Thanksgiving in All Things

It’s the month of Thanksgiving. Walk into any store and you’ll see all things in varying shades of orange, brown, and red. Turkeys, gourds, and colorful leaves decorate every establishment. Our children will dress up as Pilgrims and Native Americans and act out the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth. When we gather around the table on fourth Thursday, we’ll share with loved ones the blessings we’ve received this year and give thanks to God for all He has done.

Thanks in All Things

Celebrating God’s goodness and the bounty of His provisions once a year is a wonderful tradition. The Psalms remind us over and over that it is good to give thanks to the Lord. But as believers, we know that giving thanks isn’t a yearly event. Rather, the Bible calls us to give thanks each day and not just for the blessings God has given, but as Paul wrote, “in all things.” “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). “Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).

Indeed, it is easy to offer praise and thanksgiving when the harvest is plenty but what about when there is no harvest? What about when we’ve lost our job, when we’ve lost a loved one, when our dreams have been shattered, when we’ve been rejected and abused, when sin grips us hard, and when we feel lost and all alone?

How do we give thanks in the midst of those things? How do we offer the hard thanks, the sacrifice of praise when everything in our life is sorrow-filled and broken?

The Gospel and Thanksgiving

Paul isn’t telling us to have a Pollyanna outlook on life. Contemporary culture may tell us to think happy thoughts and that’ll make everything okay, as though counting our blessings will make us forget the loved one that was ripped from our arms. Rather, Paul is reminding us of the bigger story. He is reminding us of Christ and all that we have through Him. Our trials and sufferings often make us think that God has abandoned us and that He no longer cares about us. But the gospel reminds us that God cares so much about our pain and suffering that He sent His only Son to suffer for us and defeat sin once and for all.

In fact, that fear we are facing? Christ conquered our greatest fear at the cross—eternal separation from God. That rejection we’ve endured? Christ was rejected by His dearest friends, was mocked, spit upon, and hung upon a tree. He became sin for us and was rejected in our place. That loss we grieve? Christ is the Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). That job we lost? Christ left the palaces of heaven to live in this sin-stained world, where He had no home and no place to lay His head (Luke 9:58).

John Calvin remarked on 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “God has such a disposition towards us in Christ, that even in our afflictions we have large occasion of thanksgiving. For what is fitter or more suitable for pacifying us, than when we learn that God embraces us in Christ so tenderly, that he turns to our advantage and welfare everything that befalls us? Let us, therefore, bear in mind, that this is a special remedy for correcting our impatience -- to turn away our eyes from beholding present evils that torment us, and to direct our views to a consideration of a different nature -- how God stands affected towards us in Christ.”

We have much to give thanks for, even if we are in a season of trial and suffering. Christ has born God’s wrath in our stead. He has given us His robes of righteousness. We have the Spirit living within us. We are new creations being reshaped into the image of our Savior. Even when it feels like sin is in the lead, God promises to finish the work of sanctification He started in us. We are no longer orphans, but children of the living God and heirs of the Kingdom. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. These are gospel truths that carry us through the ups and downs of life. They are anchors that sustain us.

The blessings we have in Christ are eternal; they will outlast everything on this earth, even the very trial we face today. As Paul told the Roman church, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (8:18). The glories that lie ahead far outshine the best day on this earth. Nothing on our gratitude list this Thanksgiving can compare to the forever joy that is ours in the presence of God.

This time of year people often say “count your blessings.” By this they mean count the good things you have in life. It’s true, there are many physical blessings we overlook in our life: health, home, work, family, etc. But I think Paul wants us to do more when we give thanks in all things. I think he wants us to look at the great story that God is writing--the story of redemption. We need to give thanks and rejoice because in Christ we are included in that story. And we need to look forward to and long for the next chapter of that story, the one where all our sorrows and trials come to an end.

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