Why Should We Give Thanks to God During Thankless Times?

Why Should We Give Thanks to God During Thankless Times? November 26, 2020

“Old Fig Tree,” Creative Commons

Many of us may feel there is little reason to give thanks this Thanksgiving. We may be facing relational, physical, mental, financial, occupational, and cultural challenges. The list could go on. These struggles may weigh heavily upon our faith. In the midst of such difficulties, we can take comfort from Habakkuk 3:17-19. The writer does not deny that life’s circumstances can be incredibly daunting. It looks like nothing seems to be working for him and his people and that all is lost. Even so, the prophet does not allow his circumstances to overwhelm and destroy his faith. In fact, his focus leads him to a higher plane of existence as he rejoices in the Lord.

Habakkuk 3:17-19 is a good spiritual wake up call for me on Thanksgiving, or any day for that matter. I read Habakkuk during my morning meditations yesterday and posted this reflection at Facebook:

Do I rejoice in God no matter my circumstances, or do I focus on my circumstances, which can easily take away my joy? The former focus on God will strengthen me to ascend to the heights. The latter will cause me to lose my footing, slip, and fall. As the biblical text below closes, it makes for a good praise song with stringed instruments.

“17 Though the fig tree does not blossom,

and no fruit is on the vines;

though the produce of the olive fails,

and the fields yield no food;

though the flock is cut off from the fold,

and there is no herd in the stalls,

18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;

I will exult in the God of my salvation.

19 God, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,

and makes me tread upon the heights.

To the leader: with stringed instruments.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

I was so struck and thankful for what family and friends at Facebook shared in response about how they treasure and take to heart Habakkuk’s words for their own faith journey. I know a bit about the painful struggles of life that some of them experience and I gained greater confidence in the Lord in the midst of their own wrestling with God and taking to heart God’s word for daily life.

It is worth noting in this context that some listings for Habakkuk render his name as meaning “wrestler” or “one who embraces.” Habakkuk wrestles with God and struggles with the realization that God is going to use the godless Chaldeans to judge his people Judah for their rebellion. Habakkuk’s struggle is ultimately one of wrestling with God.

Further to what my friends and I wrote at Facebook, I wish to share three points in light of this biblical passage as to why it is important to rejoice in the Lord and give thanks to God during thankless times:

  1. Giving thanks to God helps us take a step back, take a deep breath, and gives us overarching perspective. Giving thanks to God in the midst of thankless circumstances helps us see the big picture rather than simply our seemingly overwhelming circumstances. It helps us see God afresh and God’s big picture plan and enduring care for our lives during hard times. As the prophet shares, God IS his savior—“the God of my salvation.” The Lord is “my strength.” What we need more than anything in life is renewed vision of God and to see things from God’s eye’s point of view. Giving thanks to God helps us do just that. It may have been CS Lewis who said: I’m not thankful that any god exists, but that this God exists. I’m thankful that the God of my salvation exists, the Lord who is my strength. Here’s what Abraham Heschel writes about Habakkuk’s wrestling with God in view of the vision of God’s judgment on sin just prior to quoting Habakkuk 3:17-18. Right after stating that the prophet Habakkuk realizes that the mystery of divine anger is “an instrument necessary for redemption” and  that the prophet humbly beseeches God to remember mercy in the midst of anger (Habakkuk 3:2), Heschel writes:

The prophet trembles, but he also has the power to wait on the Lord. However, the depth of his experience lies deeper than trust and faith. What the prophet faces is not his own faith. He faces God. To sense the living God is to sense infinite goodness, infinite wisdom, infinite beauty. Such a sensation is a sensation of joy. The world may be dismal; the wrath may turn the gardens into a desert; yet the prophet “will rejoice in the Lord.” This, it seems, is Habakkuk’s personal answer to the vision (Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets {Harper/Perennial Classics, 2001}, page 183).

What we need more than anything is to come face to face with God, as Habakkuk does in chapter 3.

2. Giving thanks to God reminds us that all is not lost, that the final chapter on our lives has not been written, that our journey is not over, no matter how overwhelming our circumstances may be. Whether it is a matter of divine judgment, as in the case of Judah in Habakkuk’s historical context, or simply a matter of overwhelming challenges and obstacles in life, never give up. Take to heart Habakkuk’s words for those times when you think you may be down for the count: “he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.” Now that’s quite something to rejoice over and for which to give thanks. It’s not over until it’s over, and it’s never over for those who hope in God for merciful deliverance. So, in view of God, don’t count Habakkuk or yourselves out.

3. Gives thanks to God is energizing to us, just as it was for Habakkuk who scaled the heights in hope. Such energizing hope can carry over to encourage others. I was encouraged by what my friends shared at Facebook about giving thanks in view of Habakkuk. Just think—for centuries, this prophet’s words have encouraged people of faith to keep going and not roll over and die. Are we the kind of people who are exceptionally honest about expressing how we feel about what we are enduring? Honesty is good. Let us also be exceptionally hopeful about God in the midst of what we are enduring and express it to others. May we be the kind of people who energize rather than paralyze faith by rejoicing in God in the midst of severe challenges, just like Habakkuk here. Consider Paul, too, who writes about rejoicing in God and giving thanks while enduring imprisonment, as recorded in Philippians 4:4-7. Reading such passages as these and taking them to heart and into our daily lives will encourage us and give us courage to face each day with renewed vision and strength to scale the heights. Giving thanks to God will help us grow in resilience and encourage others to keep going no matter what given their God who matters most.

Continue giving thanks to God during thankless times. We’ll all be better for it.

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology & Culture at Multnomah University & Seminary; Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins; and author of numerous works including Setting the Spiritual Clock: Sacred Time Breaking Through the Spiritual Eclipse (Cascade, 2020). You can read more about the author here.
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