Giving Thanks in Every Circumstance
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
This Thanksgiving season I have been reflecting on what it means to truly give thanks. There are two questions that I keep asking: How is my thanksgiving different than the world’s, and how do I give thanks always?
Worldly Thanksgiving vs. Godly Thanksgiving
The majority of people who read this will be among the richest in the world. Most of you will have homes, multiple cars, heat, a fridge full of food, a table full of family, couches, beds, yards, dogs, clothes, friends, jobs, and the list goes on. These types of blessings don’t discriminate between Christians and non-Christians. The world is thankful for these things and so are Christians (though we all typically tend to complain and covet). The world looks at these things and gives thanks to their own hard work, talents, and discipline. Their thanks glorifies themselves. There should be something distinct however, about the way Christians give thanks.
In fact, Paul says that this is the will of God for us. If you re-read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 you should notice something. Paul doesn’t say rejoice, pray, and give thanks in all your stuff. No, he says give thanks in all your circumstances. Now, that’s interesting. Clearly Paul would tell us to be grateful for the material blessings God has given us. If you remember, Paul says “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:11-12). So, cleaerly Paul was able to give thanks in times of abundance. But Paul is also the one who says “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8). The author of Hebrews shares something similar, “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:32-34).
A Greater Possession
You see, God’s will for us in giving thanks is not that we thank God for giving us stuff, but that we thank God for the better possession, His Son. This is what sets apart the believer’s Thanksgiving from those of the world. First, we give thanks to God (not ourselves) for everything that we have. Secondly, we give thanks that God has given us Jesus, which is a far better possession than anything we could possibly own. Everything we own could be gone in a night: your health will indeed fade, your house could burn down, you could lose your job, your child could die, and your car could get wrecked.
Just like the rich fool who said to his soul “’Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God’” (Luke 12:19-21). If our thanksgiving is based on circumstances, then when our comfort, our homes, and our health all fade, so does our thanksgiving. This is the way the world works, but not Christians. God’s will is that in all circumstances we give thanks. We have a treasure, and inheritance, that is guaranteed and sealed (Ephesians 1:13-14). Even if we lose everything we own, the One who owns us will never lose us. This alone is worth giving thanks! As believers we know that our best life comes later, and that isn’t because heaven is full of the joy of stuff, but rather full of the joy of Christ (Psalm 16:11). May we say like Asaph “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25).
A Psalm for Every Circumstance
The second question I have been pondering is how do I practically rejoice, pray, and give thanks at all times? To find the answer we must turn to the Psalms. I love the Psalms. It is my favorite book in the Bible. Steven Lawson says, “there is no other book in the Bible that is as practically connected to daily Christian living as the Psalms”. John MacArthur says, “There is a Psalm for almost every kind of day”. John Calvin said, “The Psalms are an anatomy of all parts of the soul”. Now, think about these statements. What you find in the Psalms is that it truly captures every kind of situation and emotion. It deals with enemies, friends, anger, love, abundance, poverty, joy, loss, death, life, health, sickness, etc. In other words, to use Paul’s words, the Psalms cover just about every circumstance, and they give us a practical glimpse of what it means to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). The Psalms reveal that God, His Word, and His Son are greater treasures than anything in this world. In fact, the Psalms tell us over 35 times to give thanks. Every season and situation that can be revealed in the Psalms should point you to thanksgiving. So how do we do that?
Storing God’s Word in my Heart to Fuel Thanksgiving
Well, Psalm 1 tells us that the blessed man does three things: He abides, he delights, and he obeys. Verse 2 says he meditates on God’s law day and night and he does this because he delights in it. It is a joy-filled meditation. Therefore, he is blessed and obeys the law rather than participating in sin (verse 1). This is the key. How do we give thanks in all circumstances? We do this by joyfully meditating on God’s law day and night. In other words, a constant joyful meditation on God’s word will cause you to pray constantly, give thanks in every circumstance, and to rejoice.
Prepare Ahead of Time for Every Season
I was listening to the Stored in my Heart songs from Psalm 119 earlier this week with my wife. We listened to each one as we made breakfast and played with our daughter. As we were singing and dancing, our affections were greatly stirred. What an amazing morning we had singing God’s Word together as a family. I realized that not every one of these verses and songs relate to me right now. I don’t have hot indignation, insolent men aren’t smearing me with lies, and I have no great affliction. Rather, the songs that minister to me right now are remembering the name of God in the middle of the night and keeping His law, or how God has dealt well with me, or how I have hoped in His Word, or that the law of His mouth is better than gold and silver. It hit me though, that affliction will come, Insolent men will lie about me, and hot indignation will be stirred up within me. So, I need to prepare now. I need to abide, delight, and obey so that when it does, I have God’s Word stored up in my heart in order than I might not sin against Him. Rather than losing my joy, my thanksgiving, and my song, by God’s grace I will rejoice, pray, and give thanks in all circumstances. This is the key to fulfilling God’s will for us in Christ Jesus. Remember the greater treasure, and abide, delight, and obey.
Brother and sister, you can do this. Whatever season, whatever circumstance, store up His Word in your heart. “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him” (Psalm 28:7). God does not give the command without giving the grace and freedom to obey it. That is why after Paul writes the commands to rejoice, pray, and give thanks always, he says a few verses later “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).