Q: I know we have just celebrated Thanksgiving but I was wondering if you could explain 1 Thessalonians 5:18, where it says it is the will of God to give thanks in everything. I admit I am not always thankful for what is going on in my Christian life and often struggle with guilt and a sense of failure.
A: You are not the only one who struggles with this aspect of the Christian life. As believers, it is our heart to have the right attitude towards God. However, we have a tendency to look at what is wrong and fail to see what is right. It takes much discipline to adjust our attitude towards God and His ways when it comes to thankfulness.
Since the Bible is clear that ingratitude towards God and His ways will not be tolerated, it is important to understand what ingratitude is saying to God. Deuteronomy 28:47-48 gives us this insight, “Because thou servest not the LORD thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things; Therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the LORD shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things; and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have destroyed thee.”
God has called us into a life of service through worship and godly conduct and acts. He has clearly provided all that we need to tap into the abundance of His goodness. To follow, serve, obey, and worship God should bring the greatest pleasure to our life, but sadly we can quickly succumb to an ungrateful spirit if our heart is wrong and our attitude self-centered.
For example, we can see ingratitude in the case of the children of Israel when it came to honoring and serving the Lord. In one situation they murmured about God’s provision and in another incident they grumbled about the hard way He was bringing them to the Promised Land (Numbers 11; 21:4-9). In the first situation, many died of a plague and in the other God sent serpents among them to judge them.
So what does it mean to be thankful? True thankfulness comes out of a grateful heart, trusting attitude, and a humble spirit. Such thankfulness is the will of God because in spite of whatever is going on in one’s life, He is worthy of receiving thanksgiving. This brings us to a very important point, to be thankful in everything does not mean we are thankful for the challenging circumstances; rather, it means that we are thankful to God for He is who He is in all that He does, and we are thankful for God because He is able to get you through the different challenges of life.
The problem with the children of Israel, as well as with some in the Christian realm, was that they murmured against God’s provision because they were lusting after the things of the world. This was an utter show of contempt towards His provision of manna. In the second situation, they were grumbling, because they did not trust God to know and work out the way in which they needed to travel in order to possess the Promised Land. They were ready to rebel against His way, instead of going on in confidence to possess the promise of God. In this scenario they were questioning God’s way and despising Him for it, putting Him to a foolish test. In both cases we see that the children of Israel’s thankfulness was conditional; therefore, not a matter of the heart. Their attitude was fleshly and their spirit rebellious.
When it comes to thankfulness for Christians in regard to God, it must be present in two arenas, the first one is prayer. Philippians 4:25 tells us that in thanksgiving we need to make all prayers and supplications known to the Lord. If our prayers and supplications are going to be effective, they must be offered in the spirit of thankfulness, knowing that God alone will provide the answer to those prayers according to His will (1 John 5:14). However, the test of thankfulness will come after He answers our prayers. We can easily murmur against Him because He has not answered a particular prayer in the way we think He should.
The final arena that thanksgiving must be present is in sacrifice. The Bible talks about offering spiritual sacrifices in 1 Peter 1:5. Hebrews 13:15 tells us that one of our sacrifices needs to be that of praise. All sacrifices of praise can only be offered on the currents of thanksgiving. The test here is if we do not possess the right heart in which to lift up our praise, the right attitude to give it flight, and the right spirit to allow it to soar to the very heights of God, our praise will never enter into heaven and alight upon the throne of God in utter adoration and worship.