I spent about 20 minutes on the phone yesterday with a woman who is living in her car. She and her husband and 10-year-old son park in a parking lot of a business that is open all night. They feel safer there for some reason. It’s getting down into the 20’s occasionally, so they have to run their car all night to stay warm. This has almost used up her disability check and she doesn’t get another one for a couple weeks.
Their son has asthma and when he has trouble breathing, they have to go into that all-night business, find an outlet and give their son a breathing treatment. The last time this happened at 2:30 in the morning. The area shelters are all full right now, and I had to deliver the bad news that Family Promise is full too. But, I listened and tried to encourage her as best I could. Before we hung up, she said, “I can’t believe this is happening to us this week. Some Thanksgiving.”
Of course, this is not the only family facing a tough time this week. Some will lose someone they love, some will be in jail, others will lose their job. I’m not trying to spoil anyone’s Thanksgiving, but just stating the obvious: Giving thanks is not always easy.
I did a search and quickly found dozens of instances where the Bible instructs, even commands us to “give thanks” or “be thankful” or “show gratitude.” But we live in a very messed up world, so it’s not easy to reconcile these two things and we often find ourselves asking, “Why should I give thanks?”
Memorize Psalm 136:1 with me, will you? I think you’ll find it helpful.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.”
(Psalm 136:1, NIV84)
The Hebrew word behind “give thanks” is Yadah. It means “to declare publicly”. In other words, it’s not about a feeling or thoughts. To “give thanks” is to vocalize — whether it’s to God or another human being.
Yadah is imperative. We’re commanded to do it and there is no qualifying “if” — if you feel like it, if you are thankful or if you think you might get something out of it. But, don’t take that wrong — as if it was a cold, authoritarian demand. The writer gave us a few good reasons to “give thanks.”
“Give thanks to the Lord”
Of the more than 175 times thanks is given in the Bible, only twice is it given to humans. I often hear people say, “I’m thankful for…” but I come away wondering, to whom are they thankful? This Psalm makes it clear that thanks should be given to the Lord. And there are numerous reasons to give Him thanks — life, salvation, family, freedom, our daily bread, etc. And, I encourage you to do what Frances Ridley Havergal — who wrote the famous hymn, “Take My Life and Let It Be” — did every day. She wrote down on her calendar at least one thing (no matter how small) for which she thanked God. Even if you don’t write it down, make it a habit of thanking God every day — “give thanks” out loud and often.
But “to the Lord” is also a reason to give thanks: God is Lord — the “Lord of lords” (see v.3). The Lord of all things allows us to go through tough times when it’s hard to give thanks. If it was always easy, the Bible wouldn’t have to command it. But, if the Bible can be trusted, God is in complete control and He allows what He allows for very good reasons. So, this is a reason to give thanks: God is Lord of everything — James 1:2-3 tells us God takes these difficult “trials” in our lives and makes us stronger or better prepared somehow.
And remember 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NASB95). God is faithful and won’t let us go through something we can’t handle.
Give thanks because God is Lord and in complete control of everything — even if life feels like a tornado.
“Give thanks . . . for He is good”
Why should we “give thanks to the Lord”? “…For He is good…” Repeatedly, the Bible declares it to be true: Read Psalms 25:8; 86:5; 106:1 and 107:1 for a few examples. And just as it is difficult to give thanks sometimes, it’s also difficult to believe in God’s goodness when we’re going through a tough time.
Some will say, “If God is good, why is there evil?” First of all, unless there is an Ultimate Good, we can’t say anything is evil — it just is what it is. But because there is a good God, we instinctively know that some things are bad and wrong and evil. Also, Genesis tells us God created everything perfectly good. The evil we see in the world around us is the corruption of what was created good.
Others will say, “Why doesn’t God end evil if He is good?” But this is basically a matter of timing. The Bible declares that God is all-good and all-powerful, and that He will end evil someday. We tend to think He should have ended evil a long time ago, but that doesn’t mean God doesn’t exist. It just means we don’t like His timing.
Still others will say, “How can a good God send people to hell?” This is a subject that deserves more attention than I’m going to give it here, but remember that God is both loving and just. Justice means sin must be punished. Love provided the Perfect Substitute in Jesus so that those who deserve justice can receive mercy instead.
God is good — we must embrace this fact for times we find it difficult to “give thanks”. Even when life seems bad, we can find great comfort in knowing God is good.
“Give thanks . . . for His love endures forever”
Why should we “give thanks”? Twenty-six times, this psalm tells us “His love endures forever”. The Hebrew word behind “love” is hesed. It describes love in action — love, kindness, grace and mercy all wrapped up and freely given without obligation. Is there any greater theme in the Bible? Any greater reason to “give thanks” than God’s eternal love?
And don’t rush past that word “forever”. God is eternal, so His love is eternal. It’s the never-ending kind love. Can anything be more helpful to know when we don’t feel thankful?
This loving God has a master plan for the human race and because He is eternal, it will come to pass. The master plan of an eternal God has been hugely encouraging to me in those times when I’m discouraged and having trouble being thankful. The Bible — from Genesis to Revelation — presents God’s master plan. Better than any other faith system I’ve encountered, it explains our world:
It began with a perfect creation. God and man in close, personal relationship. No death, no suffering — just life and freedom and love.
It was messed up by sin, creating separation between God and people. Death came into the world, along with suffering and disease and war. God allowed this for His own reasons. One of which was so we would know that His commands are not just rules, but one of the ways God protects us.
When Jesus came, He brought reconciliation between God and man. His death paid for our sins and His resurrection proved He was God and could offer us eternal life with God if we will only trust Him.
The final pages of the Bible show us God’s re-creation. Again, God allowed sin to come into the world and infect every part of His perfect creation, but He will re-create — He promises that one day that perfect creation will be a reality again. God and people will be in close, personal relationship with no death, no suffering, no sin. Only life and freedom and love.
That’s the short version of the story presented in the Bible: Creation, Separation, Reconciliation and Re-Creation. This present time of pain and disappointment will not last forever. God will return us to a perfect world once again if we will only trust Him. And, knowing He has a plan that ends perfectly makes it possible to give Him thanks today.
I challenge you do that: “Give thanks (out loud) to the Lord (of lords), for He is good (even when we don’t see it)”. No matter what is going on in your life, remember that God is still Lord. He is still good. And, His love endures forever. Speak your thanks out loud. Look for the ways He has been good to you. Look for the times He has made His love evident — perhaps through His word or a person in your life. Remember His promises in His word — read them again and again, especially His promises fulfilled in Jesus and the promises He has made for the future.
Even if you’re homeless, hungry, tired, lonely or sore from sleeping in your car. I don’t share your predicament, and I don’t have any right to tell you what to do. But I invite you to let this verse from Psalm 136 strengthen and encourage you. Even as you ask God to help you through this tough time or the tough times you will go through in the future, remember to “give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever”.