The words thanks or thanksgiving are used over 100 times in the Bible. That in itself seems to make the concept and the word very important. The root meaning is to be grateful or to overtly express gratitude. It is simply giving thanks to God and in recognition of His good gifts being grateful for all His blessings. One must focus on the blessings rather than the negatives for that to happen. The old hymn says, “Count your blessings, name them one by one and it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” That hymn captures an important truth. The truth of it eludes many believers.
Someone has referred to thanksgiving as thanks-living. That may be closer to the truth than we realize. Thanksgiving should not be a one time annual event or an occasional act that we might happen to remember. It really needs to be part of the fabric of our make up – but how? How can I make thanksgiving an integral part of my being? How can I lock into thanks-living?
I spent 41 years in the pastoral ministry and may long hours of counseling and discipling the people God gave me.
In my pastoral counseling over a period of years I noticed that those that came for help with depression were never people who engaged in thanksgiving about anything. They lost the fact that there was anything good out there. Even the blessings of God seemed remote. They were more ungrateful than grateful and focused on all the negatives.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made so I would always try to rule out, sleep loss, side effects of medication or genuine medical issues. Failure can be a large part of the depression issue and must be dealt with biblically according to 1 John 1. Having ruled these things out or resolving them scripturally it cleared the way for another look at the depression. I often pondered whether the depression caused lack of gratitude or quite the opposite that the lack of thanksgiving triggered or deepened the depression tail spin. The ingratitude and lack of thanks then became a vicious cycle.
So back to our question – did ingratitude result from depression or did ingratitude contribute to the depression? (Was it the old conundrum of the chicken or the egg?) I have come to believe it was the latter and that lack of gratitude and thanksgiving may be one of the causes or a big part of triggering and sustaining the depression. I say that because when I would help the depressed person develop a thanks list and (even if mechanically and against feeling) speak that list back to God daily it went a long way in helping lift the person out of the doldrums and gloom over time. That bit of a lift would then create momentum to work on other issues that were part of the struggle. Eventually over months that habit of thanks automatically became a part of daily life and when it did depression did not return. Having dealt with some occasional depression (maybe “feeling down” is a better description) in my own life I found that it worked exactly this way with me.
Let’s be clear though. Having a blue day or a few down days should not be classed as depression. These off days are just what believers periodically go through (John 16:33, 2 Corinthians 4:8 – 9). Feeling off from time to time is not depression. Real depression is a constant state that lasts for weeks or months to the point where the person is not carrying out routine duties and relationships are seriously disrupted. The malaise seriously disrupts daily life.
There are so many psychologists and psychiatrists that do not make this distinction between an off day and real depression and this may be why so many people are on anti depressants. We should not describe an off day, a down day or a blue day as “I’m depressed”. I hope we see the difference.
Another huge factor especially for believers is the fact that when one is not living in the will of God they feel very bad.
Living on a low level creates bad feelings and feelings of self condemnation. This can be deadly.
One might ask how the concept of the will of God is connected to all the above thoughts on depression and thanksgiving. The connection is easy to see in 1Thessalonians 5 where both prayer and thanksgiving are urged and called “God’s will”. Verses 17 – 18 tells us; “pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Verse 19 indicates that if we neglect these things we are quenching the spirit. Note that the last two words in verse 18, “for you” are the literal Greek words eis humas which mean into you. That simply means that prayer and thanksgiving are to be part of us – part of who we are and what we do. Prayer and thanksgiving are to be operating in us and be as natural as breathing. They are to be part of the fabric of our make up. God has put in every believer the ability to pray and express thanks. The old Thanksgiving hymn calls believers “thankful people.”
There is no opting out here as Greek Professor D. Edmond Hiebert points out; “The obligation resting on them is practicable by them. The argument is not, ‘You must do it, for God so wills, but ‘Knowing that it is God’s will, you can do it.’ God does not demand that which He does not give the power to perform”, (The Thessalonian Epistles, page 243).
So there is not copping out here and claiming exemptions. No Christian is exempt. There is no excuse like “you can’t teach old dog new tricks” since we are not dogs but rather image bearers of God created in his likeness. Empowered by His grace – we can!
It is never wrong to do the right thing. Knowing that thanksgiving is the will of God for us we may have to practice thanksgiving even against feeling. As suggested we can construct a thanks list of 10 – 20 or even 30 items. We can then daily rehearse the list to ourselves and to the Lord. Having done this with multitudes of Christians over the years I can guarantee that one will become over a period of months genuinely more grateful and the habit will become an automatic daily practice not just a determined discipline. We will live in thanks-living. The spiritual benefits will become the reward.
Thanksgiving is more urgent and more important than most realize. Let’s do it!