“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.” – Psalm 100:4
Harvest season brings a time of much thanksgiving as the crops are gathered into the storehouses. The corn feels as valuable as gold and the beans as good as silver. The barn full of hay for winter and the woodpile by the house gives the feeling of being blessed more than anything. Yes, this is truly a time for thanksgiving. But what about the difficult moments that come with the season and all of life, the ones where it is hard to be thankful? When the crop does not yield what it needs to, when winds flatten and ruin the fields in a matter of seconds, when we experience loss and hurt. How can we as Christians move through the bad days as well as the good days and still be thankful, as God wants us to be? Paul says that in all circumstances we can be content (Philippians 4:12), but beyond just being content, we can be thankful.
"Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." - 1 Thessalonians 5:1
God's will – His desire for us in our lives – is for us to be continually thankful, thankful in all circumstances, the good and the bad.
But why thankfulness? Why not just grin and bear it? Because thankfulness is more than just saying "thank you." True thankfulness takes the words we say and incarnates them into a reality we live out. This explains why we teach little kids to say “thank you,” not just because it is polite but because it is a practical way for them to connect their heart with their actions and change both.
Someone has probably told you when you’re having a bad day to count your blessings. Counting our blessings – though sometimes hard to do – changes everything. When we take inventory of our blessings we are providing easy objects to be thankful for, creating a prime opportunity to thank the providers of our blessings and ultimately God as we acknowledge His work in our lives.
As we express thankfulness in all circumstances, our heart, our attitude, and in some ways our circumstances change in four distinct ways.
“This is all for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.” - 2 Corinthians 4:15
One of the most obvious effects of thankfulness is a change in attitude – the root of all the other changes thankfulness makes. A changed attitude opens our eyes and heart to receive the blessings God has for us as well as prepare us for changes and challenges in our lives. James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Without a change in attitude our heart can’t be open to God’s view of the moment.
“For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” 1 Timothy 4:4
As we recognize objects of thankfulness, our attitude and perspective change. Our vision is then open to be shaped by the view of God’s sovereignty, recognizing that all things come from God and are sustained by Him. In light of our momentary troubles and joys we can see that every blessing and struggle is ordained by God, who is implementing a plan bigger than ourselves. This outlook allows us to see the blessings in disguise. Knowing God has a reason and purpose in all things allows us to live according to His will, in thanksgiving, not knowing how our actions will affect the lives of the people we encounter. Above James mentioned the attitude change that takes place, he then goes on to illustrate the results in James 1:3a: “Because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” We can trust God and thank Him for being involved in our lives as He changes us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. When we choose to see the situation from God’s perspective, worry fades, as we understand His control and presence in every moment.
“You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” - 2 Corinthians 9:11
Continual thankfulness yields a spirit of gratitude, eventually taking over every area of our lives. Gratitude is more than just being thankful for something; it’s an expression of kindness, wanting the benefactor to be prosperous and happy. Gratitude is from the heart, the very center of a person. This grateful spirit recognizes the Lord’s blessings in their life and longs to express thanks to Him. People with a spirit of gratitude are quick to give to others, blessing them since they themselves have been greatly blessed. The spirit of gratitude takes the act of “thank you” beyond us and focuses our attention on serving others.
“Once more the humble will rejoice in the Lord; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” - Isaiah 29:19
Finally, one of the biggest and most important results of thankfulness is the correct posture it places us in before God, that of humility. Thankfulness requires a sacrifice of our pride, selfishness, and our own agenda, leaving us with our insufficiency and need for God’s provision. This humility of self-abandonment amends our relationship with God by placing us as the creation before our Creator and a servant before our Master. It is in this position that we are then called to present our request before Him (Philippians 4:6).
Why thankfulness over grin-and-bear-it? Because grinning and bearing it is self-serving and results in selfishness. But thankfulness changes the attitude of our heart, resulting in a change in us. It changes our interaction with those around us, provides the opportunity to serve others, changes our perspective, and changes our relationship with God as it places us in a posture of humility before Him. Ultimately, thankfulness in the good times and the bad brings glory to God. Thanksgiving is an act of worship to the Giver of all things.
I encourage you now as Paul did to the Colossians to live in thanksgiving as evidence for the gospel from which your life in Christ stems. “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:6-7).