I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hooves.
The poor will see and be glad—you who seek God, may your hearts live!
“No matter where you are or what you’re going through, you can still be thankful.” It’s a familiar Thanksgiving refrain, right? I know, because as a pastor and preacher I have used it hundreds of times. Maybe you’ve heard it hundreds of times as well. Maybe you wish people would stop saying it! Or perhaps you are whispering it to yourself today as an exercise of faith, because being thankful is the furthest thing from your mind right now. Maybe you are dealing with physical or emotional pain, or grieving the loss of a loved one. You know you still have much to be thankful for, but being thankful for what you have never seems to displace the grief for what you have lost.
This idea of giving thanks in spite of our circumstances is a familiar refrain in the church because it’s a biblical refrain. In his letter to the Thessalonians Paul famously writes, “In everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Paul’s words are often quoted to offer comfort and peace. But when we are grieving or suffering, those words can sometimes provoke more anger than comfort…more pressure than peace. How can I possibly give thanks for everything right now? And why would I even want to?
But look at Paul’s words again. He doesn’t say give thanks forevery situation, circumstance, or loss. He says “give thanks in those times. He isn’t trying to shame us into looking for silver linings, he is suggesting that Jesus still cares about us and offers us hope even in our deepest need.
In Psalm 69, David is dealing with some pretty bad circumstances himself. His song starts with a cry for help, “Help me, God! I’m drowning! (my paraphrase) David is “drowning” in life. He feels hated, and persecuted for no reason. He feels like an enemy in his own land, an alien in his own family, a stranger in his own house. On top of it all, he feels the weight of guilt, and the pressure of needing to be a good leader for his people. Giving up in his pain isn’t an option, and just getting over it isn’t possible. So, what can David do?
David is confronted with a choice, and he chooses thanksgiving.
But as for me, afflicted and in pain…I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. (Psalm 69:29-30)
David give thinks, not because the pain and problems have disappeared, but because David know God still cares, and God is still there. He doesn’t feel like he has to give thanks for his circumstances, but he finds peace in being able to give thanks in those circumstances. David exercises strategic thanksgiving—thankfulness that brings him peace and comfort; thankfulness that will “please the Lord,” (vs. 31); thankfulness that will give joy and hope to others (vs. 32).
Today is Thanksgiving Day. If you are already feeling thankful today, that’s awesome. Give thanks! If you are not feeling it today, this can be either a day of obligation or opportunity for you. If we belong to Christ, we are not alone…even when we are “drowning” in grief, or guilt or pain. Give thanks! Not because you are required to, but because you CAN!
Author and psychologist Nancy Berns writes, “Giving thanks does not take away all our pain and struggles, but it points us to the light in a time of darkness. Identifying reasons to be thankful gives glimmers of hope and strength to keep going.” Wise words…strategic thanksgiving.
Interestingly, Jesus put it this way: “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12, NLT)
Are you looking for strength to keep going? Do you want to see those “glimmers of hope?” Then make a choice to move toward the Light today. Practice strategic thanksgiving. Remember that Jesus doesn’t simply see you in the pit…he is in there with you. He doesn’t simply notice that you’ve been wandering in the dark, he is the light for the path ahead. Giving thanks is God’s will for you…and God’s way for you…in Christ Jesus. Take Him up on the offer! Always stay thirsty for Him. And have a blessed Thanksgiving!
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:14-16)