Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 5:20a “Giving thanks. . .”
“In the heart” is the crucible where true worship begins. Thankfulness is the catalyst which kindles this worship. The Spirit’s filling pushes out a sour, ungrateful grunt and replaces it with a sweet, thankful sound.
Few things are more despicable than ingratitude. Shakespeare portrays it as a “marble-hearted fiend!. . . .How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” Ingratitude certainly characterizes our society. The medieval legend told by John MacArthur applies to our day. Two angels were sent to earth to gather the prayers of God’s people. One was to collect requests, the other thanksgivings. The angel responsible for requests was unable to carry them all in one load. The angel who collected thanksgivings was able to carry them all back in one hand.
In America we have an abundance, and yet characteristically moan and groan about everything–houses, cars, jobs, vacations. I am reminded of God’s description of sinful Israel in the wilderness, “He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul” (PS 106:15). We worship sex and materialism, and cannot lust for them enough. God is letting us have our gods in abundance, and yet at the same time we are absolutely miserable as a society. If you do not believe this, call any counseling agency in town and request an appointment for tomorrow or any other time this week–you might be able to get in sometime next month, if you are lucky.
Our society has forgotten the duty, and thus lost the joy, of thankfulness. When focused on thanks, worries disappear, burdens vanish. Gratitude is a God-given mental healer, and our land needs an inner balm.
A person who perfects the practice of thanksgiving will never become a slave to the prosperity or adversity of their outward condition. Thankfulness keeps us from being too proud over possessions and from being too broken over poverty. It calms us when we may tend to be overly excited, and cheers us when we might be heading for despair. “It allays the feverish heat at the same time that it mitigates the rigorous cold. If a man be rich, and God has given him a thankful spirit, he cannot be too rich. If he will give thanks to God, he may be worth millions, and they will never hurt him; and, on the other hand, if a man has learned to give thanks to God, and he becomes poor, he cannot be too poor, he will be able to bear up under the severest penury. The rich man should learn to find God in all things; the poor should learn to find all things in God, and there is not much difference when you come to the bottom of these two causes. One child of God will be as grateful and as happy, as blessed and as rejoicing, as another, if he be but satisfied still to give God thanks” (Spurgeon).
God wants us believers to display for others this wonderful path to inner calm. Remember the context of our verse. We are to display the real Spirit-filled joy of which wine-filled drunkenness is but a cheap counterfeit. “Our crusty tempers and sour faces will never be evangelists” (Spurgeon), but a grateful spirit glorifies God, and woos sinners to Jesus. Christians should buck the cultural trend of complaining. We need to kick this bad habit because grumbling is the death-knell of evangelism.
Eph. 5:20b “. . .always. . .”
Give thanks “always.” Never grow weary of it. Gratefulness should “always” be our ever-present friend, a never-failing sweet companion.
“Giving thanks always” does not mean we endlessly chatter words of thanks. Gratitude is to be an ongoing attitude. God wants His children to live in a grateful frame of mind. Thanks is a mind-set, an atmosphere.
Gutzon Borglum spent his last 14 years sculpting Mt. Rushmore. He did not spend every minute of every hour of 14 years on the mount, but the project was his consuming passion, entailing uninterrupted planning and thinking. It was, as we say, always on his mind, never far from his thoughts. Similarly, thanksgiving should be our constant attitude. Our mind-set should be like David’s, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise” (PS 57:7). Be ever ready to thank God.
Always have a disposition toward gratefulness. Think thankfulness. Often in life we see what we are looking for. “He who observes providences shall not want providences to observe” (Flavel). If we concentrate on things we have, they tend to stand out more clearly in our minds. If we concentrate on what we do not have, that becomes the obsession of our thinking. This is one reason fixed times of thanks are beneficial. They help us focus on what has been given rather than on what has been withheld.
For better or worse, habits affect our spirit of thanksgiving. Practice makes perfect, for good or bad. Much of our complaining is a result of poor habits. We grumble about every little ailment and before we know it, the pattern is established. On the other hand, habitual times of thanksgiving, such as daily prayer time, can enhance the attitude of gratitude.
Another built-in reminder is saying grace before meals, a habit all Christians should practice. Hogs dive into their food without offering thanks; Christians are expected to do better. We should pray before meals because Jesus always did. He set the example. This custom is especially precious to me. It was the trait which first turned my attention to Ruth. We other college students ate first; Ruth always took time to pray first.
Eph. 5:20c “. . .for all things. . .”
Giving thanks “for all things” means ingratitude is never, never!, an option for believers. As Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadriplegic, says, “Giving thanks is not a matter of feeling thankful, it is a matter of obedience.”
Give thanks “for all things.” In trial, expressing thanks is hard to do, but with God’s help can be done. When Daniel knew the trap was set, and heard the decree forbidding worship of his God, he continued kneeling at his window thrice daily, “and prayed, and gave thanks before his God” (DN 6:10). In the whale’s belly, Jonah (2:9) said, “I will sacrifice unto Thee with the voice of thanksgiving.” The martyr John Bradford said of bloody Queen Mary, “I have no quarrel with the queen. If she release me I will thank her, if she imprison me I will thank her, if she burn me I will thank her.”
Our “giving thanks” to God should be constant because His giving to us is constant. Since we are commanded to be ever thankful, we can be assured God will always provide something in our lives for which we can be grateful. However dark life may become, keep searching till you find something to be thankful for. God is good, and He will see to it that there will always be something in your life for which you can give thanks.
In Scripture’s saddest book, Jeremiah confesses, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Thy faithfulness” (LM 3:22-23, NASB). This being true, rise every morning from sleep trying to find God’s new lovingkindnesses and compassions for that day. Make every morning a spiritual treasure hunt. A Christian will never come to the place where he can say, “I will thank God no more.” We will die before we quit having things on earth to give thanks for. After death we will go to Heaven where thanks will be perfected. We will always have reasons to express gratitude.