Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
In Part 1, I asked the question, How often do you say thanks? And we looked at Psalm 111, which is a great psalm.
Author Anne Lamott writes, “God always makes a way out of no way. This means that at some point, often against all odds, we will say, ‘Thanks.’“ This is true—even though we may not believe it could possibly be. Maybe you know it to be true as well. Being grateful is more than just a feeling: it’s an attitude, it’s a way of being in the world. Being grateful is often a choice we make. Those who wrote the Bible call us to acknowledge that everything we have, everything we are comes to us as a gift from the God who created us and loves us as though we are the only one to love.
Cultivating a Christian Gratitude
Martin Luther believed that “gratitude is the basic Christian attitude.” The Apostle Paul’s letters are filled with his own words of thanksgiving and his call to others to voice theirs. Many of his letters open with the words: “I give thanks to God for you.” or “I thank my God every time I remember you.” No matter what the situation was in the church to which he was writing, Paul found words of gratitude to share gratitude for their faith, their witness, their care for him and others. Through his letters Paul was modelling the Christian life. He was showing them by his own life what a life lived for Christ looks like.
Priest and writer Henri Nouwen considered gratitude to be a choice. He wrote: “Gratitude claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy.” If the only prayer you say in your life is ‘thank you’ that would suffice.
Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians were written to Gentile Christians living in the prosperous city of Thessalonica. It was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia, an important centre for trade, and the seat of Roman political interests. It was also the centre of the worship of the Greek and Roman deities. Members of the Imperial family were worshipped as gods themselves.
There was no religious tolerance. You voiced your Christian beliefs at your own peril. Paul had established these churches and was then forced to flee. He was unable to return so he sent Timothy to check in with them. The first letter is Paul’s response to Timothy’s positive report. His letter is believed to be the oldest in the New Testament. The Christians at that time believed that Christ would return in their lifetime. They expected him any day. But as the days grew into weeks and then months and years they worried. Paul wrote to encourage them in their faith and in their living.
How are we to live in the meantime?, they asked. Be at peace among yourselves, Paul replied. “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances.” He told them over and over that true faith in Jesus Christ is made visible in the way we live our lives. Paul knew that this was not the way everyone else lived. Then as now, Christianity was a minority lifestyle. It was at odds with the values of the culture and those who chose to live their faith would come up against resistance.
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Learning to Be Thankful In All Circumstances
Paul loves these people. He wants them to live Christ-centred lives—of generosity, gratitude, compassion, joy, and kindness. He wants them to understand that the Holy Spirit is constantly moving in and among them, leading them to new understanding and a deeper relationship with God. I don’t know about you but I don’t always feel grateful,
Not so long ago famous people all over the world were polled by a magazine which asked them the question, If you could be granted one wish that will come true right now—what would that be? There were some very interesting responses—but one response impressed the magazine’s editors so much that they commented on. That response was this: “I wish that I could be given an even greater ability to appreciate all that I already have.”
In everything give thanks. This is what God wants you to do because of Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 – NLV)
It is an interesting answer—an interesting thing to wish for.
What do you think would happen if each one of us suddenly became a more thankful person? If all of us suddenly became a more appreciative people? No-one likes to be taken for granted—or to see someone that they love taking things for granted. All of us like to be appreciated, to be thanked, and all of us, I believe, like to see those we love live thankful lives, appreciative lives.
First Thessalonians, chapter five, verse eighteen says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” and in Ephesians, chapter five, where Paul is telling new Christians how they should live, it says: “Give thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
As the Psalmist declares, “It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to his name”