In his heyday, Rudyard Kipling (author of The Jungle Book) is said to have valued every written word at 25 shillings. A group of college students wrote to him, enclosing 25 shillings, asking for his “best word”. A few days later, they received a telegram that simply said “Thank you!”.
Our nation has instituted a national Thanksgiving to give thanks to God for His blessings. A noble goal, but it should become second nature to those who have experienced God’s amazing grace, mercy, and salvation. In case we forget to give thanks, the Lord has given us a special command out of the 800 individual New Testament commandments: “In everything give thanks, this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ).
Note that our gratitude to God is all-encompassing: “In everything thank you…” (NKJV). Other translations are “No matter what, always be grateful” (NLT) and “Thank you in any circumstances” (ESV). Ephesians 5:20 goes even further with “Always give thanks for all things.” For real? Always? For every single thing? Is God serious?! Maybe we prefer to say “When I feel like it!” or “When everything goes my way!” Can we really be thankful in and for deaths, illnesses, bills, lawsuits, angry people, bad weather, accidents, tragedies, etc. etc. etc.?
Although not normal or natural, an answer is found in Romans 8:28: “And we know that ALL THINGS work together for good to those who love God, to those whom he has called according to his purpose.” In short, we see only the back of God’s tapestry and know that he is working for our highest good and his eternal glory. In fact, His goal is to mold and conform us in the image and likeness of Jesus (8:29). We can always thank him for knowing what he’s doing, even if we don’t like it or don’t understand it.
This command of God to “give thanks” (! Thessalonians 5:18) is present (do it now, constantly), active (do it, not just think about it), mandatory (not optional), and personal (second person, YOU) verb My father used to say, “Bob, can you hear me?” No, he wasn’t doing a hearing test, he was questioning my obedience to his previous command. This is very similar to the Air Force’s “HUA!” – Heard, understood, noted! Is this your answer to God’s command, whether you feel like it or not? Of course, it is far better to obey out of love, as Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
Thanksgiving is God’s clear will for us. Every time God gives a command, we can be sure that it is definitely His will for us. There are also a few instances where He says straight out, “This IS My will for you.” There is no doubt about that. No loopholes, excuses or alibis. In fact, we find that the previous two commands, “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) and “Pray without ceasing (continuously, used by a persistent cough or a tax payment in those times)!” (5:17) are included in the same set.
Finally, gratitude is essential for all believers, even if it is not our natural inclination. Left to our own sinful selfishness, we tend to complain and grumble about almost anything. Romans 1:21 says, “Though they knew God, they did not glorify (honour) him as God, nor did they give thanks.” Among all the evil prophesied qualities of man in the last days (and we are there!) we find “ungrateful” (2 Timothy 3:2). Philippians 2:14 says, “Do all things without complaining or quarreling.”
Notice the last sentence of our verse, which says, “…in Christ Jesus for (regarding) YOU” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Who is addressed here? In 1 Thessalonians 1:1 we see that it is “for the church of Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” God does not expect true gratitude from unbelievers since they must first turn from their sins and trust Jesus for forgiveness and salvation (John 3:16). Then, as “new creatures in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:17), we have a new nature and desires, including a desire to praise and thank our Father for all that He has done, is doing, and does in our lives will do. We should all live and breathe thank you letters that express gratitude to God and others.
When we truly know Christ as Savior there is always something to be thankful for even in disappointing times, as a little girl prayed, “Dear God, thank you for my little brother, BUT what I really prayed for was a puppy !” May you pray this Thanksgiving: “Lord, you have given me so much. Please give me one more thing: a thankful heart!” God bless you as you bless and give thanks to the Lord each day (Psalm 100)!
Bob Kulp is Pastor of Grace Brethren Church, 24775 CR 20 East (Mishawaka Road), Elkhart, 574-875-5271.