CULTIVATING AND MAINTAINING THE HABIT OF THANKFULNESS (GRATITUDE) (PART FIVE): WHEN TO GIVE THANKS
In this fifth article of the series centered on the mechanics and necessity of thanksgiving particular attention will be paid to the question of when are we to give thanks to God? We have already considered why should we give thanks (purpose/reason), how to give thanks (mechanics), what to give thanks to God for (substance), and now our attention is on when are we to show gratitude to God and one another? Should thanksgiving be made always? Or are there times when it is inappropriate to be thankful? Should we be thankful to someone who is mean and nasty to us? Let us examine below. The fourth article on what to thank to God and one another for noted the following points:
What then shall we give thanks for? In a significant sense, we give thanks and ought to thank God for everything, good or bad. Nowhere in Scripture is this command or teaching to give thanks in all situations clearer than in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 and Romans 8:28. Let us quote them in full and see how they speak to the need for us mortals to be thankful to God for all conditions of life: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”
These verses are saying that we should give thanks to God in everything and for everything. By doing we are not putting a false label on evil and call evil good or that evil is not evil. Rather we are confident that God can and will take us through every situation and that everything will eventually work out in our favor. We thank God in every situation because we know that his grace is sufficient for us at all times and in all places.
We should not thank people who do us harm but we thank God who alone can use the evil intent and action of others to make us better, make us stronger and make us more like God who makes his rain to fall on the good and the evil and his sun to rise on the righteous and the unrighteous. By behaving this way frees us from bitterness and hatred and turns us towards goodwill towards all. It is very difficult to thank God when the worst happens to us, but we can if we will and God will supply the wisdom and strength to do so. By thanking God for everything we put our total trust in him and are assured that all will turn out well for us in the end. Thanking God in all circumstances confirms our dependence on him who never fails. This way also gives us strength and joy beyond our normal human capacity.
When is it right and appropriate to give thanks to God and fellow human beings? The clear simple biblical teaching is that we thank God always and for every situation (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We thank God when all is well as well as when all is bad with us. Why? Because we believe and know that since he is with us, around us and within us, we always triumph ultimately. We ought to thank God in the morning, in the evening, in the day and in the night, when we are well and when we are sick, when we succeed and when we fail. We should be thankful to God when we have plenty and when have little or nothing, when we are full and when we are hungry. Thanksgiving is appropriate on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and everyday that God gives us.
We always show gratitude to others by saying “thank you” sincerely when they are kind to us in many different ways such as giving us food, clothes, a place to stay, direction, advice, school fees, and any kind of support. It is also fitting to thank groups and institution that are kind to us by enabling us bear the heavy loads along many life’s journeys. It is good to be grateful to institutions and groups that educate us, that show us what it means to be human, that make us learn how to be concerned about others and not just about ourselves and ours.
While it might be liberating to be forgiving towards those who treat us bad, do us harm in myriad ways and that we should never seek their downfall, it will be unwise to be thankful to those who hurt us unnecessarily. It would be inappropriate to thank those whose avowed aim is to harm us and our interests. We have a Christian duty to help them realize their wrong ways by being patient with them and doing those things that make them want to change for the better.
God can and must be thanked for the good and bad things, persons, situations, and for the opportunities and challenges of life. Even in tough and testing times we can find reasons to be grateful to God. Let me close with a little story I read many years back. The story is about a preacher who always began his sermons by thanking God for the weather. On one particular occasion winter was bleak, one of the worst in living memory. His congregation wondered how he was going to thank God for such weather. But he prayed, “O, God we thank you that the weather is not always like this.” God can be appreciated in difficult times and situations for the good things and times that counter those ugly moments. Let us endeavor to thank God always and for everything.