On this Thanksgiving Sunday, what does it mean to be thankful? Often we are thankful for surface blessings or when things are going well, but the Biblical concept of thankfulness goes much deeper. Here’s the biblical definition of thanksgiving: “The act of offering thanks or being thankful, usually to God. Often connected to provision, deliverance, or God’s character. Commonly associated in Scripture with meals and worship.”[1] We’re going to explore what a life of thankfulness looks like today.

Give Thanks in all Circumstances

What is the root of thankfulness? In Thessalonians Paul speaks to our inner attitudes.  “Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  (I Thess 5:16-18) We are called to give thanks in all circumstances, not just the ones that are good or feel good. If we believe that Jesus is in control of the world, we trust that he is always working and though we cannot always see it, he will always bring something good out of even less-than-ideal circumstances. With every experience and even trial we can learn something, and our faith can be built up. Giving thanks in all circumstances does not mean we are thankful for all circumstances but rather it is about having an attitude that turns first towards Jesus in prayer and thankfulness for his goodness, care and provision. “With this perspective, one can always discern a cause for thanks.”[2]

Romans 8:28 declares “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,[h] for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) We can say confidently that God is good and that he is already and always up to something good. This attitude of thankfulness then is not based on external circumstances, it is an internal attitude. Michelle and I have faced some difficult circumstances, but we are truly able to say that we are thankful to Jesus for our lives and for where all the circumstances of our lives has led us to today. A Christ centered attitude of thankfulness is sustainable no matter what life brings our way. 

Give Thanks all the Time

Our first call is to give thanks in all circumstances; in Ephesians Paul calls for believers to give thanks all the time. “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:20) Paul’s call to the church in this passage is primarily about giving thanks in the worship gathering. A big part of our focus in worship should be to give thanks to God for his blessings. Our heart attitude here is the key, not just going through the motions, singing the songs or speaking the ‘right’ words.

Are we truly thankful? Is our thankfulness conditional to what we feel we deserve, or what we feel Jesus should give us? Our thankfulness should go back to the foundations of faith. Jesus loves us so much, that he died for us. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:32) This is certainly a reason to give thanks! Maybe giving thanks is about reorientating ourselves in a grateful posture towards Christ.[3] Because Jesus gave us life, sustains us, and loves us, we can give thanks all the time and in all circumstances.

Live in Thankfulness

If we are to give thanks all the time and in all circumstances, clearly we are to live lives of thankfulness. Our last passage is Col 2:6-7. “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Col 2:6-7) Our faith is based in Christ, through whom we have received all spiritual blessings and should result in living a life of profound thankfulness. Thanksgiving is not a meagre measure, but is to be an attitude that overflows in the life of a Christian.[4]

This is why we can be thankful: “giving thanks[d] to the Father, who has qualified you[e] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:12-14) Though circumstances may not always align how we like, and we may go through difficult times, our foundation is always in salvation; this is more than enough to be thankful for all the time. We can be thankful that nothing can separate us from God or take away his love. “37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:37-39).

Every facet of our lives is an opportunity to be thankful. From the beauty of the sunrise to the biggest blessings to the saddest tragedies, Jesus is with us in it all and his light shines through. Not just in a worship service or at a meal, but all the time, we can live thankful lives.

Conclusion and Application

  • For followers of Jesus, we have everything to be thankful for
  • How is this practical?
  • Choose to be thankful for all the moments of life
  • Stop and notice the beauty and goodness around you, even the smallest things, and give thanks to God
  • In hard times, be thankful that Jesus is with you and he will never leave you or forsake you
  • In the darkest times, if nothing else, be thankful that Jesus loves you and hold on to that.
  • In good times praise Jesus for your blessings and give him the credit
  • Don’t take good things in your life for granted. Take time to be thankful for a job, family members, friends, a beautiful day.
  • There is almost certainly something you can be thankful for.
  • Centered on Christ, an attitude of thankfulness is sustainable in all circumstances of life and will almost certainly lead to a more positive outlook on life
  • Be thankful!

[1] McKnight, C. (2016). Thanksgiving. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2] Thomas, R. L. (2006). 1 Thessalonians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 432). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 146). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Still, T. D. (2006). Colossians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 310). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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