Thanksgiving. Giving thanks. So much has been preached, written, and taught about the importance of giving thanks and why embracing the Thanksgiving holiday is so good for us. Offering praise and thanks to the Lord reinforces to us that God is God and we are not. Research shows that cultivating a grateful heart is an important component in our experience of happiness. And when we express our thanks, we become an encouragement to others. Giving thanks changes us, making us more fit for heaven.
But herein lies the catch. Giving thanks can be difficult. Really difficult. A few weeks ago, our pastor at Windsor Chapel, preaching from I Thessalonians, commented that waiting on the Lord, waiting for Him to answer our prayers, is often challenging and frustrating. We see in this epistle an ongoing tension: Paul longingly prays for the opportunity to return to Thessalonica, to be reassured and encouraged by their faith and fellowship while at the same time offering deep heartfelt praise and thanksgiving and exhorting the Thessalonians to do the same even as both sides wait to be reunited.
Paul makes note of struggle and suffering in his letter to the Thessalonians, both on his part and theirs. These are hard times for these young believers living in a very secular world hostile to their faith. And yet, giving thanks and praise is an unmistakable thread that runs through Paul’s heart and spirit, and his words.
We are often told to count our blessings. While this can be good advice, it can also minimize the challenges of genuine thanksgiving and cultivating a heart of gratitude. And, the exhortation to count our blessings can mislead us into thinking that the giving of thanks requires us to pretend that times aren’t tough when they are. Rather, the giving of thanks requires us to think beyond our tough times and beyond ourselves and to refocus on our good God. The determination to present a grateful heart before the Lord means that we claim by faith that the Lord will work good out of each and every one of our circumstances, to cling to the Truth that we are not yet able to see.
“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.