The Power of Giving Thanks: Part 1
Last year as we celebrated the Thanksgiving season, I felt God drop a Bible study blog post into my heart called The Power of Giving Thanks, but it’s taken me a year to feel like I can begin to articulate what God’s been teaching me on this topic:)
Let’s start with some background about the holiday itself. Our American holiday of Thanksgiving originated as a day for prayer and giving thanks and praise to God. If you look back at the proclamations of our early presidents, their words are astounding. Within the text, as they describe the need to give thanks and praise to God, both George Washington (in 1789) and Abraham Lincoln (in 1863) referred to God as the Almighty God or Almighty Father.
This name for God, the LORD Almighty, was first introduced in the Old Testament in 1 Samuel, and in some Bibles it is translated LORD of Hosts. The Hebrew word translated Hosts or Almighty means armies, war, or warfare. It also refers to the things which exist in the heavenlies - the sun, moon, stars, angels, etc. So the word in its entirety refers to the overall sovereignty of God. It means the God of the armies of the heavenlies. Both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were well familiar with war, and I would venture to say this name for God, the Almighty, was deeply personal to them.
All throughout the Bible God’s people are instructed to give thanks and praise to him, and all throughout the Bible we see this exemplified by his people. Prayer, praise, and thanksgiving all go hand in hand. When we give thanks to God, it is both prayer and praise. It is prayer because it is communication with God, and it is praise because it is an acknowledgement of who God is and what he does.
In fact, both Hebrew words for "thanks" in the Old Testament can also be translated "praise." Giving thanks is always praise, it’s always worship, and it brings glory to God. Scripture tells us it blesses him, it pleases him, and he delights in it. That alone is powerful. That alone is motive to give thanks.
But here’s the awesome, sovereign, loving-kindness of our God:
everything God commands us to do unto Him also has purpose for us.
When Jesus tells us to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength,” that is also where we experience the fullness of life we were created to live. That is also where we discover our greatest purpose. The same is true with God’s commands to give thanks and praise. When we give thanks and praise to God, it has a powerful effect on us and in our lives.
Paul had a lot to say about giving thanks. With each of the following verses, we will see the correlation between prayer, praise, and thanksgiving:
Ephesians 5:19b - 20, NIV
Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Colossians 3:16-17, ESV
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 4:2, ESV
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Paul used words and phrases in these verses like always, everything, whatever, steadfastly, continually, and all. Paul was describing prayer, praise, and thanksgiving as a state of being in constant communication and worship to God. All over the Bible we see people thanking and praising God because of joyful circumstances, in response to something God did or something he promised. But, since the verses we just read teach us that our praise and thanksgiving are not to be contingent upon our circumstances, let’s look at some Biblical examples of men and women thanking and praising God in the midst of difficult circumstances:
King Jehoshaphat commanded the people of Judah to praise and thank God when they were going into a battle they were powerless to win in their own strength (2 Chronicles 20)
Hannah praised and thanked God when she gave up her miracle son, Samuel, to God’s service as a young boy in order to be faithful to the promise she had made to God (1 Samuel 2)
David thanked and praised God (Psalm 56) when he ended up in such a desperate situation that he had to fake madness in order to escape (1 Samuel 21)
Paul and Silas praised God while they were in prison (Acts 16)
Here’s an interesting detail of our Thanksgiving holiday. It was right in the middle of the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday set aside for prayer, praise, and giving thanks to Almighty God. So it was a decision to declare that as a nation we would give thanks and praise to the LORD Almighty (the God of the armies of the heavenlies) while we were still in the middle of the war!
Last year when the Lord first dropped the title of this blog post into my heart, I wasn’t quite ready to write it. I still have much more to learn regarding this topic, but I do believe I can now articulate what God has been teaching me the past two and a half years.
About three years ago God began to transition my family. For the sake of time I won’t go into all the details here, but he directed our hearts and our path into a new endeavor - cattle ranching.
In the months which led up to the move, God showed up in so many ways. We felt like he told us this move would be a catalyst to build his kingdom. He spoke to us often and clearly, always confirming what he spoke. He opened doors which required miracles. He placed our hearts in our new home before he placed our feet here. It was incredible and faith-building to watch God move mountains and experience him work within us to will in order to accomplish his purposes (Philippians 2:13). Over and over again he showed up, and we were excited and full of faith.
And then we got here.
This move took us to several hundred acres outside a small town in northeast Oklahoma. The place we purchased had been vacant for two years and never fully utilized for cattle. So my husband and his dad had to remodel much of the old house on the property, and my husband had to build a ranch pretty much from scratch - all while working another full-time job. We knew all this going in, but we never could have calculated the cost until it was upon us. We’ve faced insurmountable financial cost, hardship, and loss on a weekly basis, sometimes daily. The sacrifice of time, money, sleep, comfort, and normalcy was almost too much to bear at times.
Outside, with the cows, we dealt with injuries, sickness, and death, more than what we were told to be expectant of. We dealt with disastrous flooding and prolonged drought, both of which were abnormal to the area. Inside our home we dealt with backed up septic tanks, power outages, and a faulty well. We would lose water all the time, sometimes for days at a time. We dealt with mice, fleas, and smells. Of course, we also dealt with normal emotional issues that come with moving three kids away from their church home, school, and friends. In addition to those things, we’ve been faced with multiple family tragedies, multiple accidents, and multiple health obstacles.
We don’t often think about God being the one to lead us into a place of hardship and testing, but I’ve since realized it’s absolutely Biblical. But that’s another message altogether:)
It was in the early days of this season that God began to teach me about the power of giving thanks. Almost every day I would sit on my front steps and look at the beauty surrounding me on all sides. Since I often had no emotions left to form specific prayers, I would just pray things like, “God, I trust you. Help me trust you more. God, I thank you that you’re good and that you promise you’re working good. I thank you for the beauty of my surroundings. I thank you for the place to which you’ve brought us. I thank you for the work you’re doing inside of us through this season. I thank you for who you are and what you’ve done in my life. I thank you that you love me, and that I love you. I thank you that I know you. I thank you that my husband knows you and my children know you. I thank you for the ways you’re working which I can see and the ways you’re working which I can’t see. I thank you for the provision that is and the provision that is to come. I thank you for the miracles I can see and the miracles I can’t see. I thank you for the miracles that have been and the miracles that are to come.”
Over and over and over, sometimes multiple times a day, these were the things I would pray.
We had been in our new place for about 9 months when the flea situation started - and we dealt with it for months. It was during this time that I listened to the Corrie Ten Boom book, The Hiding Place. That book pretty much rocked my world. It’s an unbelievable testimony of faith, but there was something specific which spoke to me in that particular moment of my life.
The Ten Boom family had been caught in their work of aiding Jews during World War II, and Corrie and her sister Betsie were eventually sent to a Nazi concentration camp. They were placed in a severely overcrowded barracks that ended up being full of fleas. To Corrie, the fleas seemed like the last straw. She cried out to her sister, “Betsie, how can we live in such a place!”
However, that morning they had read the verse in 1 Thessalonians, which we read earlier, about thanking God in all circumstances. So Betsie led them into thanking God that they were put there together, thanking God that they were able to smuggle the Bible in, thanking God for the overcrowding (because more people would hear the good news), and thanking God for the fleas. This was Corrie’s response to Betsie’s prayer of thanks for the fleas:
The fleas! This was too much. “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
“Give thanks in all circumstances,” she quoted. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”
And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.... (The Hiding Place)
The sisters were able to lead large services in that barracks, about which Corrie wrote, “They were services like no others, these times in Barracks 28.” Their group grew larger and larger, and they couldn’t understand why the guards, who Corrie described as being constant and rigid with surveillance, never entered their barracks.
I’m sure you’ve guessed it by now - the fleas. Betsie eventually learned that the guards wouldn’t set foot in their barracks because it was “swarming with fleas.” As a result, many Jewish women came to know Jesus Christ.
And that’s what is so awesome about our God. In part 2 we’re going to bring this thing in for a close and talk about the POWER of giving thanks, but one of the most awesome things about our God, one of the reasons we can give thanks in any circumstance, is because we can KNOW that when we love God He is going to bring purpose from absolutely everything He allows us to walk through.
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