Thursday is the American holiday of Thanksgiving, and for some of you giving thanks to God will be easy because of the abundance of His blessings you’ve known this past year. For others gratitude that is not just lip service, but a real expression of your heart, is difficult because of grievous calamities or grinding stress.
Last year several days after Thanksgiving I wrote the post, Gratitude. It was without a doubt the most difficult post I’ve written since I began this blog in May of 2010 because of the intensity of the pain within me as I wrote it. I’ve edited it slightly for clarity and correction.
Giving thanks frequently receives short shrift when we talk about it, because we tend to discuss it either superficially when we are at ease in our circumstances or else in denial of the pain of difficulties. We give moralizing lectures about it or sometimes present the idea of giving thanks to God as a sort of magic charm (how many times have you been told about the “power of praise”?). In our shallow treatment, we skate over the reality of life in a fallen world and fail to acknowledge that sometimes in our giving of thanks to God, we hold on to God in faith in His character and care for us in the midst of our griefs. Gratitude gives us insight into our understanding of life, of other people, of ourselves and of God. Even Cicero of pagan Rome recognized its importance and stated, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”1
Giving thanks is the antithesis of Romans 1:21. It’s intriguing to me that the long litany of sins in that chapter finds its root in these words:
“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
In True Spirituality Francis Schaeffer gives a penetrating discussion of giving thanks as he connects ingratitude with the downward spiral of sin. He begins with Paul’s words in Romans 7:7-9 that the command not to covet was the command through which he knew he was a sinner. Schaeffer’s thoughts hinge on these verses as he explains:
“Coveting is the negative side of positive commands, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind….[And] thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:37.39).
“Love is internal, not external. There can be external manifestations, but love itself will always be an internal factor. Coveting is always internal; the external manifestation is a result. We must see that to love God with all the heart, mind, and soul is not to covet against God; and to love man, to love our neighbor as ourselves, is not to covet against man. When I do not love the Lord as I should, I am coveting against the Lord. And when I do not love my neighbor as I should, I am coveting against him.
““Thou shalt not covet” is the internal commandment that shows the man who thinks himself to be moral that he really needs a Savior….”2
The command not to covet mentions only other people and not God, but in our coveting against one another we indicate that we are not in that moment honoring God as God or being thankful to Him for what He has given to us.
Schaeffer goes on to say:
“A quiet disposition and a heart giving thanks at any given moment is the real test of the extent to which we love God at that moment. I would like to give some strong words to you from the Bible to remind us that this is God’s own standard for Christians.”3
He then pursues Paul’s teaching through several New Testament passages: Ephesians 5:3-4, 20; Romans 8:28; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 3:15, 17, 4:2; and 1 Thessalonians 5:18-19, and traces the theme of giving thanks in all things. He writes:
“These words about thanksgiving are in one sense hard words. They are beautiful, but they do not give us any room to move—the all things includes all things.
“...God says to us: in everything give thanks.”4
Have you ever thought about the humility, dependency and trust in God necessary to truly be thankful in all things? These are hard words because giving thanks calls from us that which we do not have except by God’s mercy and grace.
Schaeffer then comes to the verse I mentioned at the beginning, Romans 1:21, and writes:
“…The beginning of man’s rebellion against God was, and is, the lack of a thankful heart. They did not have proper, thankful hearts—seeing themselves as creatures before the Creator and being bowed not only in their knees, but in their stubborn hearts. The rebellion is a deliberate refusal to be the creature before the Creator, to the extent of being thankful. Love must carry with it a “Thank you,” not in a superficial or “official” way, but in being thankful and saying in the mind or with the voice, “Thank you” to God.”5
Giving thanks is the fruit of faith in the personal God Who Is There.6 He does not mock us in affliction by demanding our thanks for pain—although that is what Satan and our natural self will tell us. He calls us to trust Him when we are caught up in the inscrutability of suffering and live in gratitude for what He has given to us.
How have I seen God help me to give thanks—to believe and trust Him in gratitude when I struggle with fear and despair? Through His people, both present and past. My friend Lisa told me that she found solace in reading the Puritans and the Psalms. People who have been through the valley and stand on the other side reach out a hand of help and a heart of love to give us encouragement to believe. Also, through seeing life through God’s eyes—and here I turn again to Paul who has given me such help as he endured so much and counted all things as loss to know Christ.
I realize this post comes after the American holiday of Thanksgiving. It took me a long time to put it together because it has probably been the hardest one for me to write. I try to always heed John Owen’s words as I write, and for this “diligent endeavor to have the power of truths professed and contended for abiding upon our hearts, that we may not contend for notions, but what we have a practical acquaintance with in our souls.” I struggle to give thanks to God in the midst of hardship; my family has been through difficulties to the extent that we could no longer maintain our own household, and we do not yet see things beginning to turn. We have endured other severe blows, and there have been great disappointments in the last few weeks, and at times I thought I would never be able to finish writing this—and I felt if I could not do so, then I would have to stop writing. It was only last night that the words and thoughts were finally together. I continue to walk with faltering steps. I tell you this so you will know I write out of reality.
All Christians who write or teach do so beyond themselves if God’s hand of blessing is on their work, but that does not mean things should be written or taught without compassion or heed for the struggle of sin. I have found when I have taught out of the crucible of suffering, that God has used my words the most. If we can only declare truth from the shelter of a hothouse environment, then it will only be good for those who are privileged to live in hothouses. But Christ came, not to a place of shelter, but to a shattered and sinful world, and we speak His gospel to that world. Paul wrote that, “We carry this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.” He closes that chapter by saying,
“For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:15-18
Paul endured affliction so that the spreading of God’s grace to more people would cause…
“the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God.”
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”
2 Corinthians 9:14
May God bless you and keep you.
Waiting: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
1Robert A. Emmons, Thanks!, 2007, p. 15. This quote can be found in numerous sources.
Dr. Emmons is not a Christian, and I have my points of disagreement, however, his book contains careful research and profound thinking on gratitude.
2Francis Schaeffer, True Spirituality, 1971, p. 8.
3Ibid., p. 9.
4Ibid., p. 11.
5Ibid., pp. 11–12.
6This is Schaeffer’s descriptive phrase. I have previously quoted from his book, The God Who Is There.