“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man” (Mark Twain).
“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
The above quotation from Mark Twain troubles me. It troubles me, not because it’s absolutely rude but because it’s absolutely true. Too often we receive the gifts that we desire and then, as the saying goes, bit the hand that feeds us. Spouses snap at each other, kids disrespect parents, and of course we can’t forget the regular neglect that we give to God. Paul has a lesson for us.
There are essentially 2 teaching methods in the New Testament: indicatives and imperatives. The former makes statements of truth. For example, Ephesians 2 says that the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (v. 20). This verse isn’t asking anything of us: it’s simply stating Christian truth. The latter imperative, however, differs from the former indicative in that it gives a command. And that is exactly what we have in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks.” It’s not a suggestion, or a question of whether or not we should do it — it’s a command. As Christians living under a gracious God, we must give thanks. But how often should we give thanks?
In all circumstances
It’s easy to give thanks when everything is going well, as we wished it would, when everything is falling into its “proper” place. But the reality is that gratitude isn’t forged in the circumstances that don’t challenge us: gratitude is forged in situations that demand our perspective. For example, I recently had a blowout while driving with our 2 daughters in the truck. I wasn’t happy that I had to change the tire in 90 degree Florida weather, but I was happy that I had a spare and that we were all ok. It’s not silver lining: when we focus on the silver lining we ignore the storm. Without the storm cloud, there wouldn’t be a silver lining. Let’s remember that behind the storm, the sun is still shinning. Behind our storm, God is still God.
It’s God’s will
Finally, it’s a question of what God wants. I often hear people talk about God’s will as if it’s the morning dew: you can see it, and appreciate it, but it’s really hard to grasp! Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. God’s will is so simple that we overlook its greatness. In this case, the Bible explicitly says that God wants His people to have — and express — gratitude and thanksgiving. And why not? If we are children of the King, who have no past to pay for and a bright future ahead, then we should be thankful for the gracious inheritance awaiting us.
This Thanksgiving, take turns around the table to thank God for at least 3 things. Spread thanksgiving and gratitude. Don’t be like that man described in Mark Twain’s quote. We have received. Let’s give thanks.