This time of year everyone focuses on things they’re thankful for. We post our thoughts on Facebook of what we’re thankful for. Our kids make crafts at school and proudly display what they’re thankful for. Maybe your Thanksgiving gathering will include a time for each person to express the favorite things they’re thankful for.
It’s usually pretty predictable what we’re truly thankful for: God, Jesus, our family, our friends, good health, employment, and of course all the food we will stuff ourselves with on Thanksgiving Day.
These are all wonderful gifts to be thankful for. I would be the first one to speak up that I am thankful for everything I just mentioned.
But what about those things we really are NOT thankful for? What about the things nobody would dare to mention on their top 10 things I’m thankful for list? What about those things that hurt deep inside us that we just couldn’t possibly imagine being thankful for?
*Your doctor grimly explains to you that you have cancer.
*Your boss informs you that you are no longer employed.
*Your check book balance is lower than the total amount of your bills.
*Your marriage is hanging by a thread and you are ready to call it quits.
*Your child does something that leaves you heart-broken and your stomach in knots.
*Your loved one is not here with you on this earth any longer.
*The sin that so easily entangles you continues to drag you down.
*Someone you thought was your friend has betrayed you.
*Your aging parents are needing you more than ever but it’s causing major stress.
*As a momma of young children you’re overwhelmed, spiraling into despair and depression.
Seriously….are any of these things on your top 10 list? Are any of these things gushing out of your mouth when it’s your turn to declare what you’re thankful for? I didn’t see any of these things on anyone’s Facebook status in the last 30 days. I’m pretty certain that nobody’s child came home with any of these things plastered on their Thanksgiving craft from school. Nope.
Why in the world should anyone be thankful for anything like this? Why would we even consider it?
In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 we read the following words from the apostle Paul: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Really, Paul? What were you thinking when you wrote those words? You’ve got to be kidding me! Who is he to tell us the conditions under which we should be thankful?
He was beaten and stoned multiple times. He was shipwrecked multiple times. He went without sleep and food. He was imprisoned. He even spent an entire day and night in the open sea.
Yet he could still pen those powerful words in his letter to believers.
I’ve read and re-read that verse countless times, it still says the same thing. Give thanks in ALL circumstances. It doesn’t say give thanks only when things are going your way. It doesn’t say give thanks only when your marriage is thriving, your kids are well-behaved, your bank account is full, your health is stellar and nobody is saying anything offensive to you. (It would be MUCH easier to give thanks if everything were perfect in our worlds!)
So what is the secret of expressing thankfulness in our worst circumstances? How can we really do this?
Here are two things I’ve gathered from this challenging command:
1. The verse does not say to be thankful for these things, but to be thankful IN them. What’s the difference? It’s just one little word. To be thankful IN something is to trust that God is still good no matter what. It’s not a feeling, but an attitude of surrender. It means that although my heart may be full of hurt, my spirit is still full of hope. I don’t deny the pain I’m feeling, but I take it to the foot of the cross and thank God that He is still in control.
2. If you back up to verse 17, just one phrase before this command, you’ll see something that a lot of people skip over. I missed this for years! Here it is: Verse 17 says to pray continually. I used to think this verse was only meant for monks and nuns who lived in isolation from the world and could be on their knees in a continual state of prayer. But it’s meant for all believers! For me. For you. When I am in a continual conversation with Jesus throughout my day, talking to him about everything and being aware of his presence moment-by-moment, then my heart can focus on him in every situation….the good and the bad.
I can focus on Him when I feel hope, but also when I hurt.
I can focus on Him for the victories throughout the day, but also when I blow it and can receive his grace over and over again.
I can thank Him for the blessings, but also for the challenges that drive me crazy at times.
This is not an easy thing to do! It is truly a process. A process that builds character in us. A process that brings us to our knees….bringing us closer to the heart of God.
I want to encourage you to truly search your heart and not only express the blessings you are thankful for, but to offer up a sacrifice of praise for those things you wish to be thankful in, and see what God will do. His love is overwhelming. His grace is powerful. His mercy is never-ending.
Blessings to you!