When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, he was concerned that they, living as they did in “evil” times, not miss a single moment of the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom. To do so, to live as if life were nothing more than the passing of moments, would be to live foolishly – to live as if there was no God. The alternative to which he challenges them is to live wisely, taking advantage of every moment, understanding in that moment what the way of the Lord was. He suggests that, in order to do this, they need to avoid distractions and, instead, be being filled with the Holy Spirit, reinforced by communal and personal worship.
He then goes on to suggest that giving thanks to God ought form the foundation of the life of wisdom – it is what will enable wise walking, especially in evil days. It is worth considering how giving thanks, leading to being thankful, might contribute to wise living.
At the very least, the act of giving thanks to God orients us to Him in a posture of dependence. Just that simple recalibration in a culture of rugged and ragged independence makes a difference – we are who and what we are because of our dependence on God. This is true whether we acknowledge it or not. Thanksgiving acknowledges – and celebrates – this reality!
Thanksgiving then gives us a more holistic perspective – we see things from a very different vantage point. We are not simply stuck in the moment to moment grind of time – we are part of a community, formed by love, spoken into being – identified as beloved. Like the one leper who returned, thanksgiving moves us to a wholeness that surpasses healing. That connection with God as Father, connects us with others who are, like us, His children. Thanksgiving can now be freely shared; it becomes the lingua franca of the way of wisdom, and a primary way of witness to our deep hope.
Far from ignoring painful reality, thanksgiving fully engages it and makes it the subject of our thanks. We do not waste a moment of suffering and pain, lifting each of them – with thanksgiving – to God. He is the only one able to redeem them, even if He does not always alleviate them. Thanksgiving enables us to be fully present in each of the moments of our lives and, at the same time, be fully present to the eternity which is crashing into those moments (for those who have eyes to see). We have the ability to resist the culture of despair by bearing witness to life and hope! Cynicism loosens its smugly fearful, icy grip, warmed by winds of thanks.
This all sets us on a good foundation. We can live without expectations – but with expectancy. We don’t know what tomorrow might bring. But we have been trained by thanksgiving to be thankful, and are wise enough to live with open hands, ready to receive – with capacity – whatever might come.