Give Thanks Always!
To Thee, O Lord, our hearts we raise in hymns of adoration,
To Thee bring sacrifice of praise with shouts of exultation.
Bright robes of gold the fields adorned, the hills with joy are ringing,
The valleys stood so thick with corn that even they are singing.
And now on this our festal day, Thy bounteous hand confessing,
Upon Thy altar, Lord, we lay the first fruits of Thy blessing.
By Thee the souls of men are fed with gifts of grace supernal;
Thou who dost give us earthly bread, give us the Bread eternal. Amen.
Thankfulness to God involves more than saying "thank-you" after each meal and whenever other blessings are received. God encourages us to “give thanks always” which is to live in a state of thankfulness that continually rejoices in the Lord, relies upon Him without worry, and considers the good things He has given.
Text: Ephesians 5:20 [& others]
The Word of God which provides the basis for our series of meditations this morning is taken from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5, verse 20:“…giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” So far the Word…
In the name of the Triune God Whose many blessings lead us to an ongoing "thanksgiving"— dear fellow redeemed:
"Oh, give thanks unto the Lord for He is good for His mercy endures forever, Amen. Turn on the TV, the game’s about to start, I think its channel 3, pass the potatoes, please."
I trust that none of us hurry through our daily giving of thanks quite this way; but I for one will have to admit that there times when it could just as well be that way because of how far my mind is from what my lips are saying. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever prayed twice at a meal because you didn’t remember doing it the first time, until after the 2nd time when someone said, "Hey, didn’t we pray already?" You know what I mean if you have perhaps fallen out of the practice of regularly giving thanks after a meal.
I believe we would all be ready to admit that the frequency and quality of our thanksgiving does not equal the frequency and quality of God’s blessings; but did Paul really mean ALWAYS—really, truly, ALWAYS when he wrote: “give thanks ALWAYS…”? I mean, always. . .continually. . .non-stop? YES.
Giving thanks ALWAYS does not mean continually sitting, hands folded, head bowed, verbally offering thanks, because God does give us other things to do. However, just because "giving thanks always" can’t mean around the clock praying at a table, does not mean that we can dismiss "giving thanks always" as if God didn’t mean "always" when He said "always," because He did mean it.
Giving thanks is not so much something we say or do, as it is a way of life. When Paul wrote, "giving thanks always" it is not so much a command: "Thou shalt always give thanks…and I’ll be watching" – not so much a command as it is an encouragement toward the joy of being a child of God. The context of "giving thanks always" is uplifting and describes the joy of being in the family of God: “…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 5:18-20).
This morning, with the Spirit’s blessing, we are going to briefly consider 4 Old Testament texts but under the umbrella of these words from Ephesians. In so doing, we will seek to learn what it means to "GIVE THANKS ALWAYS!" and to be encouraged in doing so.
We turn first of all to God’s words directed to the world’s population, which numbered 8 when He spoke these words after the Flood…
I. Give thanks for God’s Grace
And the Lord smelled a soothing aroma. Then the Lord said in His heart, "I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done. "While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease."(Genesis 8:21-22)
We have just come through another successful harvest season—bumper crops for many. On Tuesday, we had a hint that Fall is beginning to slide into Winter. Tonight the sun will set and it will get dark and we’ll have another night. All of these are part of the daily and seasonal cycles that God promises will continue for as long as the earth remains; and the earth WILL remain until GOD brings it to an end on the Last Day. Then and only then will “the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10).
We thank God for preserving the earth and maintaining the cycles and providing seedtime and harvest for us; but in the cycles and the harvest we just completed there is an even greater reason for thanksgiving. The putting on of storm windows for winter…the planting of the first seeds in spring; turning out the light each night…rising in the morning to the light of a new day; driving a truck full of corn out of the field…plowing the earth for next year’s crop — all of these are surely reminders of God’s preservation of the world, but they are also reminders of His GRACE.
God’s promise for the ongoing preservation of the earth comes out of His GRACE toward sinners. Before the Flood, the wickedness and evil of the earth had become so great that God said: "ENOUGH!" and with every rightful cause He destroyed life from the face of the earth. GRACE gave the people 120 years to repent before the Flood came. GRACE kept 8 people alive in the ark.
When Noah and his family came out of the ark, nothing had changed as far as sin’s existence in the world. However, out of GRACE God promised: "EVEN THOUGH the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth…EVEN THOUGH everyone is still sinful from birth and will continually sin against me, I will never again destroy every living thing, but will preserve it and its cycles."
Mankind is totally sinful right from the beginning of life. God destroyed life on the earth once because of its sin. He could rightfully do it again, BUT He says, EVEN THOUGH there is justifiable cause to do it—I won’t. "I have every right to destroy!" God says, "but I’ll preserve!" There is no clearer demonstration of GRACE than that!
In this way, every change of season, every day turning to night and then back to day, every harvest, every rain shower which is a condensation of water which has previously evaporated into the atmosphere, and every other part of the ongoing cycles of the earth are testimonies to God’s GRACE – and they’re all around us. If testimonies to God’s grace are all around us ALWAYS then we are in a position to give thanks ALWAYS for God’s Grace.
God’s grace which preserves the earth is the same grace and mercy which sent Jesus to die for our sins. “By GRACE we are saved….” We GIVE THANKS ALWAYS when our mode of life is putting our trust in God’s GRACE and the work of Christ for salvation. Living in a continual state of Repentance—which involve sorrow for sin, trust in Christ for complete forgiveness, and turning away from sin to live in a way that glorifies Him—living in a state of godly repentance is relying on the amazing grace of God. When we are humbling trusting in the grace and mercy of God and not trusting ourselves we are giving thanks to Him for His indescribable gift.
A heart that sorrows over sin, relies on Christ for forgiveness, and is uplifted in the joy of its salvation won by Jesus, is a heart that is always giving thanks to God for His grace.
Hymn: We Thank You For Your Blessings
We thank You for Your blessings, Almighty Lord, our King
We thank You for the harvests, Yes Lord, for ev’rything:
For flow’rs that bloom in springtime, for rip’ning fruit and grain,
For all the precious sunshine, and for the gentle rain.
This day of great thanksgiving we count them one by one
Our free and fruitful country, the great things You have done
Our family, our loved ones, the guardian angels’ care,
Our very self and heartbeat—Lord hear our thankful prayer!
But best of all your blessings, the rainbow of Your love,
Are all the many mercies Your Word brings from above.
Our life now has full meaning—Christ Jesus is our God!
Thanksgiving shall be living the way the Savior trod.
Copyright: Public Domain
II. Give thanks in your lack
Job 1:20-21; 2:10
We turn next to the words of Job, first of all, after he had lost his family and possessions; and then also after he lost his health and his wife had encouraged him to curse God and die:
Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord…(chapter 2) [Job] said to [his wife], “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 1:20-21; 2:10)
Every child of God will find something for which to be thankful. In a good year, this is very easy to do. In a sad and trouble-filled year it is harder to create a list of things for which to be thankful, but nonetheless, the child of God will usually be able to find something. Even in the hardest of times we will still be able to see God’s hand blessing us in certain ways and keeping worse things from us. Although this is true, it is also true that in hard times we may need reminders, and help in seeing the blessings for which we can be thankful, because the sorrow and pain may be blocking our best view of those blessings.
When we thank God it is for His blessings that we thank Him. We list the good things we have received from His grace and say: "Thank you, Lord." We shudder a bit as we think about the "what ifs" and close-calls which God directed so as not to bring great harm or loss, and the evil things He kept completely away from us and we say: "Thank you, Lord."
This kind of thanksgiving is good and God-pleasing and I don’t wish to dissuade you from that in the least, but I also encourage you and myself to think of giving thanks in another way. Stop and think about our typical giving of thanks: "Thank you God for the blessings you’ve given me and the things from which You’ve preserved me." While we are rightfully focusing on the Giving and Protecting that comes from God, to a certain degree that thanksgiving is dependant on ME receiving a particular blessing or being spared from a particular harm and it has the potential for a self-centered thanksgiving.
So then what happens if there is no discernable blessing? Does the giving of thanks stop? Usually. What happens then when it becomes hard to imagine anything else that could go wrong or a greater grief coming to an individual or family? Does the giving of thanks stop? Quite often it does. At times like those, how do we keep giving thanks always? – By directing thanksgiving away from us and GIVING THANKS IN OUR LACK.
When we consider the life of Job, we have the advantage of knowing what good things God was working for him. However, put yourself in his place. In one day, he lost everything he owned and his family except his wife. Then he lost his health. Except for losing his life itself what more could Job endure, what possible blessing was he receiving? Job, are you really going to continue to worship and speak well of the Lord and thereby give Him thanks at a time like this? YES! Job “fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
When we remember that everything we have is from God’s grace and that we are only stewards of what we have, not the owners; and when we remember that eternal wisdom guides everything He does; then we will also be able to keep on giving thanks in our lack. Job asked his wife, Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?”
Every owner has the right to shift managerial responsibilities of his possessions as he sees fit. He does this for the good of the managers as well as for his goals and the good of his possessions. God gives us blessings and says, "Take care of these as wise stewards" until such time that I see fit to relieve you of the stewardship of that gift. Losing a blessing doesn’t necessarily indicate poor stewardship of that blessing, but rather may only be God modifying your stewardship of blessings to benefit your soul’s health or that of another believer. Likewise, never having a particular blessing is God’s ownership carefully assigning stewardship of His gifts.
We are able to keep on blessing and thanking the Lord even in our apparent lack of blessing or in an abundance of hardship when we remember that it is God in His grace and wisdom Who is controlling these things.
The other part of giving thanks always even in our lack is to keep our thanksgiving centered on who God is rather than on what we have or have not received. We can be honest, Job’s life was a shambles. He had troubles that wouldn’t quit. To be in his position it would be incredibly hard to see any blessings. Job’s life had changed, but His God had not. Job was able to lose everything and fall down and worship God because in his words, “I know that my Redeemer lives and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall be hold and not another” (Job 19:25-27).
The apostle Paul was in prison when he wrote the letter to the Philippians. Repeatedly he told the Philippians to "keep on rejoicing in the Lord." Is it always possible to keep on rejoicing in my health? No, because I get sick. Is it always possible to keep on rejoicing in my ability to lead a God-pleasing life and a life without consequences for wrong-doing? No, because I sin. Is it always possible for me to keep on rejoicing in my personal outlook toward life? No, because I have bad days. HOWEVER, can I keep on rejoicing in the Lord? YES, a thousand times YES!! Because He doesn’t change…He is ALWAYS my gracious God who has redeemed me and promised me eternal life with Him in heaven. It doesn’t matter in the least what happens to ME, GOD WILL STILL BE GOD and because of who He is and what He has done He will always be worthy of thanks and praise.
Knowing that God never changes—Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8)—means that our reasons for thanks and praise never change. Even if I am experiencing no discernable blessing and AM experiencing nearly every conceivable trouble, I can rely on the unchanging promise of my unchanging God, that behind what I can or cannot see, God really is working for my blessing.
Knowing that “all things work together for good to those who love God to those who are the called according to His purpose”(Romans 8:28); and also knowing that “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able but will with the temptation also make a way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13) enables us to GIVE THANKS also in our lack.
III. Give thanks at life’s milestones
Another element in always giving thanks to the Lord is to give thanks at life’s milestones. The nation of Israel was at just such a milestone as it made the transition from being ruled by Samuel as a Judge to being ruled by Saul, their first king. At the coronation of King Saul, Samuel said:
Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. (1 Samuel 12:24).
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to visit with elderly Christians, their reminiscing frequently sounds like a catalog of God’s blessings. It is safe to say that many of those blessings weren’t clearly understood at the time; but with time’s passing and the ability to look back, blessings make themselves known.
God, in His instruction to Old Testament Israel, frequently admonished the people to REMEMBER. When they entered the Promised Land, God through Moses told them to remember how God had delivered them from Egypt and brought them through the wilderness. As Israel moved into the kingdom years, they needed to remember how God brought them to that point and His promise for the future and then…keep giving thanks.
Looking back to God’s "track record" reminds us of many reasons to keep giving thanks for His past blessings, and it also encourages us for the present because it reaffirms God’s faithfulness in our hearts and minds.
Stop…take time…look back…and remember all the things God has done for you and keep giving thanks!
STOP…take time…look back…and remember how “God did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all”….and remember if that is true “how shall he not with Him also freely give us all things” Stop….remember…give thanks.
STOP…take time…look back and remember your Baptism…your Confirmation…the first time you received the Lord’s Supper…and give thanks to God.
As we give thanks at life’s milestones they don’t have to be big ones.
Stop at the milestone of another day completed…look back on the last 18 hours…remember what God has done…and give thanks!
Stop at the milestone of another birthday…look back on the years of grace you’ve received…remember what God has done…and give thanks!
Husbands and wives, STOP at the milestone of another anniversary…look back on the years God has given you…STOP at your children’s birthdays…look back and remember how on each of those days God gave your family an added blessing which would only increase from that day forward…stop….remember what God has done…Give thanks.
Stop…look back…and give thanks at each of life’s milestones and then keep on remembering them and keep thanking God for them because they are how He brought you to this day.
Whatever the milestone, when we look back in faith we will be led to much the same conclusion as David’s when he had reached the milestone of old age: “I have been young and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken...” (Psalm 37:25). Giving thanks at life’s milestones and REMEMBERING enables us to GIVE THANKS ALWAYS.
Hymn: #29 (1-3, 6)
IV. Give thanks in godly contentment
There is perhaps no greater obstacle to "always giving thanks" than a heart of discontent. How can a heart always remain thankful when it is never satisfied?
A heart that loves the world and the things in the world will perhaps offer a quick thanks and at times even acknowledge God as the Giver, but it will ALWAYS WANT MORE. A heart that does not trust in God’s wisdom to provide what is good and needful will ALWAYS compare itself to what others have and be disgruntled at what it doesn’t have.
A prayer toward contentment is a prayer that leads toward ALWAYS GIVING THANKS, as Agur writes in Proverbs:
Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches—Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, And say, "Who is the Lord?" Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God (Proverbs 30:8-9).
This proverb is a wonderful motto for life. It is a motto that realizes one’s own weaknesses—either in over-abundance and forgetting God or in lack and not trusting Him. It is a motto that recognizes the allurement of material things and pleasures in the world which may not even be sinful themselves, but when they become the object of affection they are.
Discontent is, without doubt, a grave temptation to each one of us in our materialistic, selfish world. A desire to be rich is discontent with what God has given me and it is awfully hard to give thanks to someone with whom you are discontent. A need to be on top of everyone else and to always win, is discontent with quietly faithfully serving the Lord in whatever capacity and opportunity He presents. It’s hard to imagine discontent for most people in our world because of the wealth we’re enjoying. Its hard to imagine except for the fact that those who live for the world, will never have enough of the world.
“Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”(1 Timothy 6:6-10)
Contentment is really a matter of TRUST. If I TRUST the Lord’s wisdom in providing what’s best for me; if I TRUST the Lord’s ability to provide what is needed for me; if I TRUST that He is shepherding me through my life, I will be CONTENT with whatever may come.
Perhaps you haven’t been able to save as much retirement money as you would like. TRUST that the Lord will take care of you…be content with what you have and give thanks! Perhaps you feel like you could be so much more comfortable if only you had certain advantages. TRUST that if the Lord wants you to be comfortable in that way, He’ll provide for it, but also TRUST that discomfort may be best for you at this time.
A heart that TRUSTS in its Lord and Savior for all things will be happily CONTENT to leave everything in His hands. A heart that TRUSTS and is CONTENT because it has cast every care on Him will be lightened and ready to GIVE THANKS ALWAYS.
“…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” AMEN!
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt