I found myself in an interesting spot a few months ago. I was tasked with explaining the meaning of the following verse to a group of children at our church:
“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I Thessalonians 5:18
It seemed simple enough, but I felt my initial explanation didn’t adequately express the profound insight in this short Biblical command. I was determined to study this passage further and come back with more clarification the next week. I carved out some time early one morning to do my study and jumped in with both feet…word study, cross-references, multiple translations, prayer, and commentaries. After about two hours, I came to the realization that the purpose of this in-depth study wasn’t really to provide a better explanation of 1st Thessalonians 5:18 for the children (although it did eventually serve that purpose!). God, in His infinite wisdom and grace, had intentionally led me down this path of study to reveal a greater need for thankfulness in MY heart and a clearer perspective of His sovereignty!
Every element of scripture is God-breathed and useful for showing us truth, for exposing our rebellion, for correcting wrong thinking and mistakes, and for training us to live God’s way instead of our own. Fourteen words in that short verse hit me with the full force of conviction that only God’s Word, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, can yield…Am I living a life of thankfulness? Do I give thanks in every circumstance? How am I expressing thankfulness in everything? And “this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” is not a suggestion; HIS will should be OUR will! Even a Greek word study did not get me off the hook; “thanks” means thanks, and “everything” means everything!
Thankfulness is a common theme in scripture, with the understanding that from God all blessings flow, and to Him is due all of our praise and thanks.
Psalm 95:1-3 “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.”
Psalm 136:1 “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”
Colossians 2: 6-7 “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
1 Timothy 1:12 “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord…”
Hebrews 12:28-29 “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
It feels natural, as a believer, to be eternally grateful for Christ’s death on our behalf, to be thankful for our adoption as heirs into His kingdom, and thankful for His grace and mercy, when in our sin we truly deserved punishment and death. What doesn’t feel natural, however, is to give thanks in the midst of circumstances that are frustrating, painful, or difficult to endure: stressful jobs, marital difficulties, debilitating illnesses, dwindling bank accounts, wayward children, broken relationships. Are we to thank God for these? (Note that the verse does not say “For everything give thanks”; it says “In everything give thanks”.) The tendency of my old nature is to complain (to the Lord and anyone else who will listen), become discouraged, or even rail against the situations of life that are uncomfortable or distressing. Yet I know in my heart that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
What if God is calling us to a life of authentic, continual thankfulness that can only be achieved as He walks alongside us in our trials? Gratitude and trust are cultivated as we look in the rear view mirror of our lives and see, in hindsight, how God has worked in and through each situation that was once daunting to us! Consider this encouragement from Ruth Myers:
Keep your eyes on the wonder of God’s long-range plan. Don’t get bogged down, whether in your own trials, or in the corruption and disappointments and disasters you perceive in your nation and culture, or in the instability of world events — as though such things were the whole picture. Take your cue from the Scriptures:
“The Lord is exalted, for He dwells on high… and He will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.” (ISAIAH 55:5-6)
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not
for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (JEREMIAH 29:11)
“Keep your eyes on the wonder of God’s long-range plan.” Grateful believers are not “bogged down” by the circumstances of life. This doesn’t mean they don’t experience sorrow, pain, disappointment, or heartache. (The Bible doesn’t pretend that there is no suffering in our lives…Ecclesiastes 3:2-8 “a time to mourn, a time to weep, a time to give up as lost…”) But their primary focus, their unchanging source of joy is Jesus! He is the reason they can authentically give thanks in everything! He is faithful. He is trustworthy. He is sovereign.
Paul, the author of 1st Thessalonians 5:18, endured significant trials…beatings, stoning, imprisonment, rejection, slander, shipwreck, hunger and thirst. Yet from a prison cell, Paul wrote these words to the Philippians: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
I think we need to guard our hearts and minds in Christ, just as Paul instructed. I know I need to do this more diligently!! Our distracted minds and fickle feelings are constantly pulling us away from the peace of God and toward dissatisfaction and thanklessness. This is a dangerous pattern, because thanklessness is a trait of unbelievers!
2 Timothy 3:1-5 “In the last days, difficult times will come. Men will be…ungrateful, unholy, and unloving…”
Romans 1:21 “For even though they knew God they did not honor Him as God or give thanks…”
Perhaps we need to rethink the definition of thankfulness to reflect our ultimate, unchanging source of joy…..Jesus! With Him as the focus of our lives and our eternal hope, we can truly give thanks in everything in spite of our circumstances! One of my heroes of the faith, Charles Spurgeon, voiced this truth so beautifully, and I pray you are encouraged by it.
“Here is a standing reason for thanksgiving. Although we may not always be healthy, nor always prosperous, yet God is always good, and, therefore, there is always a sufficient argument for giving thanks unto Jehovah. That he is a good God essentially, that he cannot be otherwise than good, should be a fountain out of which the richest praises should perpetually flow.”