The How and When of
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Psalm 136:1 says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” Here we have two reasons to be thankful: God’s constant goodness and His steadfast love.
Psalm 30 gives praise to God for His deliverance. David writes, “I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me. O Lord, you brought me up from the grave; you spared me from going down into the pit. ... You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”1
Here David gives thanks to God following an obviously difficult circumstance. This psalm of thanksgiving not only praises God in the moment but remembers God’s past faithfulness. It is a statement of God’s character, which is so wonderful that praise is the only appropriate response.
We also have examples of being thankful in the midst of hard circumstances. Psalm 28, for example, depicts David’s distress. It is a cry to God for mercy, protection, and justice. After David cries out to God, he writes, “Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.”2 In the midst of hardship, David remembers who God is and, as a result of knowing and trusting God, gives thanks. Job had a similar attitude of praise, even in the face of death: “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”3
There are examples of believers’ thankfulness in the New Testament as well. Paul was heavily persecuted, yet he wrote, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.”4 The writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”5 Peter gives a reason to be thankful for “grief and all kinds of trials,” saying that, through the hardships, our faith “may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”6
We should be thankful because God is worthy of our thanksgiving. It is only right to credit Him for “every good and perfect gift” He gives.7 When we are thankful, our focus moves off selfish desires and off the pain of current circumstances. Expressing thankfulness helps us remember that God is in control.
Thankfulness, then, is not only appropriate; it is actually healthy and beneficial to us. It reminds us of the bigger picture, that we belong to God, and that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing.8 Truly, we have an abundant life,9 and gratefulness is fitting.—From gotquestions.org10
God says to give thanks in everything. That doesn’t mean you need to give thanks FOR everything. You don’t need to give thanks FOR that bad day. Or FOR that bad relationship. Or being passed over at work. Financial hardship. Whatever it is—you are not to give thanks FOR the difficulties, but rather IN the difficulties. That is a very important distinction, and one I think we often miss. Giving thanks IN everything shows a heart of faith that God is bigger than the difficulties and that He can use them, if you approach Him with the right heart and spirit, for your good and His glory.—Tony Evans
The lens of thanksgiving
When I choose to face my miseries directly and find blessings in them, something miraculous happens. I view all of life differently. I see my circumstances through a lens of faith. And I am able to declare with confidence that, even in the worst of circumstances, God is still good, and there is much to be thankful for.
For years I pictured the first Thanksgiving as the pilgrims’ joyful celebration of a Bountiful Harvest, sharing with indigenous people God’s abundant provision in a fertile new land. But celebrating the first Thanksgiving was an act of faith and worship, not a natural response to prosperity and abundance.
In the fall of 1620, the Mayflower set sail for Virginia with 102 passengers on board. On December 16th, they landed in Massachusetts, far north of their intended destination, just as winter was setting in. This northern climate was much harsher than Virginia’s, and the settlers were unprepared for the cold season ahead. Winter brought bitter temperatures and rampant sickness. Shelter was rudimentary. Food was scarce. People lay dying.
That winter, all but three families dug graves in the hard New England soil to bury a husband, wife, or child. By the spring of 1621, half the pilgrims had died from disease and starvation. No one was untouched by tragedy.
And yet in the midst of these monumental losses, the pilgrims chose to give thanks. They saw in Scripture that the Israelites had thanked God in all their circumstances. Even before provision and deliverance came, the Israelites were instructed to give thanks. King Jehoshaphat saw the power of thanksgiving as the Israelites’ enemies were routed before their eyes while they were praising God.11 …
The pilgrims and Israelites chose to be grateful for what they had, rather than to focus on all they had lost. They had to look for blessings, actively and deliberately. Their Thanksgiving was not based on pleasant circumstances but rather on the understanding that God was to be thanked both in prosperity and adversity. Their gratitude was not a “positive thinking” façade, but a deep and steadfast trust that God was guiding all their circumstances, even when life was difficult.
Viewing their lives through the lens of gratitude changed their perspective. I have found that viewing life through the lens of gratitude can change everything.—Vaneetha Rendall Risner12
We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is good, because it is good, if bad, because it works in us patience, humility and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.—C. S. Lewis
In happy moments, PRAISE GOD. In difficult moments, SEEK GOD. In quiet moments, WORSHIP GOD. In painful moments, TRUST GOD. Every moment, THANK GOD.—Rick Warren
Genuine gratitude is admitting that what I have right now is enough, and if I have enough right now, why am I hurrying off to some other thing, or fretting and fuming over some situation that isn’t happening now? The thing is, giving thanks is not a naturally occurring habit. Learning to see all that there is to be grateful for takes practice. It’s something that we must learn, thankful thought by thankful thought.
The Apostle Paul said, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am in, therewith to be content.”13 The word that stands out to me in this statement is “learned.” In other words, he didn’t just wake up one morning thankful to be hungry, cold, hunted, shipwrecked, or imprisoned. He may not have always been content with his life, but through experience he learned that the goodness of God transcended any of his physical circumstances, and that allowed him to be content or grateful no matter where he ended up.
The honest truth for me is that I don’t always recognize that kind of contentment. I often find myself thinking, “Oh, when we get that all taken care of, then I can finally relax!” or “I’ll be happy when I lose 10 pounds, finish this or that course, get this or that organized, see so-and-so again.” And on the list goes.
True thanksgiving, however, is learning to see the gifts that God gives us every day and being grateful for them. And allowing for the realization of His goodness to be the foundation of all our thoughts.—Mara Hodler
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever.—Psalm 118:1
Published on Anchor November 2018. Read by Gabriel Garcia Valdivieso.
Music by John Listen.
1 Psalm 30:1–12 NIV.
2 Psalm 28:6–7 NIV.
3 Job 1:21.
4 2 Corinthians 2:14.
5 Hebrews 12:28.
6 1 Peter 1:6–7.
7 James 1:17.
8 Ephesians 1:3.
9 John 10:10.
11 2 Chronicles 20.
12 Vaneetha Rendall Risner, The Scars That Have Shaped Me (Desiring God, 2017).
13 Philippians 4:11.