Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Thanksgiving is almost here. Alongside feasting with friends and family, this time of year moves us to take stock of our lives. We assess the good, the bad, and the ugly. We try to look for the silver lining. Usually, though not always, we can identify at least a handful of elements in our lives that inspire gratitude. Harmonious family dynamics, trustworthy companionship, good health, vocational fulfillment, and/or meaningful pursuits can each lead us to give thanks. Even when one of these life variables is missing or uncertain, we still attempt—even if for just one day—to look on the sunny side. We realize not all of our circumstances are ideal, but we strive to look for the more favorable circumstances whenever we can.
How different is the urging of the Apostle Paul to “give thanks in all circumstances”? All circumstances? Really? Surely we are not to give thanks for dysfunctional family dynamics, loneliness, sickness, vocational confusion, or an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, right? What could Paul possibly mean? To look on the bright side of things is one thing; to give thanks “in all circumstances” is another matter entirely. Was Paul simply out of touch with reality?
Take another look at what Paul said. He presses us to give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. Far from being out of touch, Paul came to know the full range of human circumstances during his lifetime: “For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to have scarcity, and I know what it is to have abundance” (Philippians 4:11b-12a). The secret? “I can do all this through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). For Paul, gratitude wasn’t merely an exercise in trying to see his cup as half full. Instead, Paul recognized that because Christ reigns victoriously as our Risen Savior we have an unshakable hope— “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure”
(Hebrews 6:19a). Jesus lives, and there is no putting Him back in the tomb. Because He lives and reigns, moreover, “we have strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.”
Whatever your life is like this Thanksgiving, hear the Spirit’s summons to rejoice, pray, and give thanks in all circumstances. In Christ Jesus we can receive the grace to be forgiven, the strength to endure, and a hope that transcends this life. So may God richly bless your time with family and friends this Thanksgiving, and may we all fulfill God’s will for us in Christ Jesus by giving thanks in all circumstances.