Words by Chad Hayes | Image by Ryan McGill
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 (ESV)
As Thanksgiving Day approaches, I think about the activities commonly associated with “Turkey Day.” What does your Thanksgiving include? Eating turkey, dressing, and all the trimmings? Watching football? Decorating for Christmas? Black Friday Shopping? Deer hunting? Giving thanks for God, who He is, and what He’s done?
I love Thanksgiving. To me, it is surpassed by only Christmas and Easter. I love the traditions, the food, and the time with my family. However, I am troubled by the thought that, as followers of Christ, many of us do not demonstrate or express gratitude daily. We allow stress, anxiety, worry, busyness, and impatience to drown out thankfulness toward our loving and generous Heavenly Father.
Why does this happen? Often, our nature as fallen people leads us to complain rather than give thanks.
This tendency is not new. In Exodus 14-17, we read the story of the Israelites. God uses Moses to lead them out of captivity, but every time they face a new challenge, they complain rather than give thanks to the Lord.
“Therefore, the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” – Exodus 17:2-3 ESV
Sadly, I sometimes sound like the Israelites, complaining about temporary inconveniences and challenges rather than giving God thanks for all His undeserved goodness.
In contrast, the Scriptures repeatedly instruct us to give thanks. “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” – Psalm 118:1 ESV.
In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul tells us to give thanks in all circumstances.
Wait, the Bible tells us to give thanks all the time? Yes, it does. But what about the tragic and trying times of life?
I, like you, have faced difficult circumstances in life. Some were out of my control, like the death of my parents a few years apart, while others have resulted from my own failures, like my divorce and leaving full-time ministry. Did I walk through those tragedies with gratitude? Not always. But the Lord, rich in mercy, love, kindness, and grace, helped me to endure them, refined me, and helped me to grow in my relationship with Him.
How can we give thanks all the time? Paul gives us two other commands in Thessalonians to help us. First, he says to rejoice always. What does it mean to rejoice? We should constantly celebrate who God is and what He’s done. In Philippians 4:4, he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (ESV)
If you know Jesus Christ, you can celebrate Him and His saving work in your life regardless of your current circumstances. You may think, “Sure, Chad, that is easy to say but hard to do at times.” You are correct. We cannot always rejoice in the Lord through our own strength. We need the power of Christ in us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. In my own strength, I would rather complain and whine like the Israelites than give God thanks and praise. That is why Paul tells us to pray continually.
Praying constantly does not mean we lock ourselves up and repeat prayer phrases. Continual prayer represents an attitude and mindfulness of God—His will and His work. Keeping the lines of communication open, so to speak. This is crucial to giving thanks all the time. If I am focused on God and communicating with Him, I will have a kingdom perspective regardless of my circumstances. Anger, pride, bitterness, discontentment, and frustration will not coexist with gratitude, praise, humility, and thankfulness.
I experience this truth in my own life. On the days I am more impatient, reactionary, and ungrateful, I have neglected prayer, worship, and time in the Word of God. Regularly rejoicing and praying will naturally lead to giving thanks consistently.
Notice Paul writes to give thanks in all circumstances, not for all of them.
No matter how dark our situations are, we can find reasons to thank God. Why? Because God is good and eternal, while our current circumstances are temporary. Consider 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly, we are renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (NIV)
We are not told to be thankful for every bad situation in our lives. We are instructed to give thanks to God in and through all circumstances because He is sovereign and victorious over a fallen, sinful, pain-filled world. Paul describes this contentment in Philippians 4:12-13, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” (NIV)
We can only be thankful all the time through the grace and strength of Christ.
I encourage you to make a list of whom and what you are thankful for. I am thankful for God’s salvation, grace, mercy, forgiveness, Word, presence, sovereignty, strength, guidance, protection, and more. I am also grateful for my family, my son and my time with him, my friends, church family, co-workers, health, home, food, transportation, job, customers, freedom, and much more.
I pray you have a blessed Thanksgiving holiday this year. I hope we all endeavor to make every day a giving thanks day!
Celebrate God always. Pray to God continually. Give thanks in all circumstances.
By His grace,