Americans celebrate Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday in November. Once each year, we’re reminded to count our blessings, to name them one by one. The Bible teaches us to live in a constant state of thanksgiving.
Jesus set an example of thankfulness. At the first Lord’s Supper, “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take and eat it; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks, he gave it to them and said, ‘Drink from it, all of you’ ” (Matthew 26:26–27). Jesus gave thanks, even though He knew that the broken bread represented His broken body.
In the graveyard where Lazarus’s lifeless body was entombed, Jesus lifted His thankful eyes toward heaven. “ ‘Father, I thank you that you heard me. I know that you always hear me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe you sent me.’ After he said this, he shouted with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ ” (John 11:41–43). Jesus gave thanks, even in the graveyard.
From his Roman prison, Paul wrote, “Be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”(Colossians 3:15–17). From that same prison, Paul wrote, “Don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:18–20).
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus”(Philippians 4:6-7).
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:16)
Paul had plenty of reasons to complain. His dreams had been dashed. He had hoped to be in Spain, where the Gospel hadn’t yet been proclaimed. Instead of coming to Rome as a missionary church-planter and pastor, he came as a prisoner.
He was living in cramped quarters, with a Roman soldier standing guard. He wasn’t free to go to the market, or to dine out, or to visit his neighbors. He wasn’t allowed to go to the synagogue, or to gather with other Christians in their house churches.
Deep scars in Paul’s back reminded him of past suffering and foretold the possibility of future torment. Paul had plenty of reasons to complain, to fuss, to gripe and grumble. But he didn’t.
Paul sang (Acts 16:25), giving thanks “to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).