May we have a moment of honesty and admit that the exhortation of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks,” is not a particularly easy word to hear. Giving thanks for the good things is easy, but not everything that comes into our lives is good. Hardship, difficulties, contrary or even evil people, and many other maladies are found lying on our doorstep, uninvited, but nevertheless, there. We cannot avoid these things. Peter told us to not think of our trials as strange, but rather to expect and anticipate them (1 Peter 4:12). Job taught us that our lives were brief and full of trouble (Job 14:1). Throughout the Scriptures, we find God’s choice servants confronted with all manner of difficulty, and yet, we are exhorted to give thanks in everything, in all of the different circumstances in which we find ourselves.
Our human reasoning would tell us this: bless the good and curse the bad. However, our human reasoning and impulse often (usually, even) run counter to God’s thinking and the plain teaching of Jesus and the disciples. James tells us that blessing and cursing should not come out of the same mouth (James 3:10). Jesus tells us to love our enemies, to do good to those that hate us, and to pray for those who abuse us (Matt 5:44). To be a Christian is to confront our human nature and to seek a higher plane for our thinking and our actions. Just because we feel it does not mean we should do it. Our words and actions should be sifted through the Word of God. Only by submitting to the Word can we come to the place where we consider the giving of thanks in all our circumstances.
I should point out here that the Word says, “In everything,” give thanks, not “For everything.” When we give thanks amid our difficulties, we are not thanking God for the pain, we are thanking God in spite of the pain. Christians are not masochists that seek pain to prove our piety, rather we endure the pain with a right spirit to glorify the work of God’s grace in us. Doing so does not come naturally, rather grumbling and complaining do. Self-pity and the desire for empathy come naturally, not thanksgiving. To align ourselves with God’s Word, we must first recognize our human tendencies, and then, be willing to confront them.
As we move into the holiday season, a most unfortunate pain point for many is brought to the surface and renewed afresh in our minds: family problems. It grieves me to even write this because it simply ought not be so, especially in Christian families, and yet it is. I know the pain firsthand. I have seen it in more families than I care to count. It is one of the most hurtful of pains because it comes from those we have loved and trusted the most. And yet it is there, sitting in awkward silence across the table from us at Thanksgiving dinner or maybe marked by an empty chair. It could possibly be bubbling just below a razor thin facade of tranquility and niceties waiting to explode if some trigger word is uttered. And yet, we are called to give thanks. Not superficial, lip-service thanks, but real, heart-felt thanks.
But how? It begins by recognizing that it is possible, through the power of the Spirit within us, to deny our human tendencies and to shift our focus from our problems to our blessings. It is possible to acknowledge issues without being in bondage to them. It is possible to rise above the ditch others live in to count our blessings while standing upon the Rock, our feet graciously plucked from the miry clay. If we have breath in our lungs, we have something for which to be thankful. If there is food on our table, meager as it might be, we can raise our eyes and hearts to heaven and give thanks. We may need to ask God to shine His light upon our circumstances to dispel the darkness and bring the good to our remembrance, but it is surely there.
Can you do this? Will you do this? Through the power of God that He has granted us through the gift of His Holy Spirit, it is possible. And if we will seek that power, if we will ask for it, we will find it. And the joy that comes with it will not fix all of the problems, it will not remove all the pain, but it will cause a song of thanksgiving to rise in our hearts and to flow out across our lips as we embrace Paul’s exhortation to give thanks….in everything, which is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus!