FROM THE PASTOR
When I began to work on this article I set out to answer the question, “How can I know if I am thankful?” I expected to discover some biblical standards to identify the quality of thankfulness. I was in for a surprise. I found there is only one verse in the entire Bible that unequivocally tells us that we are to be thankful. That verse is Col. 3:15, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.” (NAS) This it the only time the word thankful is used in the New American Standard Bible.
This discovery led me to a second question. Does this mean that God is not concerned about us giving thanks? Absolutely not! The Bible is very clear about thanksgiving. It instructs us to “Give thanks” about one hundred and fifty times. There is no way we can miss that point. We are expected to give thanks.
Note the subtle difference between my first question and the biblical data. What the scriptures command is an action rather than an attitude. If I had really been on my toes I could have anticipated this fact. I have taught it many times. God does not command emotions. Emotions are reactions. He commands actions because we can choose to do them. He does not command us to feel loving toward our enemies. He commands us to act in a loving way toward them. He does not tell us we have to like telling the truth. He simply expects us to do it. In the same way, the attitude of thanksgiving is not as crucial as the act of giving thanks.
I find this to be significant. Giving thanks is another of the many areas in which we are to do what is right because it is right. I have always been uncomfortable when we had to go around the table and say something for which we were thankful. This usually happens before or after the Thanksgiving Day feast. I could always do it, but didn’t enjoy it, because it felt artificial to me. This was especially true when we only did it on one day of the year. I could imagine the instruction to be, “Now, let’s all pretend to feel thankful.” But, I find that I need to adjust my attitude. If giving thanks is the important thing to God, then I should freely join in doing it and not worry about my feelings.
This is a significant part of our overall spiritual growth. It is not good to give emotions and attitudes too much influence in our lives. They can push us off the simple path of obedience that Scripture clearly lays out. Over my years of ministry I have run into this classic hedge too many times. It goes something like this. “If I did something I don’t feel like doing, I would be a hypocrite.” Since we all know that hypocrisy is wrong, some of us get the idea that any sin and rebellion is more acceptable than hypocrisy. I had one woman tell me that it would be hypocritical to treat her husband kindly since she hated him so much. There was almost nothing I could do to help that marriage.
So, let me recommend that we just keep on giving thanks until we learn to be thankful. This is in harmony with other counsel that I regularly give. In marital counseling I tell husbands, “Keep on acting loving toward your wife and you will begin to feel love.” The feelings will not rise up on their own in a troubled relationship. Loving actions can create the environment for the feelings to be restored. It is the same way with thanksgiving. Keep on doing it until you feel thankful.
This is a November meditation and certainly applies to Thanksgiving Day. But it is also a lesson for every day. We should give thanks every day. Yes, it is right to set apart special days to give thanks; but thanks should be given continually. Give thanks to the Lord for it is the right thing to do. Give thanks to the Lord for He is worthy. Give thanks to God for all his mercy and grace. Just, keep on giving thanks.