Thursday, November 1, 2012

Giving Thanks

November. Again? Seems like we just celebrated Thanksgiving.
            Last year at this time, I was on automatic pilot. Roger had interviewed for a job—in Missouri. If he took it, it meant trading my beloved mountains for the Ozark “hills.” But after nearly a year of unemployment, this was the only job offer he had. After nearly a month of praying about it, we made the decision to move. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas we packed, put the house on the market for a short sale, and celebrated the holidays with our kids.
            I thanked the Lord for His faithfulness, His provision, His never-ending love and guidance through all the chaos of the next few weeks and months. In fact, through that entire year of Roger’s unemployment I realized that a thankful spirit sustained me in the darkest times. But it wasn’t always that way.
            My mind went back to the time when the Lord first began teaching me about having a thankful spirit. Since my father had been manic-depressive during my childhood and teen years, I remembered much about his struggle, but only saw him defeated by it. I had determined as a teen that if I ever found myself in a severe depression, I would handle it differently. Dealing with my father’s suicide later only strengthened my resolve.
A few years passed, then I was diagnosed with a severe clinical depression. When I shared with my Christian doctor my desire to fight against depression more successfully than my father had, he directed me to specific portions of Scripture to find my answers.
            At the same time I was studying Philippians for a Bible class I led. I was impressed with Paul when he told the Philippians that he had learned to be content no matter what his circumstances were (4:11–12). He faced a difficult life with joy, confident that Christ was sufficient for every need. Through my study, I discovered Paul’s secret.
            A thankful heart.
            Earlier, Paul had exhorted his readers “not to be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (4:6, emphasis mine).
            Give thanks.
            As I continued to study about having a thankful spirit, I wondered why Paul emphasized thanksgiving, not just at set times, but always. I realized Paul was not giving an option, but a command, when he said, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). For the grammar buffs out there (and I’m one of them), this verb is in the present imperative tense, active voice. This means that we are commanded to give thanks, not just once but continuously and repeatedly.
            We give thanks because this is God’s will for each of us, no matter what our circumstances may be. To the Colossians Paul wrote: “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17). Paul encouraged the Ephesians to live “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:20).
            Thanksgiving is an act of faith. Faith is choosing to obey God even when it’s difficult or doesn’t make sense. It’s learning to trust a heavenly Father who deserves our total and complete confidence in His ability to answer prayer, to give us His best, to keep His promises. With a thankful heart we accept that God is able to do what He wills.
            David was another man in Scripture who learned to have a thankful spirit. Through all his difficult times in battle, hiding from Saul, and heartbreaking circumstances in his family life, David continuously gave thanks to God. He saw God’s hand in everything and was able to say, “I will give thanks to You among the nations, O Lord, and I will sing praises to Your name” (Psalm 18:49).
            Thanksgiving helps us focus on God rather than on our circumstances or ourselves. We know that God can change the circumstances if He chooses, but more often a thankful heart changes our attitude toward our circumstances. It enables us to look at those circumstances from God’s point-of-view instead of our own, and it releases us from the anxiety that we so often experience because of our distorted view.
            A grateful heart allows God to be sovereign. By giving thanks I give Him the freedom to do as He pleases, in His time, in His way. Recognizing who God is gives me the ability to thank Him no matter what. David exhorts us to “sing praises to the Lord, you His godly ones, and give thanks to His holy name” (Psalm 30:4 nasb).
            Another reason to give thanks is that it gives us strength to face both the difficulties and the dull routines of life. Corrie ten Boom once said, “Anxiety never releases tomorrow of its problems. It only empties today of its strengths.” When we accept that God knows the end, the outcome, of every problem, we can thank Him for it, and we receive strength to see that situation through to the end. Even when we are looking at defeat, we know that Christ has won the victory, and we don’t have to live in defeat.
            Thankfulness is not a way to manipulate God into giving us what we want. Instead, a thankful spirit rests in God’s promises, knowing He cannot fail. Since God has promised to provide my every need (Philippians 4:19), then I can thank Him for that provision even before it happens. Doing so releases me from the anxiety and pressure to meet my own needs. While it is tempting for me to bargain with God over my circumstances, I choose to thank Him for the opportunity to see Him provide. By doing so, I didn’t experience as many anxious moments as I could have.
            Being thankful does not change or speed up God’s timing, but it does enable me to wait patiently and readjust my time to His. Waiting isn’t anxiously expecting God to do something now. It means that I expect God to work, while I go about living with a quiet spirit (Psalm 46:10). When I release control, then God is able to work.
            Thanksgiving doesn’t eliminate or delay the inevitable. God knows the end from the beginning; our anxiety doesn’t change that. Neither does thanksgiving. But being thankful does enable us to face the most difficult circumstances with graciousness and peace. Paul tells us that the result of prayer with thanksgiving is peace (Philippians 4:7).
            Paul used the word peace to denote a state of untroubled, undisturbed well being. It is the tranquil state of a person who has been relieved of all the distresses of life. Nothing can explain it. It is beyond human comprehension. But we all have experienced it. And it is ours to experience all the time, when we simply obey the command to be thankful in everything.
            Finally, when we are thankful, what used to disturb us can no longer do so. The end of Philippians 4:7 states that this peace will guard our hearts and minds by putting up a protective barrier that will not allow the disturbing influences to penetrate. It only slips when we cease to be thankful.
This month I want to focus each day on something I am thankful for. Each day I will post a short devotional thought. I hope you will join me in saying with the psalmist, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good” (118:1).[i]

[i] Adapted from “Freed by Thankfulness,” Marjorie Vawter, Discipleship Journal (Nov/Dec 2004), Colorado Springs, Colorado: NavPress. The author retains the reprint rights. (

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