Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Certain biblical imperatives have often made me feel like a spiritual failure. I’m pretty good about loving those who are close to be. But loving my enemies? Not so good (Matthew 5:44). And don’t even get me started on “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Ouch!
Ephesians 5:20 contains one of those imperatives that remind me of my persistent spiritual shortcomings. According to this verse, we’re to be giving thanks “always.” Always! Do I always give thanks to God? Hardly. Do I forget to tell the Lord “thank you”? Yes, all too often. Do I take God’s gifts for granted? I’m afraid so. Do I fail to take notice of many (most?) of God’s gifts? Yes, I’m sad to say.
Now, there’s a defensive part of me that wants to object to the notion of always giving thanks. How could this be possible? Sometimes, for example, I need to give the people in my life 100% of my attention. It’s hard to do this while also giving thanks to God. Moreover, sometimes my life doesn’t seem to be filled with good things. Though I do not suffer in the way of many on this planet, I do have what I would call “bad days.” Sometimes I am misunderstood and misconstrued. Sometimes I feel unloved and unappreciated. Sometimes I am sick as a dog and can’t get out of bed. Sometimes my body feels the pains and limitations associated with getting older. Sometimes terrible things happen to my friends and family. So how can God expect me to give thanks always?
It’s unlikely that the Paul uses the phrase “always giving thanks” to mean “giving intentional, verbal thanks every single moment.” Surely there were times when his verbal skills were focused on something other than articulating prayers of gratitude. But this qualification should not let us off the hook. I don’t mean to say, “Oh, Paul didn’t really mean it, so let’s all go back to our ordinary, thankless lives.” On the contrary, I believe Paul meant at least two things when he said we should be “always giving thanks,” two things that can challenge and invigorate us.
First, I believe this verse encourages us to pause much more regularly in the midst of our busy lives to perceive God’s gifts and thank him for them. For example, I am thinking about the good things I am experiencing this very moment: warmth on a cool, rainy day, a comfortable chair in one of my favorite libraries, a computer that facilitates my work, the chance to write this devotion, the assurance I have about my next meal and a safe place to sleep tonight, the fact that I am loved by my family and friends, not to mention the fact that I have been saved by grace through faith. I wonder how my life would be different if I were to pause a few times throughout the day so that I might consider my blessings and tell the Lord “thank you”?
Second, Ephesians 5:20 urges us to develop an inner consciousness of gratitude, to live each moment with an underlying awareness of the blessings we have from God and our debt to him. I have known people of mature faith who talk about this sort kind of experience. And every now and then I have experienced something like it. When I am hiking in the mountains, for example, I can focus on the trail in front of me, making sure that I don’t lose my footing, and yet, at the same time, sense deep gratitude for the beauty and grandeur around me. It’s almost as if each footstep is a prayer of thanks to God. Or, sometimes, while writing these devotions, I marvel at the gift God has given of being able to do this. My fingers are keyboarding away. My primary focus is upon what I’m writing. I’m focusing on the biblical text and on my readers. But my heart is filled with thanksgiving that underscores every word, every sentence.
Am I giving thanks always? I’m afraid not—not yet. Am I learning to give thanks more and more? I think so. I hope so, by grace.
Something to Think About:
How might you develop a pattern of consistent thanksgiving?
What helps you to feel grateful to God even when you’re attending to other things besides prayer?
Something to Do:
During this week of thanksgiving, let me encourage you to step back regularly and take time to think and pray. Allow the Lord to move you in the direction of thanking him always. You might even want to set a timer to remind you of God’s gifts throughout the day, perhaps once every hour or two.
Gracious God, teach me how to thank you always. By your Spirit, stir up an artesian spring of gratitude in my heart. Help me to see how blessed I am. Set me free from the bondage of taking your gifts for granted. Even when life is hard, may I live with a consistent awareness of your goodness in my life.
Help me, Lord, to learn to step back throughout the day in order to consider your gifts to me and give you the thanks you deserve. By your Spirit, instill in me a consistent undercurrent of gratitude, so that my whole life is an expression of thanks to you. Amen.