By Still Waters I

From a devotional I recently gave at the Laramie Reformed Presbyterian Church Ladies’ Tea. I hope it is a blessing to you.

A Life of Giving Thanks

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Definition of Thankfulness: “A whole-hearted worshipful belief and acknowledgement that God is Good in everything He is, in everything He says, and in everything He does.”

Do you struggle to give thanks to God? Do you sometimes look at another believer’s life and think to yourself – it must be easy for that person to give thanks – they seem to have no problems. I know I have thought these things. But, if we were to have a heart-to-heart with that person, we would find that they, too, struggle to give consistent thanks to God.

The fact of the matter is: most, if not all, believers struggle to be thankful in all things. This struggle stems from our old nature and from the fact that we live in a fallen world. In this fallen world, when we experience something bad, either physical or spiritual, we feel it and acknowledge it, which, in and of itself, is not wrong. We would be stoics if we did not acknowledge the reality of suffering, and this would be dishonest. The psalms are full of heart-wrenching descriptions of the reality of this fallen world, and of the psalmists’ real, human reactions to them. We can certainly find ourselves in the psalms as we walk on our pilgrim journey.

So, we can safely say that when we acknowledge that something is hard, or difficult for us, we are not necessarily being unthankful. It is how we see God in relation to this hard or difficult thing that determines whether or not we are thankless or thankful people. Let’s listen to the holy complaint of the Psalmist and then how He ends his prayer with thankfulness to God:

Psalm 13:2-6
How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved. But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing unto the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.

Being thankless is a temptation for all believers. We do live in a fallen world and are reminded of it every day: Our bodies get tired after a hard, busy day of working. Our emotions can get raw after intense moments or conversations with family or friends. We wake up in the morning with tired bodies after a short or restless night of sleep. Or we wake up experiencing some other discomfort – either of body – like chronic pain – or of the mind – like depression or perhaps just plain old discouragement. School deadlines are overwhelming. Family members get ill. Friends and loved ones die. Financial strains can be ever present. And these are just the physical things. I haven’t talked about the sins that seek to cling to us or to our loved ones, or the suffering we can experience as the result of the sins of others. CAN we be thankful in these difficult moments? What does the word of God say:

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Giving thanks in these situations is the LAST think we want to do. Our old nature says that we should not and cannot give thanks in these situations. For fatigue? for pain? for heartaches? For difficult relationships? For depression? For death? Well, don’t believe your old nature. Our old nature, which we sometimes call the Old Man of Sin, CANNOT see our life in any other way.

The Old Man of Sin lives inside of everyone, whether a believer or an unbeliever. But for an unbeliever, this is the only nature they have living in them. This nature rules them. It controls them. It will kill them. But the believer has a new nature living in them, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is this indwelling of the Holy Spirit that makes it possible to live a life tuned more and more to thankfulness.

As I move forward in this devotional, I want to focus on 4 things:

The possibility of living a thankful life
Being thankful in all things
How we can live a thankful life.
What a thankful life looks like

The possibility of living a thankful life

Is it possible to live a thankful life? For what ought we to be thankful? For needs that are met? For wants that are met? Can perceived needs be wants in reality? It can become important at some point in our lives to examine how we fundamentally view what we have, and what we don’t have – what we think we need, and what we want. Are we only thankful when we have needs and desires fulfilled? And for how long does this attitude of thankfulness last? Are we grouchy soon after because something else has not gone our way? And how often do we desire something, whether a need or a want, and when we are given that desire, our hearts are in such a state of presumption, or such spiritual dullness that being thankful is not at all on our hearts?

What if all earthly things are taken away from us – needs and wants? Can we still be thankful? The answer to these many questions can only be found after an examination of our souls in relation to God’s word.

First, we have to ask ourselves: what is our greatest need? A person can have all earthly things in their life going well, but still not have their greatest need met – the need for a mediator between himself and the wrath of God. I tell you, this person cannot be truly thankful. Just like everyone else, this person will be laid in the grave someday, leaving behind all associated earthly pleasures. But their greatest need will now be staring them in the face. However, by this time, this is a need that cannot be met. The Scriptures tell us that the time to seek forgiveness through the mediator, Jesus, is during the time He gives us on earth: Now is the day of salvation, and it is in the land of the living where God calls you to come to be reconciled to Him through the saving work of Jesus on the cross. 2 Corin 6:2 says: (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I helped thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)

Thankfulness can only be born of salvation. If God has called you to Himself, to seek His mercy and forgiveness of your sins through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, and then by His grace, you have come to Him and found your life in Him, you CAN TRULY live a thankful life – thanking God first and foremost for His salvation. JESUS is truly all you need. Let this be your first thought as the temptation to be unthankful creeps in. Here are several Scripture verses that teach us of the sufficiency of Jesus: These are good verses to memorize and meditate upon frequently:

Psalm 16:4-6 Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips. The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.
Psalm 73:25,26 Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.
Psalm 119:57 Thou art my portion, O LORD: I have said that I would keep thy words.
Psalm 142:5 I cried unto thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.

Being thankful in all things

Thankfulness to God begins with thankfulness for His Great Salvation, but it doesn’t stop there. Because of Who God is, we can be thankful in all things as the Holy Spirit instructs us to do in the letter to the Thessalonions. Our thankfulness in all things requires trust, faith, and knowledge of God, but it is in the knowledge of God that faith and trust find their moorings.

Knowing Who God is is crucial to living a life of thankfulness. We all have earthly fathers. Most, if not all of us, have lived with our earthly fathers and therefore have some knowledge of who they are. We know them because of the time we have spent with them. We know their ways and habits. To some degree of predictability, we know how they would respond to different situations. We have some sense of their level of love for us. All of these things we know because of the time we spent with them.

Just as we come to know our earthly fathers through the time we spend with them, so it is true that we can know our Heavenly Father by spending time with Him. We learn Who God is by spending time in His Word and this is through hearing the preaching of His word, through group Bible study and through personal devotion time. And although we are unable to fully comprehend God on this earth, He has graciously given us the ability to know much of Him through His word. We see what He does, what He says, and what He thinks. We are blessedly supplied with His own revelation of Who He is. Who God is often described in terms of “attributes”. It is the trust in and belief of these attributes that spur us on to give thanks in all things.

How to live a thankful life

Let’s talk about some of these attributes and see how they relate to living a thankful life:

The Westminster Shorter Catechism: Q & A 4: say: What is God? God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

One of the attributes of God on which I really love to rest is His unchangeableness. Humans are never consistent. We are always changing, depending on our mood, or on our circumstances. God NEVER changes. He is always Who He has always been, and that will never change. If God is in control of all things, He is always in control of all things. If God says He has saved us, our salvation is never lost. If God says that He loves us, He will always love us. If God says He will never leave us nor forsake us, He will never leave us nor forsake us. If God says He is truth, He will never lie to us. If God says all things work together for good for those who love God and who are called according to His purpose, then all things will work together for good to those who love God and who are called according to His purpose. If God promises to conform us to the image of His Son, then God will conform us to the image of His Son.
A firm belief in these truths about God will cause us to live thankful lives in the midst of all kinds of circumstances.

A life of giving thanks recognizes and believes that since God always loves us, we can give thanks in all the difficulties He has Sovereignly given to us because He is going to do something good for us as the result of these difficulties. In other words, because God always loves His children, we can truly be thankful in all things because God causes all things to work together for good for us.

Here is where spiritual discipline must be inculcated in our hearts and souls. Here is the “How” of a thankful life of a believer. Here is where we engage in the battle against the Old Man of Sin who says to us: be in despair, don’t trust God, there is no hope. Here is where we need to take every thought captive. Here is where we must constantly remind ourselves of God’s unchanging attributes. Philippians 4:8 says,

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

What a thankful life looks like

Though only God can see what is truly in our hearts, a life of thankfulness will mostly manifest itself in our words. We will speak of God’s constant goodness to us. And we will refrain from speaking disparagingly of our circumstances. Though we may need to vent out our frustrations and hardships, we ourselves will also speak of the ultimate goodness of God, or else we will willingly assent to the counsel of others encouraging us to trust God in what He is doing. But thankfulness will also manifest in our actions. If we are thankful in all situations, we will not be paralyzed with doubts or fears, but instead we will go about what God has for us to do in a trusting manner.

I would like to close this devotional with the Holy Spirit’s words in Philippians 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

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A Life of Giving Thanks

Aside

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