1 Thessalonians 5:18 – “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Thanksgiving often leads to conflicting feelings when someone asks, “So what are you thankful for?” Some may want to scream, I have nothing to be thankful for; my life is a mess. All I feel is pressure as I am falling behind in my school assignments; I am so angry at my boss for making unreasonable demands on me; I am upset since the government agency refuses to assist me and I do not know how to make a payment that is overdue; my boyfriend has just broken up with me, my children have no respect for me as they all do their own thing. Sometime life can be so hard and difficult that I don’t feel any joy.
Sure, I have a place to live and I don’t go hungry and I have some good friends. I am thankful for all that, but I am not sure how to handle all the other disappointments in my life. The reality is that we all have conflicting feelings on Thanksgiving, things about which we are happy and things that bring stress and trouble into our lives.
The apostle Paul experienced such conflicting feelings in his life. As a preacher of the gospel he brought good news, and yet he suffered great things for the gospel. He was mocked, arrested, and put in prison, he was stoned, and he was rejected by those he had considered his friends. He suffered many disappointments when people rejected his gospel message and he endured many personal hardships in his life. We might argue that Paul had every right to be bitter and complain about his circumstances, and yet his letters are filled with much joy, delight and thanksgiving. When Paul was confined to prison in Rome, we would expect him to complain about his stay in prison, but instead he writes that he rejoices, for he expects that this too will serve the Lord’s purpose.
It is not surprising then that Paul writes to the believers in Thessalonica, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” A thankful attitude, he says, does not depend on your circumstances, but it depends on where your heart is. Life can be difficult, one may endure physical or emotional pain; one may experience a terrible disappointment, and yet Paul says, give thanks in all circumstances. Our circumstances do not determine the thankful attitude in our heart. If our circumstances determine our attitude, then Thanksgiving Day will become a miserable experience. Paul exhorts, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for God has determined that everything in our life must serve for our salvation and for the glory of God (Romans 8:28).
Is it really possible to be thankful in all circumstances, when our own experiences suggest that our circumstances determine the way we feel? Paul knows that what he commands is only possible through the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of his people. The Spirit renews our heart so that we believe with our whole being that the Lord will also use this for my good, for the glory of his Name and for the advancement of his kingdom.
It does not take away the pain and disappointments we feel when we are faced with them and yet the Spirit works in us a new and glorious hope of salvation in Christ Jesus. Therefore Thanksgiving really is a day of thanksgiving for we know “that our present suffering are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)
Rev. Matthew VanLuik