Because Thanksgiving is just around the corner, I thought this would be a good time to sharpen our focus on living a life marked by thanksgiving to God, a life grounded in these words from the apostle Paul to the church at Thessalonica and all believers everywhere: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
On the surface, this seems far easier said (or written) than done. So, let’s go below the surface to see exactly what Paul is actually saying. There are two very important things to notice in this command from Paul. First, Paul was not commanding us to give thanks for everything that happens in our lives. To be sure, there are some really evil things that happen and we are not being told to give thanks for that. Remember, evil does not come from God so we are not to thank Him for it in anyway. Rather, we are commanded to give thanks in everything, because our God is present in all of it with us, and He is working all things together for our ultimate good. Second, notice that Paul was not commanding us to feel thankful in all circumstances; rather, we are to give thanks in all circumstances. Whether we feel like it or not, we are to give thanks in all circumstances, and that includes those times when the storm winds of life are blowing, and we don’t feel particularly happy, blessed or thankful.
When the sky is blue, the clouds are fleecy and the sun is brightly shinning, it is easy to give thanks and praise and glory to God. It takes little or no effort to be thankful when everything is going our way: our boss has given us a raise . . . we have passed our medical check-up with flying colors . . . there is money in the bank . . . and there is harmony in the home. Thanks just flows from our hearts to heaven when we are in these happy seasons. But what about those days when the sun disappears behind storm clouds and the waves of challenge crash over us? That’s when giving thanks is far more difficult. Heaven seems silent, God seems distant, and a heart filled with thanksgiving feels as far from us as the east is from the west.
Sacrifice of thanksgiving
Yet Paul does not give us any qualifications or stipulations in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 for giving thanks. He simply commands the child of God to give thanks, regardless of the circumstances we are facing in life. I think this command helps us understand the meaning of the “sacrifice of thanksgiving” the psalmist wrote about: “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving. The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me” (Psalm 50:14 ESV).
There are two things the psalmist could have been thinking about when he wrote these words. First, he might have been picturing the five types of sacrifices (or offerings) Israel was to offer to God. These all would have come under the heading of the “peace offering” offered to God for His deliverance from distress, disease and even death. The second idea, which I believe the inspired writer was primarily keeping in view here, was not an actual ceremonial sacrifice but a simple expression of thanksgiving to God as the “fruit of our lips” (Hosea 14:2). This is a public proclamation of praise and thanks to the Lord, and it is indeed a sacrifice when it is given in all circumstances – in plenty and in want, in health and in sickness, in good and in bad, in the delightful and in the difficult.
Keep Christ in view
But how do we do this? The only way to give thanks in all circumstances is to keep the sacrifice of our Savior in view. If we lose sight of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we begin to live more and more according to our own feelings, desires and expectations. At that level of living, praise and thanksgiving only flows from us when we are feeling good, achieving our desires and having our expectations met. But we are living as broken people in a broken world; more often than not, we feel badly when we have not achieved our desires and we find ourselves facing unmet expectations. This is why we must keep the sacrifice Jesus made for us in view.
The clearer our view of the cross work of Christ, the more we will live according to God’s perfect plan and purpose for our imperfect lives. Often life does not go according to our plans. Because God is God and knows what is best for us, He often causes us to walk down unplanned paths of painful providences. This is when giving thanks and praise to God becomes sacrificial. When we don’t feel thankful because of the trials that confront us, we must press all the more deeply into the presence of our Lord, where we will receive the strength to praise His mighty name. It is only when we are in close proximity to Jesus that we will be reminded that God is working all things together for our good and His glory.
Remember, when your circumstances are changing — even when they are changing for the worse — your God is unchanging. The epistle to the Hebrews puts it this way: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Jesus was for you. Jesus is for you. Jesus will be for you forever and ever. That knowledge alone should empower every child of God to be filled with thanksgiving and an attitude of gratitude, regardless of the ever-changing circumstances we face on this side of heaven.
Have a blessed Thanksgiving and remember to give thanks in all circumstances. Really!
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!
Dr. Tommy Boland is senior pastor of Cross Community Church in Deerfield Beach (www.thecrosscc.org). He blogs regularly at tommyboland.com.
For more articles by Dr. Tommy Boland, visit goodnewsfl.org/tommy-boland.