The Heart of Thanksgiving (2)
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
I don’t know how many people I’ve encountered, over the course of my ministry, who struggle with the question of God’s will for their lives, but there have been quite a few.
Young men just out of college, guys on an uncertain career path, church leaders piqued by a missionary testimony, pastors wondering whether God wants them to move on, or someone wrestling with questions of family or finances: all such people want to know the Lord’s will for their lives. They sincerely want to serve and please Him, and they want to have that deep-seated sense of doing the right thing in whatever it is they’re facing.
Such desire to know the will of God is laudable. Seeking God’s will, and submitting to it, is crucial to keeping our hearts with all diligence. It shows that we both fear Him as we should – since to follow a path contrary to His will can bring discipline (Heb. 12.3-11) – and love Him as He intends – for we earnestly desire to be where He wants us to be, that we might be with Him, loving others in His Name.
But is it possible to know the will of God for our lives? Don’t we just have to search out the possibilities, make an informed decision, and trust the Lord to guide and bless?
That may be true in certain areas of our lives, but there is at least this one thing we can say for sure about God’s will for every single follower of Jesus Christ: He wants us to give thanks in all circumstances.
Thanksgiving, in obedience to the will of God, provides a foothold for further progress in knowing His will for other areas of our lives.
How easy is that?
This is what makes thanksgiving the most practical affection. First, how easy is it to memorize 1 Thessalonians 5.18? “…in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Any child could memorize that in one day! By memorizing that verse and repeating it often, you train your mind to think in terms of thanksgiving, and your mind helps to shape your heart for the practice of it.
Second, how easy is it to pray, “Thank You, Lord”? Many people stumble around seeking the right words for their prayers. But there’s no guesswork here, no searching for pious-sounding phrases, no fear of over-stepping our bounds. Just, “Thank You, Lord,” no matter what comes up, or what you may be doing.
Let’s consider this a bit more carefully. First, as Joni Eareckson Tada is quick to remind us, God calls us to give thanks, not to be thankful. In other words, we must not base our practice of thanksgiving on whether we feel gratitude over the situation or circumstance in which we find ourselves. Thanksgiving is an act of the will, based on understanding God’s Word, and deriving from a prior commitment to obey the Lord, whatever He requires. Feeling gratitude is not a prerequisite for giving thanks. Fearing and loving God, and resolving to obey Him according to all His will, is. By giving thanks, however, we exercise that sector of our heart that helps to make us truly thankful people, for whom thanksgiving is as normal as breathing.
Thanksgiving is an act of obedience, based on fearing and loving God, and trusting in Him. We trust that God is all-wise and all-sovereign, and that He does all things well and works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are walking within His purposes (Rom. 8.28). Loving God, therefore, we are determined to obey His will, and His will is that we should give thanks in everything. Giving thanks without feeling thanks is not hypocrisy; it’s obedience. The Spirit of God, Who leads us to give thanks, will exercise our soul for greater strength in thankfulness to the extent that we are diligent in giving thanks in all things.
In, not for
Second, notice that Paul says it is God’s will that we give thanks in all circumstances – not necessarily for them. These are two very different prepositions. “In” is locative; it relates to where we are, the context or circumstances in which we are caught up or involved. No situation, no combination of conditions, no adversity or trial or setback does not qualify as a platform for thanksgiving. In all such situations, we can learn to give thanks to God.
“For”, on the other hand, takes our circumstances not as the context of thanksgiving but the rationale or cause of it. But God is the only final object of our thanksgiving. The circumstances of our lives change; God does not. The situations in which we find ourselves at any moment may be pleasant and agreeable or difficult and threatening. We do not give thanks for these situations, as though they were the cause of any blessing or boon. But we do give thanks in them, for the goodness and faithfulness of God, because the God Who loves us and does all things well and for our good does not change, even when our circumstances do.
Finally, note that thanksgiving is an action of the soul and body. It begins within, where we are determined to obey God, and it comes to expression in some form of word or deed, offered to God to acknowledge His greatness, sovereignty, love, and faithfulness. Here, in a microcosm, is how a strong soul works to make a strong and obedient, God-honoring body. What we determine in the soul will come to expression in words and deeds. The stronger our soul, the more God-honoring will be our words and deeds.
Thus, thanksgiving is not simply a frame of mind; it is an act of obedient faith, it is the very will of God for our lives. And as such, it provides a model for training the rest of our heart for loving God and our neighbors as the greatest of all affections.
If you’re casting about to know God’s will for you, there’s no better place to begin than in giving thanks wherever you are, whatever is going on around you, and regardless of whether you feel particularly thankful for it all. For this is the will of God for you who are in Christ Jesus.
1. Is there a difference between feeling thankful and giving thanks? Explain.
2. How can we give thanks in every situation, and really mean it?
3. What are we saying to God when we give thanks in everything?
Next steps – Transformation: Make a short list of things you want to give thanks for today. Carry that list with you, and pull it out from time to time, taking just a few moments to offer up your gratitude to God, whether you feel like it or not.
T. M. Moore
Your soul in the Kingdom of God
All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here.
Jesus has conveyed us into the Kingdom of God. It is in the context of seeking the Kingdom that we can grow strong souls. Our book, The Kingdom Turn, can help you understand and begin making yourself more at home in the Kingdom of God. Order your free copy by clicking here.
Thanks for your prayers and support
If you find ReVision helpful in your walk with the Lord, please seek the Lord, asking Him whether you should contribute to the support of this ministry with your financial gifts. As the Lord leads, you can use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card, or you can send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.