My granddaughter Lucy Christopher Laurie was born the day before Thanksgiving, 2008. We were obviously thankful for such a blessing. But it also was a sad time for us as we deeply mourned our son and Lucy’s father, Christopher, who went to heaven just months before. Our mourning was exacerbated as we remembered him at the birth of his first daughter and wished so much that he could have been there for the birth of his second.
As we rejoiced at the birth of Lucy and at the same time felt – and continue to feel – sorrow over Christopher’s departure to heaven, I was reminded of the words of Job when he said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21 NKJV). In one day, Job basically lost everything. Anything that could have gone wrong went wrong. Yet he said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
The Bible tells us, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Notice that it doesn’t say, “Give thanks in the things you personally agree with,” or “Give thanks in the things that are easy for you.” Rather, it says, “In everything give thanks” (emphasis mine).
It is easier to give thanks at the birth of a baby than it is at the death of a loved one. Sometimes the last thing we want to do at a time like that is to give thanks. It is one thing to give thanks when the bills are paid and your health is good and the future is bright. But when there is a sudden, even tragic, turn in our lives and we wonder what is going on, it is not as easy to give thanks, is it?
The psalmist exclaimed, “Praise the Lord! Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 106:1). This verse doesn’t say, “Give thanks to the Lord when you feel good.” It says to give thanks, for he is good. Sometimes I feel good, and sometimes I don’t. But I am to give thanks to the Lord, “for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” If God ceases to be good, then I suppose I can cease to give thanks. But since that is never going to happen, then I am, as the apostle Paul said, to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4).
This is why we need to have what I would describe as a theology of thanksgiving. We need to understand that thanks should be offered to God regardless of our circumstances.
If you are a Christian, to give thanks regardless of your circumstances requires the realization that God is in control of all circumstances that surround your life. Sometimes you will understand these circumstances and, at other times, they will mystify you. You make your plans, but God always will have His way. There is nothing wrong with making plans for tomorrow or for next month or next year. But just remember that God may change your plans. He, not you, is in control of your life. We are told in Proverbs, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (16:9). We call this divine providence.
To give thanks regardless of your circumstances also means that you must realize that God loves you and is always looking out for your eternal benefit, even if what you are presently going through is difficult. And I would suggest that what we sometimes perceive as good could be potentially bad, while what we sometimes perceive as bad could be potentially good. Take for example, how the lives of some people turn out after they win the lottery. They dreamed of it. They hoped for it. And finally it happens. But I have read so many stories of lives that literally have been destroyed through the immediate accumulation of vast amounts of wealth. It devastated them. So what could be perceived as the greatest thing that could happen actually is, in some ways, a curse for some people.
Sometimes what we think of today as bad may be ultimately good, because it changes who we are – for the better. And sometimes what we think of as good can be bad because it causes us to forget God and instead trust in ourselves.
Finally, to give thanks regardless of your circumstances requires the realization that God is wiser than you are. He is always dealing with you for your best eternal good. He will sort everything out. It is not for us to fret over.
At times our praise will come easily. And at other times, quite frankly, it will be a sacrifice. I think for Job to offer praise to God in the moment he did was what we could describe as a sacrifice of praise.
We need to give God the praise and thanksgiving He deserves. But far too often we are like the 10 men with leprosy who called out loudly to Jesus for intervention. He graciously heard their prayer and healed all of them of their dreaded disease. But only one returned to give thanks. Jesus said in response, “Didn’t I heal 10 men? Where are the other nine?” (Luke 17:17 NLT)
Often we are quick to ask God for help during times of crisis, but we are very slow to offer him thanks after he intervenes. Essentially we say, “Thanks, God! See you next crisis.” The men with leprosy cried out loudly to Jesus for his touch. And the one who returned, the Bible tells us, “came back to Jesus, shouting, ‘Praise God!’ He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done” (Luke 17:15–16).
We were created to give glory to God. It is the highest use of our vocal chords, of our lips, of our mouths, of the formation of our words, to give honor and glory to God. God wants to hear us give him praise.