As you sat around the Thanksgiving dinner table recently, and someone offered you something you didn’t want on your plate, what did you say?
No thank you.
You declined, and your polite “no” was enough – unless Uncle Ned was really insistent that you try his brussel sprout & lima bean surprise.
If only “No, thank you” worked as well in life as it does at the holiday dinner table.
No doubt, all of us can list some things that life has put on your plate this year that you wanted to say “no thanks” to – and it didn’t matter.
Covid? No thanks.
Cancer? NO Thank YOU!
Job loss? No, please.
Depression? Not interested.
Loss of a relationship? Please, No.
Loss, of a Loved One? No, No, NO!
And those are just the big things. If you look at your plate, you’ll likely also find smaller things that are hard to digest – the little losses and changes in life that come with each passing year. And it’s all right there, on your plate.
I believe that if our gratitude is going to have any grit; if our thankfulness is going to have any teeth; if living a grateful life is going to be MORE than just a day, or a weekend, then it has to have staying power – no matter what’s on our plate.
For when we look at what Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5.18, he does not say: Give thanks in The Good Things. He doesn’t tell us: Give thanks when you feel like it – when everything on the Plate of Life is tasty and just what you ordered. He says: Give thanks in ALL things.
And he doesn’t stop there; the rest of the verse reads: For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus IN you.*
God’s will is that you and I be thankful in all things. To make sure we get it, he goes even further in Ephesians 5.19-20: Sing and make psalms in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks over all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to (our) God and Father.
And it’s not just Paul. In 1 Chronicles 16.34 we read: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever (NIV). And those words are repeated, sometimes word-for-word, throughout the Psalms.
And then there’s Psalm 136, where the writer goes through a litany of reasons to be thankful – following each one with the same phrase: His love endures forever.
I’m certain Paul knew this Psalm, and I imagine its words were echoing in his head as he wrote 1 Thessalonians 5 and Ephesians. Paul believed – the Bible believes – that we give thanks to God because his love Will Not Fail. God’s faithfulness is true, precisely because it is true right when we need it most.
But does being thankful IN all things mean that we have to be thankful FOR all things? I don’t think so. We don’t have to say “thanks” for the stuff on our plate that we don’t know how to swallow; instead, we are thankful because God is present, and faithful in ALL of it.
For his love endures forever.
Not only did Paul know these Old Testament words, he learned their New Testament meaning: that God’s faithful love showed up, surprisingly, overwhelmingly – in a game-changing way, in Jesus. And so, in Eph 5.20, he says that we give thanks in all things in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is about so much more than simply tagging Jesus’ name to the end of our prayers. It’s because of Jesus, because of who he is, and what he has done – because His name IS Power – this is why we pray in his name.
So, in 1 Thess 5.18, Paul says giving thanks is God’s will – because Christ is IN you. We give thanks because the One who is in us is greater than the things that happen TO us.
In yet another “be thankful” passage, in Colossians 1.12-14, Paul writes: …Giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you into the share of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have the redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Do you believe this? Do you believe that you have an inheritance that cannot spoil, fade, or be taken away? Do you live your life as one rescued from the hopelessness of life, where your circumstances and your sin do not determine who you are? Do you live life as one, redeemed?
If so, your life will show it – even in the toughest of times.
If not, your life will show it – even in the best of times.
I think of my friend Zack, who, when he was in high school, woke up not feeling right. He was a perfectly healthy 17-year-old, and he suddenly couldn’t walk like he did the day before. He found out that he had suffered a spinal cord stroke. Today, as a guy in his 30s, he can take a few steps, but he depends on a wheelchair to get around.
You think Zack has a few things on his plate he would like to say: No thank you – to?
But I would tell you that Zack knows these verses way better than I do, because he faithfully serves God – with a joy I rarely see in people much healthier and more “blessed” than Zack appears to be. He doesn’t just KNOW these words of scripture; he has chosen to LIVE them.
One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 15. It starts with the core of what we believe, the gospel/the good news: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures (verses 3-4).
Paul then spends a long time writing about the resurrection of Jesus, and the reality that we are now resurrection people. 1 Cor 15 reminds us that we are people of hope, for Jesus’ resurrection means we too will one day rise to a life free of pain and sorrow, cancer and covid. One day, there will be no more broken lives, or broken relationships, or broken hearts. One day, we will feast together in the presence of Jesus – and we’ll never again have to say No thank you.
For in that day, and in that place, there will no longer be anything on our plates we won’t joyfully, and gratefully, receive, for all eternity. And so Paul writes, as he wraps up this soaring chapter, in 1 Cor 15.57: THANKS be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
Because of God, and his work in our lives through Jesus: we have every reason to be thankful and hopeful, no matter what this life serves up to us – for the victory has been won; and one day will be all that we taste, forever.
*NT verses are my own translation