Wednesday Writings

Ever Thankful, Never Thankless (Even in Chronic Illness)

The Sunday before Thanksgiving, my pastor preached a powerful sermon on thankfulness. This sermon changed how I look at several aspects of thankfulness and challenged me to be a more thankful daughter of God.

With my pastor’s permission, I’m sharing his main points and both our notes with you in the hopes that what God has to say about thankfulness (even in chronic illness) can encourage you too.

I. Being thankful is a spiritual characteristic.

A. Gratefulness is evidence of God’s control.

And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 5:18-20

“Be filled” — this verb in the original Greek is a present passive imperative, literally translated as “be being filled.” The imperative mood means it’s our obligation to obey, to keep yielding to the Spirit’s control. The passive voice means we choose to let Him control us.

The phrase “giving thanks” comes from the compound Greek term eucharisteo and literally means “good grace,” or “acknowledging that God’s grace works well.” When we give thanks, we’re grateful to God for His goodness and grace, expressing joyous gratitude for God’s favor, in an action that takes place simultaneously with being filled with the Spirit. This term for giving thanks appears 36 times in the New Testament and refers almost exclusively to giving thanks to God.

Giving thanks: acknowledging that God’s grace works well.

B. Appreciation is obedience to God’s command.

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

Colossians 3:15

The grammar of the Greek phrase “be thankful” is present middle imperative: the imperative mood means we have a responsibility to act; the middle voice means we make the personal, voluntary choice to act (we’re not forced); and the present tense means it’s an ongoing activity. The word “thanks” is the same term eucharisteo.

C. Thankfulness is fulfillment of God’s will.

In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

I Thessalonians 5:18

The phrase “will of God” means the desire that belongs to God, what is acceptable to Him, what He approves of, His declared and revealed requirement of His children. As a result, a heartfelt gratitude that permeates our thinking matches God’s right way of living.

The word “in” means in connection with, in the midst of, or during. It does NOT mean “for,” indicating that giving thanks FOR everything and giving thanks IN everything are two different things. Here God tells us to give thanks IN everything.

But how can we give thanks even in the dark, scary, sometimes life-threatening valley of chronic illness? The answer is one word: perspective–focusing on who God is and what He’s doing. This God-centered perspective doesn’t suggest we dismiss the negative around us; it does, however, determine our response to the negative.

When we have the right perspective, no matter what’s going on around us–when we give thanks IN everything–we also have joy. And what is true, biblical joy but acknowledging God in the mist of things that aren’t well?

Joy: acknowledging God in the midst of things that aren’t well.

II. Being thankless is a carnal behavior.

A. Lack of gratefulness is rooted in a selfish heart.

For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy.

II Timothy 3:2

The phrase “lovers of themselves,” from the Greek term filauto, describes individuals who are selfish and egocentric (who believe the world revolves around them). The word for “unthankful” (aucharistoi) literally translates into “no grace” or “no thanks” and suggests a demented view of goodness.

The underlying motive for this unthankfulness is pride, a sense of entitlement that says “I deserve . . .” or “It’s my right to have what I want,” a complete lack of humility. Why? A growing self-sufficiency, an attitude that says “I did this myself” and “I’m my own boss” and “I’m indebted to no one.”

Funny, for as self-sufficient as we are NOT in chronic illness, we still tend to hold onto a lot of pride. Have you ever told God, even if not in so many words, “I deserve to be healthy” or “It’s my right to be fully functional” or “You owe me these accomplishments”? This pride is very dangerous and comes from our own flesh.

So we recognize the link between selfishness and unthankfulness and humility and thankfulness. See the story of Job (blog series here) for how his humble response to his suffering contrasts with this sketch of the thankless heart.

Humility and thankfulness go hand-in-hand.

B. Lack of appreciation is rebellion against divine authority.

Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 1:21

The Greek word for “know” carries the idea of an experiential, interactive relationship, which indicates that the individuals referenced in this verse don’t have a relationship with God (aren’t saved). They have rejected God’s clear expression of Himself and His attributes and refuse to recognize His existence. They’re outside God’s will and have lost touch with reality.

As a result, these people are not thankful, they don’t practice the eucharisteo commanded by God to His children. No surprise–after all, if they don’t acknowledge God, to whom can they be thankful?

So we see that the farther people drift from God, the ultimate Reality, the giver of all good gifts (I Tim 6:17), the deeper they descend into selfishness, thanklessness, senselessness, and eventually, ultimately, the eternal darkness of eternal life without God. This reality highlights the close relationship between rejection of God and thanklessness and, conversely, faith in God and a thankful heart.

There is a close relationship between faith in God and a thankful heart.

Do you acknowledge that God’s grace works well in all things, even your chronic illness? Is there pride, self-sufficiency, or rejection of God’s truth in your heart that needs to be brought before Him? How can you continue to yield to the Holy Spirit so He can fill you with faith, joy, and gratitude?

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