“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ for you.” [1 Thessalonians 5:18]
Many times it seems as if God’s will for us to give thanks is seldom fulfilled by us. Oh it’s true that there are some circumstances in life when we can’t help but be thankful, but sometimes, many times those circumstances are few and far between. That’s because people usually—even those of us who want to behave as Christians—have a limited view of our eternal reality.
Our realities consist first of all of ourselves, then it widens into our immediate everyday lives, but last of all, to our shame, we consider God. Isn’t it true that we can be overwhelmed just by dealing with our everyday lives? Bad things and good things happen to everyone, and many times, we forget to thank God. Oh we’ve been known to turn to God when real situations arise; situations that we can’t explain or control, and if and when God responds, we gladly give Him thanks and praise, but sometimes we do forget to praise Him even when we successfully pass through those tough times. We can be a lot like those nine lepers in our gospel lesson (Luke 17-11-19) who were healed and never bothered to return to Jesus and give thanks to God. Yes, we modern folks aren’t all that different from people in Jesus time. So how can we correct this? Well the quick answer is that we can’t. When we tell ourselves we must give thanks, it is no longer an expression of gratitude from our hearts, but rather a law or regulation that imposes something that really should be given freely and gladly. So the secret to being thankful isn’t something we can develop, but rather it is something we are given.
The secret of thankfulness is no secret at all; it’s simply the art of walking by the Spirit, and learning not to evaluate things by the desire of our flesh.
When we learn to see things first within a spiritual reality we will also discover that things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control are things that come only through knowing Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected for me… for you!
And knowing Christ in this way can only come by being in God’s Word. When we are in the Word we will find ourselves gladly being led, renewed, and refreshed by the Holy Spirit of God who empowers that Word.
It is that intimate relationship with God through Christ in His means of grace that begins to teach us all things; in other words, the Spirit brings us wisdom.
In our Old Testament lesson (Proverbs 4:10-23), the voice of God calls out through Holy Scripture and says, “Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life may be many. I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of uprightness.”
This is a challenge God puts out to each of us who are baptized. It is as if He is saying, “Try me out. Listen to my Word; let it teach you the truth about sin and death, and then let it take you on another path, the path of forgiveness and eternal life.”
The path of forgiveness and eternal life comes only through the Word of God, and it is always a Word about Jesus Christ. That Word forces you to see your need for Christ as your Savior and it is showing you the true victory Christ won for you on the cross, and the sure and certain promise of the resurrection that He gave to you in the waters of your own baptism. This is why our Old Testament lesson ends with this plea: “My son, be attentive to my Words; incline your ear to my saying. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” [Proverbs 4:20-23]
But even if we give God this kind of thanks, it is still only a portion of the gratitude that we should return to Him. So how can we develop this art of being thankful? It’s not that difficult really; we do it…
By keeping our eyes on Jesus, which will both teach us and fill us with a God given ability and desire to be thankful.
Jesus thanked His Heavenly Father for everything—from the bread and the wine on the table to the deepest mysteries of salvation. He thanked His Father for an answer to prayer even before it came. [John 11:25-43] But you and I aren’t Jesus; we are imperfect saved sinners struggling to hold onto the gifts of forgiveness and new life. But still we know that God both desires and equips us to be thankful people. The apostles took part in this same struggle, but in the midst of trials they constantly urged their fellow Christians to continue practicing that art of thankfulness, always giving thanks to God our Father in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ! This is not a pious figure of speech that God’s Word teaches but instead, it is described as a basic attitude of life and a direction for our personalities. It is the proper attitude of a Christian, and it flows from our knowledge of God, which only comes through the frequent use of His Word.
God is not only the God of the unusual event and the difficult circumstance, but He is also the source of all things and the giver of every good gift. [James 1:17] It should be a real eye opener when we read the Psalms and we discover that many “normal things” are objects of praise and thanksgiving for the psalmist. The psalmist praises and blesses God for the streams that make their way through the hills, for grass which comes forth out of the ground, for the grain that makes bread, or wine which gladdens the hearts of men and women, for sun and moon, for the darkness of night and the light of morning, for the task of the day and even for the work which last until evening. God is praised for covering the skies with clouds and for giving rain to the earth, for giving food to the creatures of the earth and sustenance to all living things.
But thanksgiving becomes even more abundant when the Scriptures begin to speak to our hearts about the salvation that God has provided for sinful people like us. This is the same spirit of thankfulness that led St. Paul to break out in joy and praise, right in the middle of some carefully studied thought. “Thanks be to God” Paul says, “through Jesus Christ our Lord!” [Romans 7:25] “God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen.” [Romans 9:5]
You see for Paul and the other apostles, everything is ultimately spiritual, and it’s all connected to how God is breaking through into our physical reality. Everything that Paul writes is filled with a God given spirit of thanksgiving for Christ, Who is God’s unspeakable gift for sinners like you and me. Oh that we would overflow with praise and be taught to rejoice even in the middle of suffering and tribulations; oh that we would learn to rejoice in Christ with an unspeakable and glorious joy. [1 Peter 1:3-9]
Dear friends, today God is calling each of us to be transformed like the Samaritan leper in our gospel lesson and like the apostles and early disciples of Jesus.
God is asking each of us to be the minority that returns to Jesus every day to give Him thanks and praise. Let’s not try to answer the question that asks, “Where are the others? Was no one found to return and give praise to God accept this foreigner?” But instead, let’s just be thankful that He accepts foreigners like us; let’s thank Him for His faithfulness.
Let us be transformed everyday, becoming more and more thankful that God would call sinners such as us, such as I, such as you! And as we are being made thankful, let us also like the Samaritan respond to Jesus invitation to journey with Him. Let us proceed to and through those Dark Gethsemane moments and even to the cross of suffering and shame, being thankful that Jesus is our’s and we are His. Let us follow the sorrowful procession to His tomb and say a resounding yes to the Spiritual that asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Yes you were there; it was YOUR sins that He died for, but let’s also remember that we were there by faith, when God the Father raised Him from the tomb. And because He lives, we too shall live with Him forever in Paradise restored. Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, that Jesus would suffer and die for such a worm and foreigner as I!
Again we find that the art of being thankful is not in trying to make ourselves thankful, but instead it comes simply as a gift of comfort from God Who breaks into our sometimes painful reality, as we are being taught to cling to Christ and His gospel alone. It is in moments like these that we find ourselves simply rejoicing in the knowledge that God loves us and He has forgiven us for Christ’s sake. When this one pure thought becomes certain to us, we will not be able to contain our thankfulness.
And this thought can only come by faith through the Word of God and the work that the Word performs in our hearts. It is the Word that assures you that you are everywhere and always surrounded by the goodness of God in Jesus Christ. From Him and through Him and unto Him are all things, even our cries of thanksgiving. To Him be glory forever and ever… AMEN.