So, here we are – Thanksgiving Week. (Already??)
I don't know about you, but it seems this year has gone by awfully fast.
And as I approach the coming new year, I thought this might be a good time to reflect on the concept of thankfulness.
It's defined this way: Aware and appreciative of a benefit; grateful.
That's easy enough when something wonderful happens. But what about when it doesn't? What does it mean to be thankful when things go wrong?
I'm specifically thinking of this verse:
"Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NLT)
I really have a hard time with this verse. To be totally honest, thankfulness doesn't come naturally to me. Oh sure, I'm always quick to say thank you when someone does something nice for me. I'm pretty consistent saying grace before meals. And yes, I am grateful for my blessings.
But, am I grateful for my trials?
Um, not so much.
That's why this verse gives me trouble.
It's that one pesky word…ALL.
Be thankful in ALL circumstances?
I can think of many circumstances that try our patience, wound our hearts, challenge our understanding, and crush our spirits.
The death of a loved one.
A broken relationship.
Losing a job.
A prodigal child.
I do not feel thankful for these things – do you?
So why are we told to be thankful in all things? And if we are called to it, is it impossible to achieve?
I have this one thought as to why it might be important:
We are most attractive as Christians when we look different from the world.
And we never look more different from the world than when we have trials and we don't fall apart.
Yes, this is part of why we are called to be thankful – so that we might be set apart, separated from the world – in it, but not of it.
God wants us to look different. He wants us to reflect the Truth of what we believe.
The world is full of sin.
Sin brings disease, dysfunction, despair, defeat, and death.
Jesus came, died, rose again, and conquered these things.
Because of that, there is something better ahead.
Therefore, we have hope.
This is what the Lord wants us to live out in our lives. This is what He wants us to show to the world.
There is an answer to the suffering – Jesus – and because of Him, we can live above our circumstances.
And yes, for that I am very grateful.
Now, the second part of that verse is interesting to me:
"…for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus."
I actually read that two ways. Two interpretations that I think are both accurate in their intent, and in their meaning.
First of all, we are to give thanks for it is God's will for us to be thankful. And we can only be thankful when we place ourselves in proper position with our God.
Adopting a humbleness of spirit, recognizing our subordinate position as creatures beneath Him, our Creator. Intentionally submitting ourselves to His omnipotence and omniscience. Surrendering our will to His perfect purposes.
It is God's will for us to trust Him with our lives. To believe that He is perfectly good, even when life is not. To rely on His strength and power. To follow Him and not our feelings.
So, in ALL circumstances, He desires that we be thankful.
He wants us to look different from the world, to yield ourselves to His sovereignty, and to trust Him even when, perhaps especially when, we don't understand life.
Now, the second way that I read that part of the verse is this way:
We are to be thankful in all things because those very things themselves are the will of God.
Nothing happens outside of God's control. Nothing surprises Him nor catches Him off guard. Nothing arrives without His sanction on it.
It is ALL, even the bad stuff, His perfect will for us.
This is a tough concept to accept. How can a loving God willfully allow terrible things to happen?
It is the one obstacle to faith that seems to cause the most trouble – both for those who don't believe and for those of us who do.
Painful circumstances = A good God?
That math doesn't add up.
But here’s the promise that makes us able to not only accept this, but to embrace it:
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28, NLT)
Did you catch it? There's another ALL in there.
ALL things are working for a good purpose, a purpose pre-ordained by the goodness of God.
Therefore, we can be thankful.
Maybe not thankful for the circumstances, but thankful in them.
For, no matter what happens in our lives, no matter how dire the circumstances, or how deep the suffering, these things are not happening because of some indefinite and quixotic force of fate. We are not victims of an arbitrary destiny.
We are, instead and in truth, creatures destined for glory.
So, on this Thanksgiving as I reflect on this year of JOY, I am thinking about how I have learned what it means to be thankful and joyful in ALL circumstances.
It means that I change my perspective.
I take my focus off of feelings, and I fix my eyes on faith.
Let's combine those verses, and let's celebrate the Truth of what God is truly saying to us:
Be thankful in all circumstances, because you know that in all things I am working for your good. It is My will for you who belong to Christ Jesus to be thankful people. For you have been called according to My purpose. Therefore, believe that every circumstance that comes into your life is part of My plan for you because I love you. Trust Me.
OK, Lord, it's a deal.
So, I wish each and every one of you a wonderful Thanksgiving. May you remember to count your blessings. And may you remember that even the difficult circumstances in your life are a blessing, for they are allowed by Him.
For a reason.
For your good.
For a time.
Because He loves you.
Trust Him, not your feelings. Focus on hope, not on defeat. Love Him with all your heart, even when you're feeling disheartened.
For He is faithful.
Praise His name, we are forgiven. We have been freed from the futility and fatality of this life.
Circumstances do not define us, they just refine us.
And we are destined for glory.
I'm thankful for that – aren't you?!
Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends!
He will dwell on the heights,
His refuge will be the impregnable rock;
His bread will be given him,
His water will be sure.
"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you...if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name." (1 Peter 4:12-14, 16, NIV)
"In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:6-9, NIV)
"Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus."
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NLT)
"Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think." (Romans 12:2, NLT)
"Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again – rejoice!"
(Philippians 4:4, NLT)
"[For] we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."
(Romans 8:28, NASB)
"...my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, 'My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.' Remember my affliction and my wanderings...My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in him.'"
(Lamentations 3:17-24, ESV)
"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?...Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?" (Romans 8:31-32, 35, ESV)
"Yet amid all these things we are more than conquerors and gain a surpassing victory through Him Who loved us." (Romans 8:37, AMP)
"For I am persuaded beyond doubt (am sure) that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things impending and threatening nor things to come, nor powers, Nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39, AMP)
"This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it...You are my God, and I will praise you! You are my God, and I will exalt you! Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever."
(Psalm 118:24, 28-29, NLT)
How do you find a way to be thankful even in the midst of difficult circumstances?
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