“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18. These are the words written by the Apostle Paul as he gives his final instructions in his letter to the Church in Thessalonica.
I love Thanksgiving. Where Halloween is surrounded by darkness and plunges into evil, the holiday of Thanksgiving begins the glimmer of light that leads to Christmas. It is the entryway into a season of increased joy and a great way to prepare our hearts for the weeks ahead. Is your heart ready?
Notice in the verse above how Paul exhorts the people to “give thanks in all circumstances”. Too often we try to use what is outside of us to transform what is inside of us. We look around and see our family, friends and a table full of food; we have money in our pockets, a car to drive and our health. After evaluating these external factors (counting our blessings so to speak) we determine our lot in life is good, the Lord has dealt bountifully with us and we are able to give him thanks. Is this wrong? By no means! Give God the glory due him, for “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…” James 1:17.
However if these external blessings are what motivates your praise, your heart is in the wrong place and this is very dangerous. Quoting Isaiah in Matthew chapter 15, Jesus says to the Pharisees and scribes “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (verses 8 and 9). God will not accept “lip service” or artificial gratitude coming from a dead heart.
The question is, if you were alone, had no food, no money, no possessions of your own and were sick, would you be praising God? Would you still be thankful? This is difficult to answer. Most of us will never experience being in a position like that. This is why thanksgiving must be from the heart, a heart changed from within.
We don’t give thanks to God in light of our material blessings or because he has given us beautiful children and good friends. We don’t look at the less fortunate and thank God we are not like them. We give thanks to God because all praise belongs to him. Our hearts produce thanksgiving toward God in light of what his son, Jesus Christ, did for us on the cross in paying the debt we owe for our sin.
In the words of Isaiah: “You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:1-2.
When God has redeemed your heart to be his, it produces supernatural qualities like real gratitude, allowing you to offer up thanksgiving in ALL circumstances.
I have traveled to three different third world countries, yet the most impoverished hearts I have witnessed remain those in this country; those too secure in their own wealth to see clearly. I don’t say this to point fingers, because if I did, I would have to point at myself first.
I once knelt beside a dying man near my own age, skin and bones, sitting on the edge of a ragged bed in a dirt floor hut with paper walls as he praised God as we prayed. He could confidently say he was thankful in all situations. We need to be more like him. We need to find our hope in God alone through Christ.
Thanksgiving is truly a matter of the heart, a heart purchased by God himself. How is your heart this Thanksgiving? I encourage you to dwell on the eternal riches you have in Christ Jesus as you celebrate this year. May your heart be overflowing in gratitude toward the one who holds it in his hands no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. “I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.” Psalms 7:17