The Practical Theology of "Thank-You"

Have you ever wondered what God’s will for your life is?  Believe it or not, the Bible makes it perfectly clear–no need for tea leaves, oracles, or $20 psychic advisors.  But you may find it nothing like you expect.

A few years ago I discovered that the Bible spells out quite clearly what God wants of all of us.

With deceptive simplicity, I Thess. 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  There it is.  God’s will in Christ simply requires that we say:

“Thank you.”

That’s it.

Sounds too easy, yeah?  Well, it almost is.

But please watch very carefully what the verse says (and doesn’t say).  First of all, you’ll find nothing in it at all about how to feel.  Which makes me glad, ’cause  honestly? the next time I hear someone tell me to ‘develop an attitude of gratitude,’ I’m gonna smack ’em.  Forty-odd years in, and much effort in the matter has left me with no idea how to change my attitude.  And this verse, which spells out the will of God, fortunately has nothing to do with my attitude.  It has nothing to do with FEELING thankful.

It DOES however have everything to do with the words of my mouth.  If I understand this passage correctly, God’s will means simply for me to say “thank you.”  Not to feel gratitude, but actually to say out loud those words.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Give it a try, even if, especially if you don’t feel it or even mean it.  Try it right now.

Did you?  Good.

Now, secondly, please notice that the verse tells us to give thanks  “in all circumstances.”  This clearly implies that the charge to say “thank you” does not depend in the slightest on the circumstances we face.  In other words, God commands us to give thanks for everything, even the ugly, difficult, sad things in life.

A word of caution.  I don’t believe that God intends to raise up for Himself a masochistic people who senselessly celebrate all of the awful things that occur.  I know all about the dangers of denialhooo boy do I. Nor do I think that the scripture perversely urges us to celebrate the evil in this world that befalls us and those we love.

Instead, I firmly feel that by commanding us to say “thank you” in order to follow His will, God subtly tries to teach us to see things from His perspective.  Behind that decidedly small phrase, a whole weight of glorious promises awaits us:

That He will never leave or forsake us.  That perfect peace will wrap us round.  That, circumstances decidedly notwithstanding, God yet has plans for us, plans to prosper us, to give us a hope and a future.  That He continues to rejoice over us with singing, not matter how dark the night or bitter the tears.  Than nothing, nothing, NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  Nothing.  And oh, thank God for that.

To me, saying “thank you,” especially when I hardly feel or believe the words coming out of my mouth, serves me as a way to write a check with my lips that only the love of God can cash.  It helps me to create with my words a heart at least clean enough to acknowledge aloud that loving hands hold me, that Someone knows my name and my circumstance, and that He truly will make all things well, makes all manner of things most well.

I discovered one more helpful thing about this deceptively powerful command.  In Eph. 6:16, St. Paul exhorts us, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”

Did you catch it?  “In all circumstances,” again.  I looked up the Greek–it’s the same phrase.  And as I’ve tried to put into practice the habit of saying “thank you” out loud, I’ve come to see that doing so actually serves as a quite literal shield of faith; that meeting each temptation or setback or grief great or small with “thank you” serves me to turn aside a thousand little burning darts that dig into my soul.

“Thank you” forces me use my faith, makes me to say aloud that this is my Father’s world, and that I shall rest me in the thought.  It requires my implicit agreement that He made me, and that He hasn’t stopped the making.  That if I turn my eyes to the hills, I shall find help already on the way. That if with Milton “I only stand and wait,” then I shall find my strength renewed, I shall mount up, mount up, on wings like eagles.

So I suggest you try it.  Right now, and perhaps for the rest of the week.  Just keep meeting whatever comes your way with the murmur, “thank you.”  Make it a mantra or a prayer.  Whisper it softly when you have no leisure to do it louder.  Do it especially when you face grief or unexpected unpleasantness.  Perhaps you’ll not consider me glib for saying so, but I can tell you first-hand that it works.  In so many pains, whether old aches or brand-new bitterness that steal my breath (and hope) way, I find that it works.

He’s here. He neither slumbers or sleeps, He whose love watches over us and restores our souls.  Our times are ever in His hands.

Thank You.

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