It is such a good thing that we have this national holiday, every fourth Thursday of November, to remind us to give thanks to the One who “gives to all people life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:25). Indeed, the Thanksgiving holiday itself is another one of those things for which we should give God thanks! And, of course, we can readily think of many other blessings for which to thank Him this late November. Some of us have had very signal blessings in the last year … or very timely deliverances. Many of us have family reasons for praise, or business reasons, or health reasons, or church reasons, or reasons of God drawing especially near to our own souls. God does indeed “satisf[y] your years with good things” (Psalm 103:5).
But what about those years and seasons when the good things seem to be overshadowed by events which, at least on the raw surface of life, seem not so good? Or what about the times when those things for which we normally give thanks around the Thanksgiving table seem to be few and far between? Even then, the apostle Paul would remind us, we can and should give thanks. “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18, emphasis added). Not just when the reports are rosy; not just when you have the typical Thanksgiving round of reasons; but “in everything give thanks”!
Is that realistic? Is it just phony? How do the bereaved give thanks when a loved one’s place is now empty at the Thanksgiving feast? How do the lonely give thanks when they have no one to feast with at all? How do the unemployed give thanks? Or the cancer ridden, or those discouraged in their dead-end job? Should we just plaster on a smile and ‘say the right thing’? Or is there something even more to genuine thanksgiving than just the obvious reasons why most Americans (rightly) give thanks?
Well, there is the simple fact of the gospel, isn’t there? So that, if you belong to Christ, even if you cannot think of anything else for which to give thanks, you can give thanks for His shed blood, and for the forgiveness and eternal life that you have in Him! Because of Him, you can be thankful in spite of your circumstances!
But 1 Thessalonians 5:18 calls for something even more, it seems to me – not just thanksgiving in spite of our circumstances, but actually giving thanks in those circumstances. And that means that we must thank God for what He is doing in our trials, in our bereavement, in our discouragement. And what is He doing? Well, we don’t always know the fine print! And sometimes we can’t even seem to read vast sections of the large print! But, if we are in Christ; if we “love God”; if we “are called according to His purpose”, then “we know” that, even if we cannot see it, God is working every trial and heartache for our everlasting good (Romans 8:28). And we know (Romans 8:32), that if God was willing to give us His very best – His own Son! – then surely He will not withhold anything else that is needful. And we know that “the LORD is near to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18) and that “the angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him” (Psalm 34:7). And so we can thank God, not just in spite of our trials, but for what He is doing in our trials – upholding us, encamping round us, drawing especially near to us in sorrow, wisely working good that we cannot yet see … and promising, with His Son as the earnest payment (Rom 8:32), that He will continue doing these things every moment of our lives!
So then, thank God around the tables at Thanksgiving! Thank Him for family, and friends, and health, and safety, and all that is going obviously well in your life. But thank Him, too, for how He is wise and good and faithful and strong even when “the mountains slip into the heart of the sea.” Even then, He is “a very present help.” And so, even then, we may give thanks.