Imagine Christmas morning. You’ve spent the last few months shopping for unique gifts for each of your family members, gifts that show your intimate knowledge of their interests and desires. You’ve spared no expense to get gifts of the highest quality that will be both enjoyable and beneficial to each person. But when your family comes to the Christmas tree, one person completely ignores the presents. Another person opens your gift, but starts using it for something other than what it was made for. Still another just holds the gift, refusing to unwrap it. To make matters worse, none of them even acknowledges that their gifts are from you.
Sadly, this is how many Christians respond to God’s gifts, particularly the gifts of the Spirit. So many people fail to receive what the Lord has offered them because they don’t understand what the gifts are or how to use them. They say ridiculous things such as, “Well, tongues is the least of the gifts, so I won’t pursue it.” If my children said this about one of the presents I’d put under the tree for them, I’d say, “this is yours! I don’t care how small you think it is. I bought it with you in mind, and I don’t give cheap gifts. If you’ll just open it, I’ll show you what it is and how to use it.” Such a rejection of gifts is arrogant.
Thankfulness carries an attitude of humility. Thanksgiving is the only proper way to receive what God has given us because it honors our relationship with Him by expressing trust in His goodness, even if we don’t yet understand what we’ve received.
God gives us “every good and perfect gift” (see James 1:17) for two primary reasons: He gives us gifts to make us prosper so we can succeed in life, and He gives to demonstrate His love as an invitation to relationship. Thanksgiving recognizes that the gifts we have received from the Lord came with these purposes. Thanksgiving sets us on course to know God and discover the reasons for which He made us.
Thanksgiving agrees with Heaven by acknowledging the truth that our lives are a gift from God, and that He is sovereign over all. God is extravagantly generous, and the life He has given us on this planet is not a life of survival, but of abundance and blessing. However, unless we properly recognize what we have been given, we will not be able to experience that life. That is the reality of receiving a gift. If we don’t understand what we’ve been given, we won’t understand its purpose and be able to experience its benefits.
Knowing God is not hard. It’s actually the most obvious thing in the world. All you have to do is glorify Him as God and be thankful. This response, because it agrees with the truth, gives you open access to the vast treasures of the knowledge of God. But without that response, your thoughts become futile and your heart darkened (see Rom. 1:18-21). Futile means “purposelessness.” When we fail to respond with thanksgiving for everything in our lives, our thinking gets cut off from our purpose in God. When we lose sight of our purpose, we’ll inevitably make choices that are outside of God’s intentions for our lives. Darkened hearts cannot perceive spiritual reality. Darkened, thankless hearts are unmoved by the desires and affections of the Lord, and therefore cannot respond to His invitation to relationship, which is the source of life. The absence of thankfulness leaves the door wide open to sin.
Since thanksgiving keeps us sane and alive by connecting us to the source of our life and purpose, it makes sense that Paul instructs us to give thanks “in everything”: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
Besides keeping us sane and alive, a specific dimension or thanksgiving is particularly powerful in times of difficulty and adversity. Simply put, thanksgiving sanctifies whatever it touches, even evil things. Look at Paul’s advice to Timothy in First Timothy 4:1-5, where he tells him not to worry about food sacrificed to idols, rather to eat it after the purifying effect of thanksgiving has rededicated it to the Lord. When Paul says that thanksgiving sanctifies unclean food, he is saying that it sets it apart for God and His purposes. Thanksgiving actually changes the very nature of the food into something holy.
This truth extends beyond unclean food. It extends into every situation in your life in which you find other powers at work besides the power of God. Not everything that happens in life is His will. He didn’t cause the crisis that an individual or a nation may be facing. He actually cannot give things that are not good, because he does not have them. God can give only good gifts because He is good, and He has only good gifts to give. So giving thanks in everything does not mean that the adversity came from God. But when you give thanks in the midst of an adverse situation, a difficulty that was intended to undermine your faith and even destroy you enables you to take hold of that situation and set it apart to God and His purposes.
When you give thanks, the weapon the enemy meant to use to dislodge you from your divine purpose is put into your hands and becomes the very thing that brings you more fully into that purpose. Jesus declared that He sends us out with the same assignment the Father gave to Him—to destroy the works of the devil (see 1 John 3:8). Thanksgiving accomplishes the divine justice of the Kingdom, where the enemy is destroyed by the very thing he intended to use for our destruction. Just knowing that we can participate in destroying the enemy’s purposes should alone move us to give thanks!