Many years ago a seminary professor recounted the story of his first Thanksgiving sermon in his first pastorate.  Thrilled and excited over God’s grace in his life, he structured his sermon around the theme of gratitude for wives, children, job, financial provision, and general happiness.

As the congregation filed out, a woman whose husband had left her, resulting in deep financial trials, and whose children were not walking with Christ, asked him the simple question, “What am I supposed to be thankful for, Pastor?  I have nothing that you spoke of this morning.”  And she left.

He vowed that day, he told us, never to give a Thanksgiving sermon again that focused only on temporal blessings from the Lord.

That woman’s circumstance could be told many times — spouses leave, children rebel, health fails, financial troubles escalate, cars and houses need repairs, landlords are ungracious, bosses and co-workers are uncaring, circumstances are disappointing, and friends waver.  Does that leave us with no reason to be grateful?

No.  In every circumstance it is always possible to obey the Lord and be thankful (1 Thess. 5:18; cf. also Eph. 5:20; Phil. 4:6; Col. 3:15, 17; 4:2; 1 Tim. 4:4).

A little counsel from the apostle Paul is helpful.  Here are some things for which every believer in every circumstance can be thankful:

  • Be thankful for the spreading work of the gospel among other churches and people groups.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world. (Rom. 1:8)

  • Be thankful for the gift of obedience to God — and for the obedience of others.

But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed (Rom. 6:17)

  • Be thankful for freedom from sin and death.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. (Rom. 7:25)

  • Give thanks for liberty and freedom in Christ.

He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. (Rom 14:6)

  • Give thanks for the people God has used to train and equip you in Christ, and who work alongside you in serving Christ — especially those who did so at great personal cost.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles (Rom. 16:3-4)

  • Look for and be thankful for evidences of God’s saving and sustaining grace in your life.  (How is God using your troubles for your good and His glory?)

I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus (1 Cor. 1:4)

  • Give thanks that death is has no power over us, but that Christ is victor over sin, and since we are in Him, we also know that victory.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 15:56-57)

  • Give thanks that your hardships are being used by the Lord to produce gratitude in the lives of others.

For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. (2 Cor. 4:15; note also vv. 16-18).

  • Give thanks for a gift from God to you that is beyond your ability to describe!

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Cor. 9:15)

  • Give thanks by praying for others (also being grateful for the privilege of access to God in prayer and ministry of intercession).

[I] do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; (Eph. 1:16)

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, (Phil. 1:3)

We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers (1 Thess. 1:2)

  • Replace sinful sexual desires with thankfulness for your current marital circumstances, seeing your situation as a gift from the Lord.  (This principle works with all sinful and ungodly desires.)

But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (Eph. 5:3-4)

  • Give thanks for the blessing and inheritance that is coming for you.

giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. (Col. 1:12)

  • Give thanks for the Word of God which is working in you to transform you into the likeness of Christ.

Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. (Col. 3:16-17)

For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. (1 Thess. 2:13)

  • Give thanks that God chose you from the beginning of time for salvation and sanctification.

But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. (2 Thess. 2:13)

  • Be thankful for all others — even the worldly leaders over you.

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men (1 Tim. 2:1ff)

  • Be thankful for Jesus Christ — victor over death and promised Messiah of God.

Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendent of David, according to my gospel… (2 Tim. 2:8; cf. also 1 Cor. 11:23-32)

Thankfulness is foundational to life.  It is essential for the spiritual life.  It is not a task engaged in periodically, but it is to flow from our hearts and lips at all times.  And it is always possible to be grateful, if we are intentional in looking towards God and His many kindnesses towards us.