Why do Christians give thanks?

Are you feeling thankful? In this season, there are constant reminders to practice habits of gratitude. We know that being thankful is good for mental health, that it helps build stronger relationships, and it’s one good way to start a season of celebration.

However, for many people, the relentless reminders to celebrate and be thankful can feel overwhelming. There are many circumstances in which thanksgiving simply feels impossible—if you are living with loneliness or grief this season, if you are struggling financially, if you feel overcome by conflicts in our world or in your own relationships.

A Different Approach

Christians have the opportunity to approach seasons of celebration differently than non-believers. If you are struggling, take a pause and consider your attitude towards thanksgiving. Resist the temptations of overconsumption and overindulgence to distract from or deny difficult emotions or devastating circumstances.

Thanksgiving is not just for special occasions. It’s a strategy for navigating all situations. Christians give thanks not because life is always good, but because God is always good.

A Thanksgiving Command

This is why God makes thanksgiving not a recommendation, but a command: give thanks! In 1 Thessalonians 5, the apostle Paul builds on the rich tradition of the Psalms when he writes, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18) 

Paul does not say “give thanks for all circumstances.” He says, “give thanks in all circumstances.” God’s people should be defined by a perpetual posture of thanksgiving. 

In fact, true thanksgiving refuses to deny bad circumstances. Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann points out that most Psalms of Thanksgiving open with “an inventory of real-life troubles, from which the LORD delivers.” (Walter Brueggemann, Reverberations of Faith, p. 211)

As Christians, we know that the world is not the way it’s supposed to be. Our faith provides a framework for accounting for the world’s brokenness. Jesus helps us find hope and meaning in the midst of it.

Giving Thanks is a Discipline

Gratitude is a discipline. We have to choose it. And in choosing gratitude, we find ourselves equipped:
To recognize good in the present;
To recall the good from the past;
And to anticipate good in the future.

We are able to do this because even when life is bad, God is good.

Giving Thanks is a Decision

Giving thanks in all circumstances is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus not because God needs it, but because we do. God knows that in this broken world, there will always be a reason not to give thanks. Even our best days may be overshadowed by moments of pain, disappointment, grief or loss.

The opposite is true, too. Even our worst days present opportunities to give thanks, so long as we look for them. God wants his people to experience what Jesus calls “life, and life to the full” (John 10:10)—even in a world corrupted by sin. Gratitude—giving thanks—is a practice that protects our capacity to seek out, see, and savor the best of what God has to offer.

So, this holiday season, give thanks. Give thanks as a decision and a discipline. Life isn’t always good, but God always is. Give thanks.

The Bible is full of encouragement to give thanks. Learn to cultivate The Habits of a Thankful Heart with this study on Philippians.