Lay Aside the Weight of Thanklessness

“Heavenly Father, please let me know your will. I really need to know what you want me to do about . . .”

This is my will for you: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

“Thank you, Lord, for this reminder. I really do need to be more thankful — but getting back to my request, I’m not sure what you want me to do about . . .”

I want you to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

“I know, Lord, I know. That’s important and I can see where I have neglected that. But thankfulness is sort of a constant need, isn’t it? I mean, everyone needs be more thankful, right? Seriously, this is urgent, and I don’t have clarity from you. I need your direction. What do you want me to do?”

I am being serious and specific. I want you to “give thanks in all circumstances,” and right now, in this particular circumstance.

[Speechless exasperation]

Until you learn to “give thanks in all circumstances,” much of my will for you will be veiled. I have guiding and providing graces you can’t see now because of your ingratitude. Be faithful to obey my revealed will for you, and I will be faithful to guide (Psalm 32:8) and provide (Philippians 4:19) for you.

Remember to Say “Thank You”

The spiritual cost to us of being thankless is much higher than we might think. Thanklessness is not merely the absence of verbalizing a “thank you.” It is a symptom of spiritual dullness, of spiritual poverty. Because it is taking for granted and not appreciating grace being shown to us.

Parents know what this looks like. Children, being born self-centered sinners, naturally take for granted all the blood, sweat, tears, and dollars their parents invest in them. So parents are frequently reminding their children to give thanks.

“Remember to thank your mother for making dinner.”
“Thank your grandparents for that nice birthday gift.”
“Have you finished your graduation ‘thank you’ cards, yet?”

Why do parents do this? For most, it isn’t merely to get their children to perform a social courtesy. What they want is for their children to see grace and feel thankful. They know instinctively that seeing grace and feeling thankful is a sign of a spiritually healthy person, and of course they want their child to be spiritually healthy. And they instinctively know there is something wrong, something unhealthy about a person who doesn’t express gratitude for a grace they have received.

God Reminds Us to Say “Thank You”

In parents like these, we see an image of God’s heart for us. God does not command and exhort us to thank him because he loves to hear the “magic words” or watch us perform a mere divine courtesy. He’s after our spiritual health and prosperity. He does not want us to be spiritually sick and poor. He tells us that thanklessness is a sign of unbelief (Romans 1:21). But thankfulness is a sign of faith, evidence that we really see his grace and feel its effects. That’s what he wants for us.

And that’s why God so often commands and exhorts us through the biblical writers to give thanks to him. Think of the Psalms; these kinds of statements are sprinkled all through them:

  • “I will give thanks to the Lord” (Psalm 7:17; 9:1; 30:12, and many more).
  • “Give thanks to the Lord” (Psalm 105:1; 106:1; 107:1; 118:1 and many more).
  • “Enter his gates with thanksgiving” (Psalm 100:4).
  • “Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name” (Psalm 140:13).

And think of how Paul weaves references of thanks to God all through his letters:

  • “I give thanks to my God always for you” (1 Corinthians 1:4).
  • “I do not cease to give thanks for you” (Ephesians 1:16).
  • “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:3).
  • “We ought always to give thanks to God” (2 Thessalonians 1:3).
  • And of course, “give thanks [to God] in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

These are not the commands and exhortations of a vain deity. They are the loving prescription of the Great Physician; they are the loving reminders of our caring Father. Just like a parent helps a child to cultivate thankfulness through frequent reminders, God intends his frequent reminders for us to give thanks to him to help us experience the profoundly healthy and deep joy of seeing grace and feeling grateful.

And like all of God’s greatest blessings, he has made our thankfulness something that gives him glory and gives us joy! He gets the glory of being the grace-Giver, and we get the joy of being grace-receivers and the gratitude-feelers.

Lay Aside the Weight of Thanklessness

In view of other things in our lives that feel like urgent priorities, we might not think that “[giving] thanks in all circumstances” ranks high enough. We might be tempted to think that thankfulness is sort of like a luxury option in the car of the Christian faith — it’s a nice feature, but we can drive fine without it. That’s a huge mistake. Thankfulness is not a luxury option; it’s part of our car’s engine. The car of faith doesn’t work right without it.

Therefore, it is altogether possible that God’s answer to our prayers for guidance and provision might actually be, “give thanks in all circumstances.” That may not be our greatest felt need, but it may be our greatest real need right now. And if so, God’s perhaps frustrating answer is a great, healing mercy to us.

Thanklessness is a spiritually unhealthy weight that slows many of us down in the race of faith, more than we might know (Hebrews 12:1). God has more guiding and providing graces for us that we will discover if we lay it aside and run with thankful joy.

How do we do this? We simply begin by obeying God’s simple, health-giving command: “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).