The next footsteps, he knew, might be those of the guards taking him away to his execution. His bed was the cold, stone floor of the dank, cramped prison cell. Not an hour passed when he was free from the constant irritation of the chains and the pain of the iron manacles cutting into his wrists and ankles.
Separated from friends, unjustly accused, brutally treated – if any man had a right to complain it was this man, languishing almost forgotten in a harsh Roman prison. But instead of complaints, his lips rang with words of praise and thanksgiving!
This was the Apostle Paul – a man who had learned the meaning of true thanksgiving, even in the midst of great adversity. Look carefully at what he wrote during the prison experience: “Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”1
Think of it! “Always giving thanks … for everything”2 no matter the circumstances. Thanksgiving for Paul was not a once-a-year celebration, but a daily reality that made him a joyful person in every situation.
Thanksgiving – the giving of thanks – to God for all his blessings is one of the most distinctive marks of the believer in Jesus Christ. Is that true in your life? Hardly anything can turn us into bitter, selfish, dissatisfied people more quickly than an ungrateful heart. And nothing does more to restore contentment and the joy of our salvation than a true spirit of thankfulness.
One day outside a village, 10 lepers approached Jesus, pleading for Him to heal them. In an instant they were restored to perfect health, but only one “threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him.”3 All the rest left without a single word of thanks, their minds preoccupied with themselves, gripped by a spirit of ingratitude.
Ingratitude and thanklessness are far too common in our modern world. Children forget to thank their parents for all that they do … common courtesy is scorned … people take for granted the way others help them. And above all, we fail to thank God for His blessings.
One of the Bible’s indictments against rebellious humanity is that “although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him.”4 An ungrateful heart is a heart that is cold toward God and indifferent to His mercy and love. It is a heart that has forgotten how dependent we are on God for everything.
Throughout the Bible we are commanded to be thankful. Thankfulness is the natural outflowing of a heart that is attuned to God. The Psalmist declared, “Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving.”5 “Be thankful,”6 Paul stated. A spirit of thanksgiving is always the mark of a joyous Christian.
First, be thankful for the material blessings God gives you. Some people are never satisfied with what they have. But what a difference it makes when we realize that everything we have has been given to us by God! King David prayed, “Wealth and honor come from You. … Now, our God, we give You thanks, and praise Your glorious name. … Everything comes from You.”7
Some years ago, I visited a man who was wealthy and successful, the envy of all his friends and business associates. But as we talked, he broke down in tears, confessing that he was miserable inside. Wealth had not been able to fill the empty place in his heart. A few hours later I visited another man who lived only a few miles away. His cottage was humble, and he had almost nothing in the way of this world’s possessions. Yet his face was radiant as he told me about the work he was doing for Christ and how Christ had filled his life with meaning and purpose.
I went away convinced that the second man was really the rich man, for he had learned to be thankful for everything that God had given him. Paul declared, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”8 A spirit of thankfulness makes all the difference.
Are you constantly preoccupied with what you do not have? Or have you learned to thank God for what you do have?
Second, thank God for the people in your life. It is easy to take other people for granted or to complain and become angry because they do not meet our every wish. But we need to give thanks for those around us – our spouses, our children, our relatives and our friends.
Recently, I received a letter from a woman who began by telling me how fortunate she was to have a kind, considerate husband. She then wrote four pages listing all his faults! How many marriages and other relationships grow cold and eventually are shattered because of faultfinding.
Do you go out of your way to let others know you appreciate them and are thankful for them? The Christians in Corinth were far from perfect, but Paul began his first Letter to them by saying, “I always thank my God for you.”9 The Bible says that when a group of believers (whom he had never met) came out to greet him as he approached Rome, “at the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged.”10 Thank God for others who touch your life.
Third, thank God in the midst of trials and even persecution. We draw back from difficulties, and yet not one of us is exempt from trouble. In many parts of the world it is dangerous even to be a Christian because of persecution.
Yet in the midst of trials we can thank God because we know He has promised to be with us, and He will help us. We know that He can use times of suffering to draw us closer to Himself. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”11
When Daniel learned that evil men were plotting against him to destroy him, “he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”12 The Bible commands, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”13 Paul declared, “You will even be able to thank God in the midst of pain and distress because you are privileged to share the lot of those who are living in the light.”14
I don’t know what trials you may be facing right now, but God does. He loves you. Cultivate a spirit of thankfulness even in the midst of trials and heartaches.
Fourth, thank God especially for His salvation in Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that we are separated from God because we have sinned. But God loves us – He loves you – and He wants us to be part of His family forever. He loves us so much that He sent His only Son into the world to die as a perfect sacrifice for our sins, and He rose again to offer us new life, eternal life. But we must reach out in faith to accept Christ as our Savior: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him (Jesus) shall not perish but have eternal life.”15
Have you put your trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior? If not, turn to Jesus Christ in faith and trust that He paid the complete and full penalty for your sins when He died on the cross and that this payment for your sins is the only way to get into heaven. If you do know Christ as your Savior, how long has it been since you thanked God for your salvation? We should not let a day go by without thanking God for His mercy and grace to us in Jesus Christ.
Finally, thank God for His continued presence and power in your life. When we trust in Christ as Savior, it is not the end but the beginning of a whole new life! He is with us and wants to help us to follow Him and obey His Word.
In ourselves we do not have the strength we need to live the way God wants us to live. But when we turn to him, we discover that “it is God who works in [us] to will and to act according to his good purpose.”16 Jesus promised His disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. … Surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.”17
For the Christian every day is a thanksgiving day. We are “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”2
- Eph. 5:19-20, NIV.
- Eph. 5:20, NIV.
- Luke 17:16, NIV.
- Rom. 1:21, NIV
- Psa. 147:7, NIV.
- Col. 3:15, NIV.
- 1 Chron. 29:12-14, NIV.
- Phil. 4:12, NIV.
- 1 Cor. 1:4, NIV.
- Acts 28:15, NIV.
- Jas. 1:2-3, NIV.
- Dan. 6:10, NIV.
- 1 Thes. 5:16-18, NIV.
- Col. 1:12, Phillips.
- John 3:16, NIV.
- Phil. 2:13, NIV.
- Matt. 28:19-20, NIV.
Billy Graham, Decision, November 1987, pp. 2-4