Are You Thankful?

November 25, 2022

We have just celebrated Thanksgiving–that traditional American holiday. Family and friends gathered, special foods were shared, and (hopefully) there was some giving of thanks to the God who provides it all.

Obviously, the apostle Paul didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving; but he did understand what it means to “give thanks” to God. Let’s turn to one of the times he expressed thanks in an epistle he wrote.

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 1:3-6

I wouldn’t suggest that if we wanted to “give thanks” that we must do it the way Paul did in his letter to the Philippians. But as I reflect on how and why he gave thanks, it prods me to think about my “thanksgiving.” Just notice a few things:

Paul’s giving of thanks flows out of his thinking about others and what and how God is at work in their lives. I would have to readily admit that most of my giving of thanks finds its roots in what I think about what God is up to in my life. I am rarely truly attentive to His work of grace in others; I can’t speak of “all my remembrance” of what is happening in the lives of others I know.

When he does thank God, Paul joyfully expresses thanks for how his friends are actively participating in the ongoing work of the Gospel. When I do think of others–and perhaps offer a short prayer of thanks for God bringing them into my life–I still have to confess that my thanks is not often tied to how those others are caught up, by grace, in the things of the Kingdom. I do occasionally thank the Lord for the material blessings He has bestowed on those I think of (a job promotion, good health, pleasant family times). It isn’t that thinking of and thanking the Lord for such things is wrong, it’s just a bit . . . shallow.

Lastly, Paul’s thanks seems to be secured by an assurance of what God is doing and will continue to do in the lives of others. The work that God began, He is still doing in their lives, and He will continue to do until all the good He intends to accomplish will be completed. That does force to think about my giving thanks for His work in the lives of those I love. Am I certain of His intentions to accomplish all He intends? Is my thankfulness anchored in my confidence of His faithful work? As I pause and think about it, I do feel that much of my thankfulness has a bit more of wishful or hopeful thinking about what God may (or may not) do in their lives. And that may diminish the richness of my giving of thanks.

So, Paul’s short prayer of thanksgiving does nudge me to think more deeply and pray more passionately. There is nothing wrong with the way we traditionally celebrate “Thanksgiving,” but there might be more for us if we want to grow to be those who truly give thanks to God.

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