describes thankfulness in these terms: “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” The Bible thus acknowledges that sometimes giving praise to God will indeed seem like “sacrifice”, and yet it is perhaps precisely during those times when we least feel like praising God that it is most important to testify to others, and show them that God is at all times worthy of our thanksgiving and praise!!
Praise God lest we take His blessings for granted—In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus heals 10 lepers, yet only one of them, a Samaritan, returns to thank Him. This story suggests that in our natural, fallen, nature, it is all too easy to become forgetful of how massively indebted we are to God for His daily provision towards us. To live in a spirit of thankfulness certainly requires a deliberate choice on our parts, but it can yield a powerful witness to others. Doesn’t God deserve our constant praise and adoration for who He is, rather than just according to the temporary nature of our circumstances? This Thanksgiving, I know that I am profoundly grateful for several things. As always I appreciate God’s goodness in the form of bodily health, and for the love, encouragement, and counsel of my family, friends, and trusted spiritual mentors. However looking back over 2014 in particular, I can reflect in gratitude upon the Lord’s gracious provision through the prayers and financial support of so many dear friends at First Baptist Montgomery and elsewhere. Their generosity and willingness to have a heart for the Great Commission and specifically campus ministry have made it possible for me to come here to Boulder and pursue God’s call in my life! Again and again, I thank God for allowing me to serve in a place where I truly believe my gifts and talents can best be used to further His Kingdom. I never want to take a single aspect of my work in this mission field for granted, and I pray that each CU student or Boulder resident whose life I come into contact with will be able to see a portion of the joy that I have within me as a Christ follower. I pray too that they might recognize some of the sense of privilege I feel at being a minister of the Gospel here in Colorado. My daily goal is to point constantly with my life and my words to the greatest blessing of all—the love of a savior, whose suffering at Calvary makes it possible for anyone to enjoy abundant life as a redeemed sinner and Child of God.