Twenty years ago, when Mary and I were living in England, and November rolled around, like geese headed south we started to think about our Thanksgiving meal – then realized all the things we took for granted… In addition to many of our favorite foods that weren’t available in the UK, we discovered that our English friends found pumpkin pie to be disgusting. (And yet they eat Marmite! No wonder they lost the colonies…)
So often, when we think of thanksgiving, we think of the tradition of Thanksgiving, and all that accompanies it – religious or not – (a la Norman Rockwell) like eating a big American meal (just like the pilgrims). But what I’m writing about today is the role giving thanks plays in the Discipline of Rejoicing that is so necessary to our keeping God on the throne in our lives.
We are called to differently grateful.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
It’s tucked in this famous passage: “with thanksgiving.” We bring our life to God, we ask for what we ask for…with thanksgiving. Can we talk with God about the most mundane, or even the hardest things in life – even the Coronavirus – with thanksgiving? How, in such a broken world, can we be full of thanksgiving without being completely tone-deaf?
A few thoughts about thanksgiving…
The Greek word for thanksgiving is eucharisteo. Eu: good, Charis: gift, or grace.
The Good Gift: James 1:17 says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…" So we give thanks FOR. It’s not rocket surgery: this is how we usually give thanks. It’s why we write thank-you notes. It’s often why and how we give thanks to God, rightly, for the countless blessings and mercies we receive (x% of which we are completely unaware). It’s a good thing to do, but if that’s all thanksgiving is to us, we run the risk of framing the world exclusively through what we have received.
The Good Grace: Giving thanks FOR sees charis as a good gift. Giving thanks IN is understanding charis as good grace. We are called to give thanks IN all circumstances, not necessarily FOR all circumstances. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess. 5:16-18) This means the focus of our lives is not so much on the gift as it is on the Giver.
So how do you present your requests to God with thanksgiving? It’s an exercise in trust – thanking God in trust that whatever happens, however he answers or doesn’t answer your prayers, you can thank him for his goodness and wisdom and wise governing of your life.
We can do this only when we believe the gospel.
That God is for us, and not against us.
That God’s primary concern is not our comfort, but our soul.
That Jesus shows us God’s heart: he is caring and faithful and gracious in all things. And that he can redeem anything – even the death of his Son on a cross – for our good.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)
If we know God as a loving Father, and a compassionate Savior, and a powerful Advocate, we can rest in the Blesser instead of the blessings – not only to believe that he notices and hears us, but to go so far as to thank him ahead of time because he’s a God who knows what he’s doing IN ALL, and we can thank him for his GOOD GRACE, for his wise ordering of our life.
Bob Jacobs is Pastor of Westminster Church, Rapid City. Check out his personal blog at www.brittlecrazyglass.wordpress.com.