Indeed, believers should be thankful at times other than Thanksgiving. The holiday is entirely cultural, based on our own nation's history. In countries without a Thanksgiving holiday, believers are still thankful, driven by something beyond dates on a calendar. Of course, Christians should be thankful, but why is that so? How does it work?
The apostle Paul's letter to the Ephesian church contains a series of similar statements: do not walk as unwise, but as wise; do not be foolish, but understand the will of the Lord; and, do not get drunk, but be filled with the Spirit. Each statement explains how believers should live on earth before Jesus returns. The way they live is called their "walk." Every believer has a "walk" that either matches biblical teaching or does not. Thanksgiving is part of matching God's plan.
When Paul wrote, "Do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit," he expanded and explained what he meant. He used the activities of speaking, following, and giving thanks to describe being filled with the Spirit. About that last activity, he wrote, "always giving thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
The reason saints should be thankful is that God's Holy Spirit transforms their heart and their desires. For lost people, satisfaction evaporates quickly, lacking an eternal source. It is momentary, fragile, and fleeting. But, saints can see people, circumstances and possessions from God's perspective - a gift from His Spirit. Influenced by His perspective, believers give thanks. True thankfulness begins with God, not with a human being or a human experience.
Paul also gave the timeframe and scope of Spirit-filled thanksgiving: always and everything. Because God shared His perspective, believers can always give God thanks. Understand what that means; no moment for life can extinguish the possibility of a believer's thanksgiving. Every moment is a perfect opportunity because it radiates from the joy Jesus left with His followers - an unending joy that is still available to believers. With it, every moment becomes a thankful moment. That way, the timing of thanksgiving is Spirit-driven. It starts with Him. That is why believers can always give thanks.
The scope of thanksgiving defies human logic, too. Humanly speaking, many people, events, and circumstances quickly and forcefully quench thankfulness. But, the reason Paul was able to write such instructions and sing hymns in prison was that God's Spirit gave him God's perspective. People who are filled with the Spirit can give thanks for everything - for every person, for every circumstance. Read that sentence again. Thanksgiving is God's gift through His Spirit to His children. The scope of thanksgiving begins with God's Spirit and invades every part of a believer's life. Being thankful for everything starts with God.
Paul also emphasized the recipient of a saint's thanksgiving. While thanking people for what they do and say is appropriate, it cannot stop there. Spirit-filled thanksgiving turns a believer's attention toward God. He or she continually says, "Thanks, God." It happens over and over - always, about everything. God changes life. God dispenses thankfulness. Thanking God naturally follows His work of transforming believers' perspectives.
So, when it comes to thankfulness, first look above, to where God is, seated on His throne. When you do, you'll find His gaze fixed on you; His face turns in your direction - every time. How can He do that? Answer: He is God. An old hymn says, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And, the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace." That is how believers can be thankful and how they "always" give thanks about "everything." Spirit-filled thanksgiving starts in heaven.