Best of Daily Reflections: Can We Really Give Thanks Always?Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Certain biblical imperatives have often made me feel like a spiritual nincompoop. “Pray without ceasing” is one of those (1 Thes. 5:17, ESV). No matter what it really means to “pray without ceasing,” I’m quite sure I don’t do it. And don’t even get me started on “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). Ouch!
Ephesians 5:20 contains one of those imperatives that remind me of my persistent shortcomings. Do I always give thanks to God? Hardly. Do I forget to tell the Lord “thank you”? Yes, not quite all the time, but often. Do I take God’s gifts for granted? Yes. Do I fail to take notice of many (most?) of God’s gifts? Surely.
Now, there’s a defensive part of me that wants to object to the notion of always giving thanks. How could this be possible? Sometimes, for example, I need to give the people in my life 100 percent of my attention. It’s hard to do this while giving thanks. Moreover, sometimes my life doesn’t seem to be filled with good things. Though I do not suffer in the way of many on this planet, sometimes I have what I would call a “bad day.” Sometimes I am misunderstood and misconstrued. Sometimes I feel unloved and unappreciated. Sometimes I am sick as a dog and can’t get out of bed. So how can God expect me to give thanks always?
It’s unlikely that the Paul used the phrase “always giving thanks” to mean “giving intentional, verbal thanks every single moment.” Surely there were times when his verbal skills were focused on something other than forming prayers of gratitude. But this qualification should not let us off the hook. I don’t mean to say, “Oh, Paul didn’t really mean it, so let’s all go back to our ordinary, thankless lives.” On the contrary, I believe Paul meant at least two things when he said we should be “always giving thanks,” two things that should challenge and invigorate us.
First, I believe this verse encourages us to pause much more regularly in the midst of our busy lives to perceive God’s gifts and thank him for them. For example, I am thinking about the good things I am experiencing this very moment: warmth on a cool day, a comfortable chair, a computer that facilitates my work, a cup of hot coffee, the chance to write this reflection, the assurance I have about my next meal and a safe place to sleep tonight, the fact that I am loved by my family and friends, the fact that I have been saved by grace through faith, etc. etc. etc. I wonder how my life would be different if I were to pause a few times throughout the day so that I might consider my blessings and tell the Lord “thank you”?
Second, Ephesians 5:20 urges us to develop an inner perspective of gratitude, to live each moment with an underlying awareness of the blessings we have from God and our debt to him. Now, I’ll confess to you that I am now speaking above my spiritual pay grade here. But I have heard people of mature faith talk about this sort of thing. And every now and then, I have experienced something like it. When I am hiking in the mountains, for example, I can focus on the trail in front of me, making sure that I don’t lose my footing and yet, at the same time, sense deep gratitude for the beauty and grandeur around me. It’s almost as if each footstep is a prayer of thanks to God. Or, sometimes, while writing these reflections, I marvel at the gift God has given of being able to do this. My fingers are keyboarding away. My primary focus is upon what I’m writing. But my heart is filled with thanksgiving that underscores every word, every sentence.
Am I giving thanks always? I’m afraid not, not yet. Am I learning to give thanks more and more? I think so. I hope so, by grace.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How might you develop a pattern of consistent thanksgiving? What helps you to feel grateful to God even when you’re attending to other things besides prayer. During this week of thanksgiving, let me encourage you to step back regularly and take time to think and pray. Allow the Lord to move you in the direction of thanking him always.
PRAYER: Teach me, Lord, how to thank you always. By your Spirit, stir up an artesian spring of gratitude in my heart. Help me to see how blessed I am. Set me free from the bondage of taking your gifts for granted. Even when life is hard, may I live with a consistent awareness of your goodness in my life.
Help me, Lord, to learn to step back throughout the day in order to consider your gifts to me and give you the thanks you deserve. By your Spirit, instill in me a consistent undercurrent of gratitude, so that my whole life is an expression of thanks to you. Amen.
Mark Roberts is the Executive Director of Digital Media and the Theological and Cultural Steward for Foundations for Laity Renewal. He is the author of eight books, including No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer. He lives in Boerne, Texas, with his wife, Linda. Their children spend most of the year away at college on the East Coast.
Don’t Worry, Be Thankful
In Philippians 4, Paul invites people to rejoice in the Lord always. Always? Even when Christians are being persecuted by Rome? Even when Paul himself is in prison? Always? Even when someone I love is dying? Even when I have lost my job? “Do not worry about anything,” Paul continues. Instead, we are called to present our worries to God with thanksgiving. Many of our readers in the United States are celebrating Thanksgiving this week, with a turkey dinner and pumpkin pie. We invite you to reflect on gratitude and thankfulness and consider sharing some thoughts with your family this week from our theme Don’t Worry, Be Thankful.