Unconditional Thanksgiving

November 23, 1997 / No. 2864

At all times and in every situation of life our God commands us, Ephesians 5:20: “Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Are there times and situations when your gratitude is not heard in the courts of heaven? Is your thanksgiving rooted in an overwhelming praise to God for your salvation? Or is your thanks rooted in having things our own way? Is your thanks rooted in things? Or is it that you rejoice in the God of your salvation as your strength? The question is this: If the darkest providence you could possibly imagine were to become true for you today, so that the worst possible personal horrors occurred to you, would you, could you, say “Yet, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will give thanks to the God of my salvation”?

Thanksgiving holiday can be a very dangerous time. It can be a dangerous time because it casts light over our entire year and over our entire life. Thanksgiving is not a day. It is the life that we are called unto in Jesus Christ. If we say “thanks” today, if we put on a thankful appearance one day, but that one day is not an accurate representation of our lives, then we appear undone before God. If we have the notion, in any form, that the duty of thanks is accomplished in one day, we appear as Pharisees before God. And if our thanks is rooted only in God’s gifts, but not in God Himself, then our thanksgiving is shallow, superficial, and it fades away with those things. We must learn to rejoice in the Lord and joy in the God of our salvation. We must learn to give thanks always, in all things. Our thanksgiving must be rooted in God.

The prophet Habakkuk is an example of what I would call “unconditional thanksgiving,” which is our duty in this Thanksgiving holiday, and our duty ever and always.

In his prophecy, the third chapter, verses 17-19, we read this astounding expression of thanksgiving: “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.” That is unconditional thanksgiving!

The word “unconditional” means not dependent on or conditioned by any external thing, but rooted in God alone, rooted in the experiencing of the wonder of salvation. We speak of the truth of unconditional election. That is the biblical teaching that God’s choice of who would be saved is not dependent on anything found in them, or anything found in what they did or could do, but that God chooses, God elects, who will be saved out of His own good pleasure. God finds the reason in Himself. It is not conditioned by man. It is an unconditional choice of God. We read inDeuteronomy 7:6, 7 that God says to His people: I did not set My love upon you because you were more in number or you were greater than others. But I set My love upon you because I would. I find the reason in Myself. I don’t find it in you. It is unconditional choice to salvation.

So this thanksgiving that Habakkuk speaks of is a thanksgiving which is not dependent upon anything, but it finds its source in God. It is not dependent upon the things that God has given, but upon who God is. Habakkuk is saying, “Even if all my creaturely comforts were taken away and God, by His providence, made my life desolate of any earthly ease, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will joy in the God of my salvation. I will return to His presence with thanks.” He is proclaiming that his thanksgiving will not be infrequent. It will not be shallow. It will not have fits and starts. It will not only be given when things are agreeable and comfortable, but always-because his thanksgiving would be rooted in a profound, personal, and oh-so-real experience of God’s salvation and of God’s present strength.

Is this your thanksgiving?

Habakkuk the prophet is asserting, is promising, that his praise and thanks to God will be unconditional, entirely independent of his external circumstance in life. This is really the climax of his faith in his book or prophecy.

He did not begin the prophecy at this level. Very briefly: Habakkuk the prophet lived at a time of terrible spiritual decline, most likely during the time of a king called Manasseh. Habakkuk was a man greatly troubled by what was happening. He wanted to reconcile what he saw happening, namely the terrible departures from God, and what he believed. He saw Israel in a very back-slidden condition. She had turned away from the Lord. She had forgotten Him and had given herself over to false gods and to evil pursuits. We read of this in the first chapter, the verses 2-4: “O LORD, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear! even cry out unto thee of violence, and thou wilt not save! Why dost thou shew me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention. Therefore the law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked doth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth.” It was a very terrible picture. There was sin. Violence and vice were rampant while those who ruled were slack and indifferent. The law was not applied. There was a spiritual falling away which had resulted in a moral decline. And he cried. He prayed. And God answered him.

But He answered him in an altogether unexpected way. Verse 5 of the first chapter: “Behold ye among the heathen, and regard, and wonder marvelously: for I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to possess the dwellingplaces that are not theirs.” God says to His prophet: “I have heard you. And this is what I am going to do. I am going to send a nation, called the Chaldeans, and they will march through the land and subdue it. I will raise up a heathen nation to conquer the land and to punish the people.”

Then, in chapter 2, God goes on to tell Habakkuk of His ways, how that they are ways which are always to be characterized or reconciled with His own holiness and greatness.

Then, in chapter 3, Habakkuk responds to all of this and begins to look back upon the experiences of the church in former ages. He recalls the great things that God had done: that God had dried up rivers and seas; He had destroyed the horse and the chariot; He had held the sun and the moon still; He had wounded the head of the wicked. He beholds the majesty of God in His works, especially that stupendous work in which all of His power and wisdom is revealed: the salvation and preservation of the church. Then, looking upon Jehovah, the God of salvation, he makes this amazing promise and pledge: Although the worst possible things would happen, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.

Habakkuk had wrestled with the ways of God. Where was His justice? Nothing seemed to be making sense. But his head, now, had been cleared. His mind was at rest in a vision of God who always works to preserve His church. He is brought face to face with God. He trembles in fear before God. He looks at the past and sees that the present is to be understood in light of the past. God has always saved His people in their distress. He has always managed in all things to preserve the honor of His name. And, standing there at that plateau of faith, he makes this bold promise: I will praise Him; I will praise Him even though all the external supports are knocked away, every visible prop is taken away from my life, every peg holding me up is knocked away; yet I will stand and praise the Lord.

Will you consider what he is saying?

He supposes not merely the loss of his creaturely comforts, but really the very supports of his earthly life. He imagines one of the darkest and blackest pictures a person could possibly know. He uses the language of agriculture of his day. He says, If the fig tree does not blossom(the fig was a staple food for them); the labor of the olive fail (the olive tree brought oil which was just like butter to them); the fields would have no meat (the corn, the barley, the wheat-no food to be brought to the storage bins); the flocks would be cut off from the fold (sheep, which would give them wool and meat, would not be in existence); the herds would not be found in the stalls (the barns would be empty and the livestock dead and gone). He imagines economic ruin, disaster, circumstances leading to famine, hunger, crying children, malnourished and bloated bellies.

In today’s terms: he is talking about the collapse of the economy; of panic in the banks; of money being devalued; of jobs lost; of grocery stores closed; of refrigerators empty; of barrenness. He is talking about savings, investments, property values being eaten up, dissolved, and you are left without a penny. Possessions, clothes, cars are gone, and you are left only with what you have on your back and perhaps not even that much. Every external support of life is removed. We cannot even imagine what that would be! I should say, most of us cannot imagine what that would be. We have always had so much. Yet, he says, although my job would be gone; my income would be cut off; my investments liquidated; my ability to provide one mouthful of food taken away, and we could add to that, my health, my loved ones, and I am left with nothing; yet, yet, I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. That is his promise!

Do you promise that?

You say, but how could this man ever say that? Was it a vain boast? You say, that is impossible to say that. That could never happen.

How could Habakkuk confidently assert that he would praise and thank God no matter what his condition would be? Because his thankfulness and praise was rooted in God, in God’s salvation, and in God’s strength! “I will joy in the God of my salvation; I will rejoice in God. The Lord God is my strength.” You see, the deepest reason for his thanksgiving was in God, not in the things which God gave.

Are you thankful for God, for your salvation, for your strength to be in God? Or are you thankful only for what He gives you in terms of this life? Now, do not misunderstand, we must be thankful for His gifts so abundantly lavished upon us: water and harvest, food, jobs, clothes, cars, income, health. It is all given. Not a thread of it is ours. Not a thread of it comes to us by our own industry. It is all given to us and we are to thank Him who has placed in our palms everything that we have. Absolutely everything comes to us of God.

Yet our thanksgiving, if it is to be true and lasting and victorious must dive deeper, must be in the God who has given it. It must ultimately be a profound thanks to God for His salvation, for His grace to me. I will rejoice in the Lord. I will rejoice in Jehovah, the inexhaustible source of my joy, because He is my Savior, because He has saved me when I did not deserve to be saved by Him. How shall I thank Him?

Notice that it is grounded in God as the One who has saved and as the One who is presently his strength-the God of my salvation! Oh, the wonder of salvation, deliverance from the greatest of woes: sin. And deliverance unto the highest of good: fellowship with God. He is the God of my salvation. He planned it. He accomplished it. He works it in my heart. He preserves me in it. And, one day, He is going to perfect that salvation in me. In all of that salvation He has revealed to me His love, a love which was undeserved by me. He is so infinitely rich and free in His grace. And now He is the Lord God of my strength. That is, as the God who has saved me He is not like some picture-album put away in a drawer that I pull out occasionally for some touching memories. No, He is the present explanation for my life. He upholds me. He is present in all of His power. He bears me up in this present life. When I fall He picks me up. When I stray He turns me back. When I am afraid He comforts and draws near to me.

Now, my thanksgiving is out of that personal and true experience of salvation. It is out of knowing and belonging to God. Out of these things thanksgiving arises. This is praise. And this is the praise, you see, which is not dependent on, not conditioned by, the external state of a person’s life. It does not owe its existence to any external props. I may lose all. I may place my dear one into a grave. I may walk in a dark valley of trial. I may tremble in the night of my loneliness and despair. But as long as He is God, I will yet praise Him, I will rejoice and joy in the God of my salvation.

Oh, this is jubilant thanksgiving. There are no reservations in it. There is no part which says, Well, we better not be too jubilant about this. This is utter abandonment-come what may, I will rejoice. I will joy in the God of my salvation. The word “rejoice” means a leap for joy. And the word “joy” means to spin around in joy. He makes my feet like hinds’ feet, says Habakkuk, the feet of a deer swift and bouncy, when your spirit soars. I will walk upon the high places, high ridges: the idea of victory and calmness, rest and serene, looking over all the land in victory. He speaks of an exuberant, spiritual joy. Sometimes this joy is reflected outwardly in song, in smile, in happiness. And sometimes it is seen in tears, tears streaming down a face from a heart that is filled with hope. But it is unquenchable. It is victorious.

Do you know God? Do you know His salvation freely given? Is the Lord God your strength? Do you belong to Him? Then what situation is there in which you cannot praise Him? You have the highest gift. Your feet run upon the high places.

Are you thankful always, in all things? You see, thanksgiving is born in one place. It is born when God has shown you that you are a sinner and He has shown you His amazing love and grace.

We say, you cannot be thankful until you know what it is to be without. That is very true. You cannot be thankful until you know what it is that you are a sinner and that you have been saved by grace. You cannot be thankful until you know your sin and His amazing love. Then, knowing God, knowing Him as your Savior, there is absolutely no condition which could ever come upon you in which you will not praise Him and joy in the God of your salvation.

May God work that in our lives year after year and day after day.

Let us pray.
Father, we do thank Thee for Thy Word so rich and so free. Wilt Thou work in us unconditional thanksgiving. Cause, O Lord, that our thanksgiving may be rooted in Thee and in the understanding of Thy amazing love and faithful salvation. In Jesus’ name do we pray these things, Amen.