The idea of thanksgiving is important in the Bible. It’s a key theme that shows up over and over again, especially in the New Testament letters. There, we are even commanded to be thankful. Recently, however, it hit me how much we tend not to be thankful, nor give thanks as we commanded. At the smallest thing, we tend to complain and whine, especially on social media.
In contrast to our immaturity is a journal entry from the puritan pastor Matthew Henry. On March 3, 1713, he was mugged on his way home from visiting a family for Bible study catechetical instruction. He had about 11 shillings stolen from him that night. I can easily imagine that sort of things that someone might say about such an event today. I can easily imagine what I might say if such a thing happened to me! But Henry was different. When he got home, he wrote: “What reason have I to be thankful to God, that having travelled so much, yet I was never robbed before now.” Thankfulness is his response. In fact, he goes on to express his thankfulness because his robbery makes real to him the abundance of the evil that is the love of money, how Satan is still at work in the sons of disobedience, and how vain it is to seek worldly wealth when it can so easily be stripped away from us.*
Now, don’t miss this. He’s not saying this in a sermon or teaching context where it might be easy to make himself look especially pious. This is his personal journal, which wasn’t intended for anyone’s eyes but God’s and his own. What we’re seeing is his honest response to be robbed on the side of the road. No whining, no complaining, no ‘Woe is me, I have it so bad!’ Rather, we see thanksgiving to God. I find that incredibly convicting.
More importantly, I want to follow his example. But how can we get there? In Colossians 3, Paul makes a very important connection between thankfulness and the gospel. Paul says that we ought to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (3:17). It is the reality of the gospel that reframes everything we do and everything we experience. The immediate context of this verse is about serving one another in word and deed (3:16). But the application of the passage isn’t limited there. Whatever we do in this life, whether in private moments or public ministry, we are to do it in the name of Christ, not ourselves. We live for his glory, not our own. That thought shifts the focus off of ourselves. What’s more, we live and serve, even in difficult circumstances with thankfulness because of his astonishing love towards us, even as sinners. It’s the truth of the gospel itself that enables us to be thankful in all things, even being robbed on a street on our way home from ministry.
When the gospel dwells deep within us, it changes the way we see everything. It even allows us to be thankful to God when we’re mugged on the side of the road.
*This account is often oversimplified and misreported in sermon illustrations. You can read Henry’s actual journal entry in this book of Christian biographies.