Thanksgiving: Is it Natural or Gracious?

Each year when we draw near to the end of November, we anticipate Thanksgiving Day, and we often hear someone quote I Thessalonians 5:17: “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

It’s easy to give thanks when you just landed that dream job, or you’ve been surprised by some unexpected blessing.  But, how do you give thanks when the dream becomes a nightmare, you suddenly realize how fragile you are, and you’re no longer so healthy or wealthy?

Do you still have a spirit of gratitude, and can you still give thanks? You can if you understand Paul’s admonition to the church of the Thessalonians. You can if you comprehend the difference between the word “in” and the word “for.”

Paul said we are to give thanks “in everything,” not “for everything.” The difference between the two is a distinction made by Jonathan Edwards and defined as natural gratitude and gracious gratitude.

Let me give you an example: Yesterday, the aroma of freshly baked pumpkin and cherry pie filled the air with a scintillating fragrance. Today, I will sit on the porch, sip my coffee, and as the tart and tasty cherries tickle my taste buds, I will give thanks—this is natural gratitude.

Gracious gratitude is when it is you and not the pie that is in the oven—the oven of trials and heartache; and, you still give thanks.  It is the expression of gratitude because you know God is with you in the midst of your worries and woe-some experiences.

This sort of gratitude is not distorted by your pains and problems because it is riveted on the character of God and exhibited by a robust trust in His promises. Moses described God as being One who is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth (Exodus 34:6).”

And Paul, who was no stranger to hardships, encourages us to trust God and remain resilient when we face adversity:

  • Romans 5:3-5: We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
  • Romans 8:28, 37-39: We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. . . in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Even though we are facing uncertain times, we can express gracious gratitude, and “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! –Psalm 118:1