September 2, 2020
Thank you for joining us in our burden to pray each Wednesday for our prodigals and for revival. We are thankful for what God has done and what He is doing. In a different, yet applicable context, the psalmist says, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever” (Ps.118:21).
She could barely get out of bed as the pain filled her body. Carefully her husband helped her get dressed for the day. She wasn’t going far, just to the main floor via her stairlift, then to her chair, and eventually to a foam mat on the floor. She wasn’t cooking, cleaning, walking, or going out today. Not today, not this week, probably not even the next. The days rolled into each other like an endless bad dream, but slowly, with lots of medication and gentle exercises the pain began to subside and life got back to relative normality. It was another flare-up that had just come out of nowhere. The back and neck problems are chronic and have been for almost thirty years, but this is the bend in the road that comes so randomly, unexpectedly, and confusingly. And then this verse, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thes. 5:18). What does it mean? Why is it there? How is it possible? Answers please!
Let’s consider first-century Thessalonica. To become a Christian at this time period and location meant coming face to face with one’s mortality. A high percentage of Christians met severe persecution and often early death by those who hated Christ and His followers. The means of persecution depended on whether the hatred was coming from the Jews, Greeks, or Romans, but regardless, one had to have an eternal, kingdom perspective to be thankful in these situations. The questions remain!
It’s important to look closely at the text and see what it says and doesn’t say. It says, “Be thankful in all circumstances.” It doesn’t say, “Be thankful for all circumstances.” We live in a sinful, broken world and there are many things happening today that are downright horrible. I just read a headline, “US Marshals find 39 missing children in Georgia during, ‘Operation Not Forgotten.’” There is something just wicked and so totally wrong in a world where 39 children can go missing. We are not commanded to thank God for the evil that happens around us or to us, and as long as we live in a broken world, we are going to come in contact with this brokenness. But what Paul is saying is that there is always something in every circumstance to be thankful for. In some cases, the only thing one can see to be thankful for is the presence of God with you. Maybe that’s where you are right now, if so, draw strength from the reality of His presence.
We can also be thankful for the lessons we learn from the circumstances of life. While going through a trial, we are not jumping up and down with joy, but often, afterward we understand that God allowed it for a purpose. It could be the building of our character, the deepening of our confidence in God, the strengthening of our endurance, or some way in which we can be better equipped to help other struggling believers. You can be thankful that God loves you intensely and is working in your life for your benefit, for others’ blessing, and for His own glory. Notice that our verse says, “For this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” God knows what He is doing, even though we often don’t. Best of all, we belong to Christ Jesus. It is not only cause for thanksgiving but celebration!
One of the main reasons for this exhortation to thankfulness is that we are prone to do the opposite. Here in North America, most of us enjoy abundance. We go to our closets and complain, “I have nothing to wear” while the closet is full of clothes. What we mean is that we can't see anything we feel like wearing. Similarly, we open the fridge that is jammed with good food and complain, “There is nothing to eat!” There is plenty to eat, but nothing there that appeals to us. Have you ever thought about how much we complain about the weather? It’s either too cold, too hot, too windy, too wet, or too cloudy, or too calm! While some are a little better than others, we are born complainers. Paul wants us to break that cycle of complaining and adopt an attitude of thanksgiving.
When we consider what God has done, what He is doing, and what He will surely do in us and for us, it is a great cause for thanksgiving. In fact, our thanksgiving flows from the cross. We live our lives out of the cross. It is our identity: the identity of gratitude. To the Corinthian believers, Paul said, “Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift” (2 Cor. 9:15). We will praise Him eternally for this!
Love in Christ,
Bryan and Rachel