As creatures, we are designed to be thankful. It should be our native tongue because thanksgiving is the natural response of a grateful heart to God for His manifold blessings to us. It is not something we should do occasionally, but it should be a characteristic of our lives, an attribute we are known for as a people.
Romans chapter one describes the downhill slide of the unrighteous. They have willfully suppressed what God has plainly displayed to them (even His eternal power and Godhead) and so they are without excuse. “They did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened”(vs. 21). In the remaining verses of chapter one we see that “God gave them up” and “God gave them over to a debased mind.” In other words, God does not withhold His righteous judgment until after they have died. The unrighteous begin to experience the wrath of God while they live, for what else is God’s wrath if it isn’t being given up and given over? We Christians ought to recognize God’s judgment when we see it, and this chapter of Romans gives us a vivid description.
But my point in bringing all this up is not to discuss God’s righteous judgment, but rather to point out how central thanksgiving is to the Christian life. God hates ingratitude, as seen above. When we refuse to be thankful, we are acting like those who “suppress the truth” about God, and our gracious God does not overlook such behavior. When we render thanksgiving and praise to our generous God, we are acting in accordance to our redeemed natures, we are doing what creatures should do. The atheist and the agnostic have no one to thank but themselves. Evolution claims that we created ourselves. The unbelieving world has been given over to uncleanness, vile passions, and a debased mind (verses 24, 26, 28).
But the Christian is to overflow in thankfulness. “But 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 the Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:18-21). Notice the words always and all things. We are to be giving thanks constantly and for everything.
Now some want to rush to point out things that might be hard to give thanks for. (“Surely God doesn’t want me to thank Him for this or for that.”) This is a bit of a trick to try to change the subject. (“Let’s not talk about all the ways I should be obeying now but I am not obeying….let’s talk about the difficult theological issues involved here….”)
It would be far better to rush to all the many things for which it is easy to give thanks, things that we have neglected to thank God for and blessings we have overlooked. And as we learn to give thanks for all these things, we will have a different perspective on those things that seem hard.
We are to enter into His gates with thanksgiving (Ps. 100:4), we are to pray with thanksgiving (Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2), we are to come before His presence with thanksgiving (Ps. 95:2). We are to offer to God thanksgiving (Ps. 50:14). And this just scratches the surface.
What hinders thanksgiving? Unconfessed sin, disobedience, discontent, laziness, bitterness, pride. What restores a thankful heart? Confessing our sins to God and to those we have wronged. Receiving forgiveness, being put right with our Creator so that we can speak our native tongue of thanksgiving.
As we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, let’s render all thanks to God and cultivate thanksgiving as a spiritual discipline. Then we can become fluent in the language we were designed to speak. And that pleases and glorifies our very good and gracious God, which in turn makes the biggest turkey and the most beautiful table setting a fitting offering of praise and thanksgiving to God.