What Does the Bible Say About Thanksgiving?
Can you really give thanks in all circumstances?
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Is it fair to say that thanksgiving is the will of God no matter our circumstances? It’s a great question, especially these days, right? Given what's going on in the world, given what happens across this fallen world on a daily basis. But, especially in difficult times. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” When it says give thanks, it could be translated “continually give thanks.” And again, it’s an order. And it says, “in all circumstances,” not just when your year is going well, not just when you’re feeling well, not just when your family’s together, not just when your bank account is good. Give thanks in all circumstances, Paul said. He wrote that to believers in Thessalonica.
The Thessalonian Christians were not facing pleasant circumstances. Paul had been driven out of the city. There was a great deal of opposition to Christianity at that point in their history. And yet, Paul says to them what he says to us today: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” That is the command of God for you and for me today.
Since thanksgiving is the will of God, why is it so important? The Lord wishes us to worship Him because to worship anybody else is idolatry. To worship anybody else draws us away from the one source of our lives and the God of all life and the God of eternal life, as well. So He calls us to show gratitude because that’s what’s best for us.
The ten lepers
There’s also a story in the gospel of Luke that helps us understand thanksgiving. It’s in Luke 17, the account of Jesus healing the ten lepers. Only one of them returned to give thanks. And Jesus, speaking to that leper, after He says, “Where were the others? Did the others not come to give thanks?”, He says to this one — who was a Samaritan and an outcast — says to this person, “Your faith has made you well.” The Greek can be translated: your faith has healed you or your faith has saved you. Your faith, your thanksgiving, has positioned you to experience the fullness of God’s grace.
God calls us to be thankful because, when we’re thankful, we position ourselves to experience His best, to experience all that He wants to give us, and what He wants to give us is always for our best.
Why do you think so many people fail to be thankful? Well, if you go back to the parable, there are three reasons that come to mind. One is busyness. These ten lepers had been healed by the Lord Jesus. Now, they want to get back to their lives. They want to get back to their family, their jobs, their homes, back to all that they’ve lost, all that they have missed during the time they’ve had this dreaded disease. The same thing can happen to us. We can be so busy in the blessings of God and the provisions of God that we forget to thank the God who has given all of this to us.
This leads to a second thought, and that is self-sufficiency. It’s so easy for us to think that we earned what we have, that we worked hard for it. We got up early. We stayed up late. We worked hard. We’ve earned it. But, we don’t owe thanks to anybody but God, when everything we have is from Him.
I didn’t earn the right to be born to parents who would love me rather than abuse me. I didn’t earn the right to have abilities and not deal with physical difficulties that so many people deal with in this world. I didn’t earn the right to have the religious freedom that I have. It’s easy for us to think that we have earned what we’ve received and, by doing so, miss the opportunity for thanksgiving that God intends for us to offer.
Being too far from God
A third reason comes to mind. As I said before, thanksgiving positions us to receive God’s best, to receive all that He can give us that He can’t give us if we’re not close enough to Him to receive it. I think a lot of people just don’t know that. They’ve been healed physically and don’t know what it is to be healed spiritually. They’ve received some blessing and don’t know what it is to experience the abundant life Jesus came to give us.
So, let’s not do that. Let's not allow ourselves to be so busy, so self-sufficient, that we miss all that God gives to those who position themselves to receive His very best.
In all circumstances
1 Thessalonians 5:1 says to give thanks in all circumstances, not necessarily for all circumstances. Why do you think it’s required in all circumstances? It doesn’t say all things are good. It says we can give thanks in all things, whether they are good or bad.
Romans 8 says that God works through all things for good, not that all things are good. You think of Jesus sweating drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and crying out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s certainly true that following Jesus does not mean that our circumstances will always be that for which we would give thanks. But we can give thanks in them because we serve the Lord who is the Lord of them. He is the Lord of our circumstances. He is on his throne no matter what's going on in our world. And, He will redeem them.
Experience the presence of God
He redeems all that He allows, and He will work through them to His glory and to our good if we will give thanks in them. Psalm 100 says that we “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.” Thanksgiving is the means by which we experience the presence of God. It’s the way we plug into His power source. It’s the way we walk into His Holy of Holies. It’s the way we experience the very presence of the God of the universe. If we will give thanks in our circumstances, we will experience God in our circumstances. And when we do that, we receive His very best.
Pray this week:
Lord, I want to experience Your presence and be thankful to You always no matter what my circumstances are.
What are you thankful for today?