Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Being Thankful in All Things

There's a verse in 1 Thessalonians that is often pulled out at this time of year:
give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
When circumstances are good, of course this instruction isn't difficult to follow. But when times are harder, as I expect they are for many this Thanksgiving season, I expect that it's not only hard to follow this word, but the advice can sound both unrealistic and trite. We all know the usual platitudes: "You should be thankful for life itself!" "Everything you have is a gift from God!" And these are true. But if a person doesn't think much of his/her life, or doesn't see anything good that he/she has, hearing platitudes like this can be more than a little offensive.

Sometimes it helps to remember that Paul himself didn't exactly have an easy life. Indeed, his physical well-being might well have been better had he never come to know Jesus Christ. By following Christ, Paul found himself subject to imprisonment, beatings, a shipwreck, and was almost certainly executed for his attempts to spread the gospel. But to say that a person who suffered in these ways told others to "give thanks in all circumstances" isn't necessarily to say that "if he could do it, anyone could." We could just as easily claim that Paul was insane!

Whether or not Paul was insane, or whether we should follow his advice in Scripture, is ultimately up to each individual believer to decide. For me, it helps to note that the words are not "give thanks for all circumstances," as if to emphasize the fact that God can use even a horrible situation to some ultimate good (I did find one translation that attempted such a rendering, but I think it's just plain wrong at this point. All 19 of the other translations I consulted are in general agreement). Even if I'm thankful for that ultimate good, I don't think I should be thankful for the horrible situation itself. Rather, Paul says "give thanks in all circumstances." Yes, times are hard. But we have ultimate hope. God cares about us, and promises to help us. God proved this by sending Jesus for us. Even if things are hard now, we can give thanks for that hope.

It definitely takes effort to give thanks in all circumstances. It can be hard to remember the evidences of God's love and care for us. But that's also why this holiday exists. It's not really there so that we can spend time visiting with family and eating turkey, as good as those things can be. The Thanksgiving holiday exists because there are times when we need to be reminded that we still have things to be thankful for, even if times are rough. I pray that we will have eyes to see those good things, that we will have hope in what God will continue to do for us, and can find ways to give thanks for it all.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading this. You are so right. I think that as Christians or believers, we forget to be "thankful in all things" because we fail to understand that no matter where we are in this life or what we are experiencing, itis ultimately for our good and for our training in His kingdom.

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