Merriam-Webster defines being thankful as: “conscious of benefit received; expressive of thanks; the feeling of being well pleased.” So, there seems to be several elements involved; we must feel pleased, be aware of the benefit that we have received, which is the reason we feel pleased, and finally, we must express our thankfulness. We could use many forms of expression; we could tell someone how thankful we are, we could do something to show them how thankful we are, we could give them a hug, or write them a note, etc. In any case, true thankfulness needs to be expressed.
On October 3rd, 1789, during his first year in office, President George Washington proclaimed Thursday, November 26thas a day of Thanksgiving. He was not asking us to be thankful for the many things we had. He called the nation to sincere and humble thankfulness to our creator, the Almighty God, for His protection and favor. We were asked to pray for our nation to be wise, just, to practice true religion and virtue, so that all people might experience the temporal prosperity God alone knows to be best. We just celebrated the anniversary of that proclamation, but somehow the reason George Washington called us to thankfulness has been lost. Maybe, we need to better understand the reason God calls us to be thankful?
Christians are called to be thankful, no matter what our circumstances and no matter what we possess, 1 Thes 5:18, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” But, why does God call us to be thankful, even when evil things are happening, even when we are hurting or homeless? Because He knows when we dwell on the evil in this world we lose hope, and so do those who we are called to minister to, Eph 4:29-32, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” Only when we let go of evil, and all of its facets, are we be able to rest in His peace, Jn 16:33, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
How is it possible to have peace in a world filled with hatred and evil; especially when we have nothing? He has given us the hope of a glorious eternity with Him to help us through the pain and suffering of this life, 2 Cor 4:16-18, “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;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.” The key to understanding this concept is the fact that the period of time we will suffer in this life is short when compared to all eternity. I like to think of eternity as an infinitely long line and our life as less than a dot on that line, which is hardly noticeable.
If we do not appreciate the hope God has given us, we will be led to doubt His unlimited, undying, reckless love. For those unsure of how God’s love can be reckless, He is the One who leaves the ninety-nine to save the one lost soul. He is the One who never gives up on us and is always there when we call on Him. He is the One who ministers to our needs, even though we do not see Him standing by us. He is the One who deserves our thankfulness, Ps 136:1, “O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” Being thankful to God requires us to recognize Him and what He has done for us, Ps 30:12, “To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.”
Heb 12:28, “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:” For when we are truly thankful for His grace, we exam our lives with the intent of removing those things which disprove our acceptance of His grace, Heb 12:13-15, “And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;” We cannot pretend to love His grace, for when we are pretending, we waver between belief and the need to be accepted by others. This double-mindedness makes us unstable in all our ways, Jam 1:6-8, “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Just as Jesus, out of love, came to finish the work God had assigned to Him, Jn 4:34, “Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work” we too should finish the work He has given to us, for Jesus wasn’t trying to earn His way back into heaven, and when we do what God calls us to do, we are not earning His grace, we are demonstrating our love for Him.
No one in this life is fit to judge us, for we are determining our own future, 1 Pet 1:6-7, “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:” If our own judgments keep us from praising the Lord, we will have lost the faith more precious than gold. God warned us that in these last days we would find, 2 Tim 3:2, “For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,” proud unthankful people. These people cannot be thankful, because they cannot let themselves believe in the God who created them. This is one of the ways we can measure our walk with God, or without God.
When we leave room in our hearts for a loving God, we begin to understand that everything that is good comes from Him, Jam 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” This awareness leads us to thankfulness. This world gives thankfulness for material rewards, God treasures His spiritual blessings, Eph 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:” Once we realign our priorities, moving our goals from material to spiritual blessings, we begin to see why people can be thankful when every observable measure tells us they should be miserable. This realignment allowed Paul and Silas to sing when they were in prison and nearing a death sentence, Acts 16:25-26, “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.” God enters the prisons of our lives and offers to free us from our bondage if we will only believe. When we are unable to be thankful for what God has done, we lose His gift of protection from evil; we are no longer able to accept His help, which frees us from bondage. Ps 28:7, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.”
Because we come to know that every good thing comes from God and that He will deal with every evil thing at the time of judgment, Eccl 12:14, “For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil” our belief and our resulting patience, lead us to wait for His perfect timing, Ps 37:7, “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.” George Washington witnessed God working miracles to create our country, and he wanted the nation to be thankful for that gift. This country has survived wars, both external and internal; hateful behavior; corruption; and every form of civil disobedience, but still stands alone in this world as the single best bastion of freedom and hope. We have a lot to be thankful for, but nothing more important than the grace and love God has shown us.
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