One of the first things that we are taught as children is to say ‘thank you.’ But as we grow into adulthood, this practice often becomes a formality. It is a social norm to say thank you. We say it without much thought or even without feeling thankful. In the Bible, however, thanksgiving is not just a polite gesture but a command of God.
… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.I Thessalonians 5:18, NIV
Give thanks in all circumstances! Does this mean that we are expected to give thanks even when we are in unhappy circumstances? Do we give thanks when we are sick, or when we lose our job, or when we are in financial need, or when we can’t see eye to eye with our spouse or our boss? Does God really expect us to be thankful during such exasperating situations?
The answer is yes! God expects us to give thanks not for trying situations but in trying situations. Perhaps it doesn’t make sense to us. But you see, God isn’t responsible for our bad situation. God didn’t “make it happen” to us. God isn’t punishing us. God didn’t cause our suffering. A thousand things may have caused our bad situation but it isn’t God.
Where is God in all our circumstances? He is where he always is. He is Immanuel — God with us! And that is why God expects us to give thanks in all circumstances.
He is trying to get us to work with him so that he can work out all things for our good (Romans 8:28). He is trying to get us into the right attitude, to receive the solution for our bad situation. He is trying to get us to the right position to fulfil his good plan for us.
Now just because God wants to work out everything for our good, doesn’t mean that we can receive the good that God has for us. We need to have the right attitude to receive the blessings of God. Gratitude gets us into the right frame of mind to receive from God. That is the power of gratitude!
The truth is in our natural state we are better at grumbling than thanksgiving! We often think it’s justifiable for us to complain when we don’t like something. Complaining is actually an attitude of the heart. It speaks of what is inside us and we have to be careful that our complaints are not merely a reflection of our self-centredness and arrogance. If we think, I deserve better, I deserve more and if I don’t get it, I am going to complain. I am important and if I am treated like I am not, I am going to complain, then we are in a bad place with God.
The truth is grumbling rarely makes life better for anyone. Grumbling can cause us to forfeit the blessings of God. Often God will not act on our behalf if we are grumbling. In fact, grumbling can arouse the anger of God (Numbers 11:1).
Thanksgiving says I am undeserving, but God has treated me better than I deserve. This attitude moves us forward to receive what God is doing on our behalf. But gratitude is not just an emotion. In fact, if you ask people if they are thankful, most people will say yes. But often their behaviour and their words say otherwise. We can’t justify our bad behaviour by our “correct feeling.” Saying we feel grateful but behaving like we are not is a mockery. Correct feeling and good intention are not thanksgiving.
A key expression of thanksgiving in Scripture is through praise and worship. We sing to God, we raise our hands in worship, we jump in praise to express our gratitude to God! If you are grateful to God, then ‘make yourself’ act out your gratitude by worshipping from the depths of that gratitude. Stop fretting about the music or song, but focus on giving thanks to God.
Another central theme of thanksgiving in the Bible is to give thanks for people. The apostle Paul exemplifies this for us. Find ways to say thank you meaningfully to people who have been a blessing to you. Another powerful way gratitude is expressed is through giving. There are many kinds of giving in the Bible. There is giving to God. There is giving to people who love us and have done us good. There is giving to the needy and the poor. In the Bible, every celebration of victory or any kind of festival required the people of God to give to those in need.
As we embrace the attitude of gratitude and practice the behaviour of thanksgiving, our lives will be happier. We will be working with God to move out of trying circumstances to better ones. We can be sure that we will experience God’s pleasure when we have the attitude of gratitude!