“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Seriously, does God really expect me to give thanks in all circumstances? This is a fair question and deserves an answer. Rarely can we find a Christ-follower who consistently lives by giving thanks in all things. In our Western culture, we often consider a thankful person to be one who is polite and consistently offers handwritten thank you notes (for the good things). A really thankful person (or one who is slightly OCD) will respond with a thank you note for the thank you note!
The biblical view of “thanksgiving” is completely foreign to many of us. God included many passages and stories in the Bible that encourage us, invite us, and even command us to be continually giving thanks to God.
“Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.” (Psalm 30:11–12)
“Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, I will exalt thee. O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” (Psalm 118:28–29)
“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” (Philippians 4:6)
But when things do not go as planned, when the healing does not come, when relationships are not mended, counseling someone to give thanks in these painful circumstances can seem insensitive and even cruel.
Why would God ask us to do this? How can I bring myself to be thankful in pain?
God’s Word has an answer for us.
Why would God ask us to do this?
The biblical idea of thanksgiving in the original Hebrew and Greek languages is rooted in words like bless, praise, to give glory, and to kneel. These expressions in the OT are seen in the Thank-offerings, the expressions of praise in the Psalms, and in the amazing confession of Job when he had lost everything, “…the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21)
The biblical idea of giving thanks is submission to God’s will and trust in His character rather than being satisfied with our circumstances.
Many of us are accustomed to getting exactly what we want, exactly when we want it. Our expectations are so high that we aren’t even truly thankful for the good things, much less in all circumstances. Our sinful nature has led to a sense of entitlement and discontentment that steals what God is wanting to do in our hearts and leads to many other sins. In Romans 1, ungratefulness is a key ingredient in the path to spiritual blindness, idolatry, and reprobation.
“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Romans 1:21)
Mankind is the only creature who does not praise God at all times. The animals and nature instinctively bring glory to the Creator (Psalm 19:1, Matthew 6). In heaven, at this very moment, eruptions of praise and thanksgiving from heavenly beings surround the throne of God and, one day, that will be our experience as the redeemed forever (Rev. 5:9-13). Sue Lutz rightly states: “Being thankful allows us to be a part of what’s going on in heaven even before we get there.”
So, since this is God’s will for us now, how can we begin to consistently thank God in every circumstance, even in pain?
1. Stop resisting God’s Process.
“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:”
(1 Peter 4:12)
The “fiery trial” is literally the refiner’s fire. These are the calamities and trials that test our character. These multi-faceted trials are what James, Paul, and Peter are referring to in their letters. They constantly remind us that suffering is part of the process that burns away the attitudes and actions that are not like Christ. Submitting to God’s process of sanctification is the first step and it will include difficult, painful, sometimes unthinkable circumstances.
2. Obey God’s commands regardless of how you feel.
Remember, that biblical thanksgiving has less to do with feeling grateful and more to do with choosing to bless the Lord and praise Him in all circumstances for who He is. God knows that it is not natural for our sin-tainted heart to be thankful so that is why He commands us to praise Him, bless Him, and trust Him.
The command “in everything give thanks” is actually part of a group of three commands in 1 Thess. 5.
“Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:16–18)
In the original Greek there were commas that grouped these three specific commands together making “this” refer to all three as being “the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Paul penned these words while in prison to remind us that it is God’s will that we rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in every circumstance.
Rejoicing in Christ, continual communion with Christ through prayer, and giving thanks always in every circumstance in Christ will lead to unshakeable hope in Christ.
This would be impossible for us to do apart from being “in Christ Jesus.” Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can change an unthankful heart to one of constant gratitude. Gratitude actually produces hope in our hearts during times of suffering. Paul highlighted this earlier in his letter to the Thessalonians:
“Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;” (1 Thessalonians 1:3)
3. Gather with other believers in order to deepen your gratitude through worship and mutual praise.
Choosing to be thankful in Christ opens the door to intimate communion with our powerful and loving Heavenly Father regardless of the evil and suffering all around us. However, being thankful does not mean living in denial, suppressing our feelings, or ignoring reality. It means that we bring all those things to a God who has promised to redeem us and who loves us beyond all comprehension and displayed that to us by sending his Son to be our Savior. Corporate worship will open our eyes to that reality as we see God’s grace sustaining our brothers and sisters in Christ in situations that are more dire than our own.
“Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name.” (Psalm 100:4)
So, brothers and sisters, there is a way to offer thanks to our God, even during seasons of pain. If there is division in your church or your family, or if you are suffering, or if someone will be missing from your table during the holidays this year, or even if you will be all alone, bring your sorrows to the Lord. You will find comfort, peace, and hope in Christ Jesus. The power of the gospel will enable you to bless the Lord with a thankful heart.
“By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” (Hebrews 13:15)