As we gather together with family and friends for another Thanksgiving Day, the tradition in many homes is to pause for a few moments to reflect and say a prayer of thanks. Typically we express gratitude for “blessings” like loving relationships, a warm home, the food we’re about to consume, safety, health, and the material resources at our disposal.
|The cornucopia, the "horn of plenty."|
The cornucopia is used as a symbol of this, representing the overflowing “bounty” many of us enjoy. We may still have wants, but if our true needs are met – food, clothing, shelter – we truly are blessed.
For followers of Jesus Christ, even though it’s not Christmas or Easter, we’ll also thank Him for the gift of His life, death and resurrection – along with all that means for us, not only today but also for tomorrow and eternity. His presence, protection, provision and peace will be remembered with thanksgiving by many.
An interesting passage in the Scriptures, however, offers a somewhat different perspective on how we should approach our giving of thanks and the things we should emphasize. We tend to define “blessings” in terms of good things we possess and experience, but 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 urges us to include every thing in our thanksgiving observances.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks” the passage instructs us.
These are the first three verses I ever memorized, because of their brevity. But they’re not short on meaning or magnitude.
The translation I’ve used above is from the New American Standard Version, but the New International Version states the same passage this way: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances.” The 19th verse adds, “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I’ve pondered these verses a lot and reached the conclusion that when it says, “in everything give thanks,” the literal meaning is…every thing. So as we’re expressing thankfulness for our loved ones, homes, jobs, food, clothing, even the automobile in the garage, the TV on which we’ll be watching football games or holiday shows after a sumptuous dinner, our computers and other high-tech gizmos, we’re also told to give thanks for things we wish we didn’t have.
This means we’re to be thankful for the serious disease that has resisted a cure. Or the family conflict that no amount of holiday cheer can easily resolve. Or the financial burden you haven’t been able to lift. Or the addiction that continues to lurk in the background, relentless in its temptations. Or the unfulfilling, discouraging job you drag yourself to every day.
Or even things not so dire, yet hard to include in your Thanksgiving list – like a pesky neighbor you can’t get along with, or achy joints, a car that breaks down at the most inopportune times, or simply feeling at times like God just isn’t paying attention to what’s going on in this world.
Perhaps you could add to this list. So what are we to do with this admonition, “in everything give thanks”?
Well, we could ignore it; conclude someone must have translated the passage improperly; tell God it’s too hard to do or He doesn’t understand. Or we could just do as it says, giving thanks even for things that range from annoying to desperate. That’s what faith is all about, and why giving thanks for everything is not a “mission impossible."
Because we have God’s promises: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11) and “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will sustain you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).