For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. –Romans 1:21
Thanksgiving is part and parcel of the Christian life. Giving thanks is to be as common to the believer as breathing. As the bird flies, and the fish swims, the Christian gives thanks—or at least he ought to. If he does not, he robs God of his honor; joy and peace eludes his grasp; and continuing in this state of ingratitude may be an indication that the person is still unregenerate.
Romans 1:21 has long fascinated me. Paul connects the recognition of God with the honor that is due him, and the act of giving thanks to him. Not only that, but he then continues to say that those who refuse to do so (honor God and give thanks to him) become fools whose very cognitive function becomes futile and darkened.
The word in our English Bibles which is translated “give thanks” or “thanksgiving” comes from the same Greek word from which we get the word “Eucharist.” (Mt. 26:27; Mk. 14:23; Lk. 22:17; 1 Cor. 11:24). From very early in the history of the Church, the observing of the Lord’s Table was referred to as the Eucharist. How good and fitting it is that something so central to our faith, Communion, has the name “thanksgiving” assigned to it.
At this time of year, both at Thanksgiving and at Christmas, it is our habit to pause and give thanks to God for who he is and what he has done. However, the Apostle Paul, who was especially fond of this word (the overwhelming uses of it in the New Testament came from his pen), makes it clear that thanksgiving is not only to happen on special occasions, but at all times (Eph. 5:20; Col. 2:6-7).
Giving thanks has at least two positive results. One, it keeps us humble before God. To say “thank you” is an admission that we are not the center of the universe—that we have received something from someone else that we would not have had otherwise. Perhaps this is why Paul connects thanksgiving with honoring God. Second, it preserves and encourages our joy. When we are discontent—when we want what don’t have or have what we don’t want—we become nearsighted, unable to see beyond ourselves and our present, undesirable circumstances. It’s like this photo I took today. If I looked only at the ugly wires and poles, I would miss the glorious sky. Similarly, giving thanks pushes our focus beyond the immediate to the ultimate, to the eternal.
Finally, giving thanks is a choice. It is often most beneficial to practice when we don’t really feel like it. It is an exercise of faith, believing God and his promises such as Romans 8:31-32…What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Choosing to give thanks frees us from being slaves to our emotions, and brings us back to the rich truths of God’s great and gracious love for us.