WHEN Do You Offer Up Thanksgiving?

Day of Thanksgiving

November 21, 2018

1Timothy 2:1–4

When do you offer up thanksgiving? Is it when things go well? When you have averted a crisis? When you have been healed from an injury? When you succeed in an athletic event or a special project at work? 

These are all certainly times to give thanks. In the first reading the Lord directs His people to His promises. After being in the wilderness for forty years and brought into the Promised Land He says that they will praise Him. In the third reading the Samaritan leper gave profuse thanks for his healing. Blessings from God go hand in hand with thanksgiving. So certainly we give thanks when things go well.

What about the rest of the time? Do we give thanks when things don’t go well? When we lose our job instead of getting a promotion. When the illness gets worse instead of better. Are we to give thanks in those times? What is there about those trials and failures to give thanks for? Those in our country who have reeled under devastation from mass killings, from hurricanes, and from wildfires—are they to give thanks?

On the one hand, the question of when you give thanks is very circumstantial. It seems like you give thanks or not depending on your circumstances, whether good or bad. On the other hand, the Bible does have something to say about when to give thanks. Some of it to be sure is circumstantial. Two examples we’ve already seen in two of our readings this evening. 

On the other hand, the portrayal of the Christian life is one of thanksgiving. The Psalms take you through all the highs and lows of life in this fallen world. These prayers do not paint a picture of a victorious life with success and wealth and exemption from trials. Often, our life in Christ is bearing the cross of trials and sorrow and heartache. Even so, what is one thing the psalmists continue to go back to? It is thanksgiving. Here is just a sampling of the praise of thanksgiving offered to God:

Psalm 105: Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name. 

Psalm 118: Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! 

Psalm 116: I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. 

Psalm 7: I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High. 

Psalm 95: Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

Psalm 34: I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 

In these psalms thanksgiving is lifted up no matter the circumstances. Thanksgiving is offered because God is who He is. Because no matter the circumstances, He is the God of salvation and He blesses His people at all times in all things. 

Being steeped in the Scriptures, the apostles had this same outlook. For example, no matter who Paul was writing to and no matter the circumstances, he would often give thanks. Here are a few examples:

To the Romans: First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.

To the Corinthians: I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.

To the Ephesians: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

To the Philippians: I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.

To the Colossians: We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you.

To the pastor Timothy, as we see in our second reading this evening, he urges him to lead the people of God in prayer. Supplications, prayers, and intercessions are to be lifted up to God for all people. There’s another thing along with those: thanksgivings. Thanks is to be given for all people, also for kings and those who are in high positions so that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life. We get that we ought to pray for people and for those who lead us. But do we think about giving thanks for them?

At the time Paul was writing the rulers were often pagan and at times even hostile to Christianity. Nevertheless, when the prayers of the people of God were lifted up it was to be with thanksgiving, not just supplication. You may find it difficult to pray for all who are in authority. The Fourth Commandment enjoins on us to honor all those in authority over us. Certainly that includes praying for them. If it’s difficult to pray for some who are in high positions, how much more is it to give thanks for them? But giving thanks is what characterizes the life of the Christian.

God has given us all things for our good. Everything is gift. When everything you have received is as a gift there is nothing for you to do but to give thanks. Your life is lived in thanksgiving. There really is no question of when you give thanks. You are always giving thanks. And you are giving thanks in all things and for all things and for all people. 

Paul tells Timothy that this is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior. Think about this. He is our Savior. He is our God who has given us everything, including our salvation. He has given it all to us as gift, not because of anything we have done to earn it. He has even made the ultimate sacrifice in giving His own Son on our behalf. The life of Christ being given over on the cross was a pleasing sacrifice to God. He accepted the sacrifice of His Son and turned His wrath away from us, restoring us to the blessings He originally intended for us at creation.

Now that we have been saved, what do we do? We give thanks. This sacrifice of thanksgiving is pleasing to Him. There is nothing we can give to Him that He needs. But He delights in our sacrifice of thanksgiving. It was pleasing to our Lord to offer His own life as a sacrifice for all people. How much more then ought we to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving for all people. Paul says that this is pleasing to God our Savior, as He desires that all people be saved and come to the knowledge of truth. 

Our gratefulness to God for His salvation of us ought to overflow in praying for all people and giving thanks for them, especially praying for their salvation. When we live lives of thanksgiving we see that the blessings we have are far more abundant than if we are blinded in ingratitude. If we are not thankful because we are looking at what we don’t have or our prayers aren’t answered by God according to our will, then we are not seeking His good and gracious will.

There are specific times we can remind ourselves of the blessings of God and how truly abundant and eternal they are. Praying before meals is one simple way to do this. Praying at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day. Spending time in daily devotions. Praying before a task or a trip or a difficult circumstance. Our prayers should never be on their own, though. We ought to be in the Word of God, reading and studying it. We ought to be in the House of God regularly to hear the Word of God and receiving His eternal gifts in Word and Sacrament. 

The Psalms fed the people of God in Old Testament times and they do still today. The entire Word of God feeds us. Our prayers flow out of God’s own words which He gives to us from the pens of the apostles and the prophets. Being in the community of the Christian Church our prayers are more and more formed to be prayers not simply of request but also and always of thanksgiving.Amen.