Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7
Thanksgiving, that is, the act of giving thanks to God, is an important defensive weapon in the arsenal of every believer in God. According to Philippians chapter four, verses six and seven, it is prayers accompanied by thanksgiving that make way for the peace of God to guard the heart and the mind. Just as a sentinel stands guard at the gate to protect a city or castle from secret invaders, so a life of thanksgiving protects the mind from being penetrated by the fiery arrows of the wicked one. In this essay in intend to prove three things:
- That thanksgiving (that is, the act and lifestyle of giving thanks) greatly assists us in keeping our mind set on God, and thereby giving us victory over the flesh.
- That thanksgiving keeps us in the correct frame of mind, thereby giving us victory over the lies of Satan.
- That thanksgiving keeps our mind from being darkened, thereby preventing our hearts from being led astray from God.
1. The first thing we must consider is that a life of thanksgiving greatly helps us to keep our mind set upon God. Keeping our mind set on God is not only a command (e.g. ‘set your mind on things above, where Christ is…’ – Col 3:2), but it is the key to living a successful Christian life. In Romans chapter seven, when Paul describes the painfully repetitive life of a man trying to live for God in the flesh (who tries to please God through human effort but continually fails), he follows up with the solution to this slavery by telling us it is those who ‘walk in the Spirit’ who will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. And what is the marked difference between those who walk in the flesh and those who walk in the spirit? It is what he sets his mind upon. “Those who live according to the flesh set their mind on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit, the things of the spirit” (Romans 8:5).
With this in mind, we can see that anything that assists us to keep our mind upon God is invaluable in our Christian walk. The Bible says this is Psalm 50:23:
Whoever offers praise glorifies Me, and to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God. – Psalm 50:23
I want to focus on the first part of this verse. “Whoever offers praise glorifies Me.” The word ‘praise’ is very closely related to the word ‘thanksgiving’ in the Hebrew Bible. As a matter of fact, the Hebrew word here for praise is more often than not translated as ‘thanksgiving.’ So it would do no damage to the text to read it that way. “Whoever offers thanksgiving glorifies Me.”
When we offer praise and thanksgiving to God, the Bible says that we ‘glorify’ God. To glorify God is to magnify Him, to make Him large, weighty, magnificent. In fact, the word ‘glorify’ in the Hebrew Bible means ‘to be made heavy’. In the days of the Bible, money was measured by weight. The value of the money was determined by the weight. In a similar way, to glorify God is to add value to God, to make Him great and awesome.
Of course, we know that in reality, God cannot be any more great, awesome, or valuable than He is. He is infinitely valuable and nothing we can do will add to that actual value. However, this truth is not apparent to every mind. It is especially not apparent in the mind of unbelievers; but even among true Christians, the greatness of God does not always prevail upon the mind like it should. Offering to God praise and thanksgiving increases His glory, not in reality, but in our minds, and in the minds of those around us. When we glorify God by offerings of thanksgiving, we more closely align our minds with the reality of God’s greatness. And when the greatness of God prevails in our mind, it becomes much easier to walk in the Spirit, and thus to overcome the lusts of the flesh.
This is one way in which thanksgiving serves to guard our hearts and minds.
2. Next we need to understand that thanksgiving keeps us in the correct frame of mind. The definition of a frame of mind, or a mind-frame, is the way one views the world; that is, their mental attitude or outlook upon life. Everyone sees the same world, but the mind-frame determines how they see it. No one can observe the world perfectly with no mind-frame, although some people think they do. Only a person with perfect knowledge can view the world with perfect objectivity. We do not have perfect knowledge, so we cannot do that. Our minds must fill in the blanks as we go. Depending on our life experiences, our education, and our upbringing, our mindsets vary widely. We as Christians must strive to maintain a biblical frame of mind. That is, we must learn to fill our knowledge gaps with biblical truth. The Bible says this:
In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. – 1 Thessalonians 5:18
This verse is more than just a command to offer thanksgiving to God on occasion, but a command to change our frame of mind. Giving thanks in all things is not a natural mindset. Of course, it is easy to give thanks when things are good and well, when our bellies are full and our bodies are well, when our children are happy and our bank accounts plump. But this verse does not command us to give thanks in good things only but in everything. This would include times of suffering, times of doubt, times of sickness, times of lack, times of sorrow, and the like. To do this requires a radical shift in worldview. It requires us to see life through a very different lens than the world sees it.
So why is it that we are to give thanks in all things, even the bad things?
First of all, it brings our mind into focus how blessed we truly are rather than upon the fantasy of ‘more.’ Much of the world lives in a fantasy that pushes the idea of happiness coming as a result of getting something that they do not yet have. “Once I get this,” they think, “then I will be a happy person.” They may not express this thought exactly, but this is the sum of their musings. I call this a fantasy because that is precisely what it is. It is the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s the chase that never ends, it’s like grasping the wind. But a thankful person reminds himself through offerings of praise that his life is beyond blessed. He recognizes that he has food on his table and clothes on his back. He recognizes that God allows him to enjoy the sunshine and the cool breeze, the beauty of nature, delicious food upon the table, the love of friends and family, and the fellowship of His Spirit. He’s not looking for anything more–he already has it! He only must remind himself by way of thanksgiving that he is blessed beyond measure and that God has been much more than good.
But, one might argue, what about those who are presently in a state of great suffering? What about the one who suffers ill health, or is unemployed, or is lonely, with no family, no friends? What about the man who is wrongly imprisoned, or who suffers from a crippling disability, or who has lost a child? Can these also give thanks, even in the midst of great suffering? The answer is yes.
It is highly unlikely that anyone has suffered more than Job. But what did he say? “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” How could he say that after every single one of his children lay dead? It is because he knew that his Redeemer lives (Job 19:25-26), and that because He lives, they shall live also (John 14:9). And consider the case of the Rich man and Lazarus in Luke chapter 16. Lazarus was a poor beggar who could not walk, had no food, and was filled with painful sores. His humiliation was even further aggravated by the dogs that came to lick his sores. He desired even the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. But who was more blessed? Was it the rich man or Lazarus? We see that, in the end, it was not the rich man that was blessed, for his soul was tormented in the flames of Hell. But Lazarus, though his suffering was difficult upon the earth, he now enjoyed the comfort of God within the embrace of his father Abraham.
Whatever your circumstance may be, let me tell you that you have infinite reason to lift your voice in thanksgiving to God if you are a Christian. Your Redeemer lives, and God will work all things together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose. But even if you were to live as a crippled beggar for the rest of your days, you know that you have an eternal inheritance that far surpasses anything this world can offer. We can say, like Paul, that ‘the sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed in us’ (Romans 8:18)!
3. Finally, a life of thanksgiving will keep our hearts from being darkened. In Romans chapter one, we read of a people who knew God but ultimately ended up with darkened hearts and thus became subject to the wrath of God. The scripture says that ‘although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were they thankful’ (Romans 1:21). Their failure to glorify God through a thankful heart led to their hearts becoming dark.
This is a fearful thing, for darkness represents ignorance and blindness. A lack of thankfulness, among other things, moved them from a place of enlightenment to a place of darkness. It is in this state that they ‘profess themselves to be wise’ yet are, in reality, fools. Those that put themselves in this state risk being given up to a reprobate mind—a state that is beyond redemption (Romans 1:28).
I must remark upon this doctrine of reprobation briefly because I believe that understanding it helps us greatly in two ways. But before I give those two ways, I need to describe in more detail what it is. When I speak of reprobation, I speak of when final judgment has been passed upon a man when he still lives. Instead of killing a man in judgment (as he did with Ananias and Sapphira, king Herod, etc.), He allows them to carry on living in a state of eternal judgment for His own purposes. Pharaoh of the book of Exodus is a good example of this. Pharaoh hardened his own heart until he was ultimately given up to reprobation; it was after this reprobation that God himself hardened pharaoh’s heart. This hardening is beyond remedy, and those who are hardened in this way have no hope of redemption, just as those who die in their sins.
The reason that this doctrine is important to understand is because: 1. It helps us to understand why some people fail to see God. There are many people in the world whom God hates. They have spurned His overtures of grace, hated righteous, despised His Son, and counted the blood of the cross a common thing. There comes a point where God says, “it is enough,” and judgment is passed. These are the people who will never be saved, never see the truth, and never turn to God, no matter how much evidence looks them in the face. Again, Pharaoh is a good example of this. Even with wonder after wonder, he still would not bow the knee. This is a reprobate mind.
Secondly, It serves as a warning for us. We must not think that we can go on sinning and look for some future grace to save our souls. Those who think they can sin away until a death bed conversion are badly mistaken. They fail to understand this doctrine of reprobation. God guarantees one time for you: today. There are no guarantees beyond that. Today, if God is tugging upon your heart, you have grace to repent. But I have no guarantee for you for tomorrow. I can promise you today, but I can’t promise you tomorrow. Now you live, and now God calls you, but tomorrow you could be dead or reprobate, I do not know. Only God knows.
Now I know that this is a dangerous doctrine to preach, because, although it is true, the devil is crafty and will use it for his purposes (but we are not ignorant of his devices). Surely he will use these words to whisper into the ears of many, telling them that they are already reprobate and all hope for them is lost. But I wish to give you good news, if the devil has whispered that in your ears, it certainly means that you are not reprobate yet. Why would he whisper to those whom he already has? Indeed, those who are reprobate will have no internal struggle, no mind for God, and no desire for forgiveness. But if God is wrestling with you today, know that you are not beyond redemption yet. Seize this grace today, for it is still available to you.
But to those of you who are already Christian, let this be a reason that we always ought to keep a thankful heart before God. It was a failure to give thanks that led to a darkened heart. A heart full of thanksgiving will keep our eyes brightened, with heaven’s light shining all around.
When we offer thanks to God we bring Him honor and glory, yet we should not fail to realize that this sacrifice of praise does an enormous amount of good for us. Cultivating a lifestyle of thanksgiving to God is a sure defense against the wiles of Satan, whose target is the minds of men. A lack of thanksgiving and praise leaves our minds in a defenseless state, rendering us an easy target. So let our mouths be always filled with thanksgiving. And let us ever follow this admonition given to us in holy scripture: that we ‘offer unto God the sacrifices of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.’