A Theology of Thankfulness Part 1
Perhaps one of the most neglected areas of Christian development is that of thankfulness. Too often we treat thankfulness as merely an emotion or a simple statement expressed to an individual or to God. We have turned this vital spiritual discipline into a mere thirty second prayer before a meal or at the end of the day. We often will make broad statements of thanks without any real thought or consideration of what thanks is meant to be. For this reason we will be exploring the Biblical doctrine of thanksgiving, and also take a look at the ramifications of it.
First, we need to understand what thankfulness is. Much like love, it is not an emotion, but a choice. Essentially being thankful is learning to accept each situation, trial, temptation, event, action, or moment as an expression of the Father’s care and attempts to form us into His image. This is not to say that He brings sin into our lives, but that instead He can make something profitable out of a person’s sin. He is able to make beauty out of ashes, and to cause His image to be pressed into us through it. A large portion of the work is accomplished through our thankful attitudes when we remember the grace of God which is given to us.
To say that thankfulness is a choice and not an emotion is not to say that it does not at times include emotional moments of easy praise, but instead that how we feel about a certain event does not change that we can choose to be thankful for it. As Paul said in II Cor 10:5 we are to bring our thoughts into captivity and to cast down imaginations and those things that exalt themselves over Christ. When we think that thanks is determined by our feelings, then we are actually exalting emotions over God. We must choose to cast it down and to recognize the simple fact that God’s grace and mercy is unfailing and abides with us. It is not hypocrisy to express thankfulness when we don’t feel it, instead it becomes a lesson in obedience and surrender. Learning to genuinely express thankfulness to the Father in spite of our feelings, is learning to be guided by His Spirit and to trust in His provision. Essentially, it is doing what we are commanded by God.
Thus thankfulness is essentially learning to surrender each moment and thing to the Father recognizing that He is in control and is trying to conform us to His holiness, and therefore it is expressing thanks for His loving care and abiding presence.
The second thing that we see about thankfulness is that it is a command and a doctrine. It is often said that no doctrine is based only on one verse, and this is true. As a result even a quick study at thankfulness in Scripture reveals that it is not minor, but a major theme throughout both Testaments. In 1 Chronicles 16:34 we are commanded to give thanks because of the Lord’s mercy. The Psalms are filled with constant references of thanks and praise. The Songs of Moses and Deborah are filled with thanks to God. The book of Malachi attaches thankfulness with the foundation of true worship, for without thankfulness we will never truly worship God as God. In the NT we are commanded to rejoice evermore, make our supplications known with thanksgiving, to be thankful always for all things, and to count it all joy for trials and temptations. We are also commanded to not murmur or complain, but instead to do all things to the glorifying of God.
As a doctrine it teaches us much about the character and nature of God. It reveals His love, His correction, His mercy, His omniscience, His omnipotence, His presence, and His will for us. As a command it reveals our trust, our obedience, our surrender, our sincerity, our priorities, our dependence, and our maturity. Thus we give thanks always for all things because through thanksgiving we are acknowledging who God is, and we are demonstrating our desire to be like Him.
In the next post we will look more closely at how we can be thankful for all things and just what the phrase “all things” entails.