I am an empath. Almost every time there is a tragedy or a natural disaster–most recently, Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma in Florida, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the earthquake in Mexico City, and the mass shooting in Las Vegas–I find myself overwhelmed with anxiety and consumed with feelings of terror or heartbreak for days, if not weeks. I frequently fixate on current events, absorbing the negative emotions of others and feeling helpless to alleviate the widespread panic and suffering of my fellow humans.
While sorrow and grief can be both appropriate and holy as we mourn with our brothers and sisters throughout the world, the Bible calls us not to respond to tragedy with fear and worry but to continue constant thanksgiving regardless of circumstance. The word “thank” and its variations–“thanks,” “thankful,” and “thanksgiving”–appear in the Bible a total of 162 times. Here are a few examples:
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 ESV)
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17 ESV)
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6 ESV)
In all circumstances, whatever we do, in everything–giving thanks should not just be something we do once a year with a turkey in November. It should be all-consuming, daily, displayed in all of our words and each of our actions.
Merriam-Webster gives two definitions for “thank.” The first is, “to express gratitude to.” The second is, “to hold responsible.” I like the second definition because it reminds me of the etymology of the word “worship.” The Old English “woerthship” literally means “to assign worth.”
Giving thanks to God essentially means that we are holding him responsible for our blessings instead of ourselves. Yet, God wants us to worship him with thanksgiving, not for his benefit but for ours.
He enjoys our worship, and it undoubtedly brings him glory, but expressing gratitude to a God bigger than ourselves is necessary for our own peace and joy, not his.
We were built for thanksgiving. Gratitude keeps our focus on Jesus and his eternal redemption and off of our temporary setbacks and pain.
Much like prayer, being thankful is the greatest antidote for our worry and anxiety and our need for control, because it emphasizes our trust in and reliance on God rather than ourselves. In the midst of tragedy, gratitude is an ongoing proclamation of our faith in his ultimate protection and provision. It is a recognition of his infinite strength and goodness contrasted with our weakness and immense need for rescue and restoration.
Being thankful is at the very heart of Christian life and the Church.
Baptism is our public acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice for all mankind, and communion is our public remembrance of that sacrifice. It is only through our shared thankfulness for Jesus’ death and resurrection that his body of believers is united and bound to one another.
Without gratitude, we are back to where we started before Christ came to save us–self-reliant and self-absorbed sinners, following and praising our own pursuit of knowledge, instead of embracing our Creator’s great love.