1 Thessalonians 5:18
18 Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
The Thanksgiving season is quickly upon us, at least when we speak of the holiday with turkey and all the trimmings. Yet, for followers of Jesus, giving thanks is never out of season. As Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we are to give thanks (that is to God) in all circumstances.
I will be the first to admit that this is not a natural inclination, which is part of the reason why Paul said it again in Ephesians 5:20: “…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We tend to want to grumble about things we don’t like and sulk when we don’t get our way. Yet the command still remains: give thanks in all circumstances.
When it comes to understanding and applying this command, we have to understand that all circumstances means all circumstances and always and for everything means always and for everything. When things are going well, it is easier for us to give thanks, but giving thanks to God is something we must do even when our day is just so-so or when we feel like everything is just going wrong or when we feel like nothing could get worse. How is this so?
First, God’s grace is enough. It is by grace we have been saved through faith, Paul says in Ephesians 2:8, and when Paul faced weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities, and a “thorn in his flesh”—whatever he meant by that—he still wrote of his hope in the promise of God, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). In saving us and sustaining us by his grace, God has given goodness to us when we deserved his wrath due our sin. If that is all we had, it is sufficient reason to be eternally grateful each and every moment of each and every day. Far too often when we are thankless, bitter, or grumpy, it is because we have taken our eyes off of Jesus.
Second, God will turn all things to the good of his people. Romans 8:28 reminds us that God works all things for good for those who love God—and ultimately that good is to be glorified as he conforms us to the image of Jesus (8:29-30). So whatever is the good, bad, and ugly that we face each day, God will use it for the good of transforming us and other followers of Jesus around us. Which goes with…
Third, God uses trials to build our faith in him. James 1:2-4 talks about how we are to face various trials with joy, because such testing of our faith brings about our perfection and completion as God’s people. At the very core of this, God uses such trials to deepen our dependence upon him, his word, and his grace. I saw this in a friend of mine who called recently and told me some of the trials his family is facing, to which he said, “All I’ve been able to do is really depend on God and I’ve felt a spiritual wind at my back and a strength I know doesn’t come from me.”
Finally, giving thanks helps us to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit within us. I mentioned Ephesians 5:20 above; in its context Paul tells us to give thanks always as part of what it means to be “filled with the Spirit” (5:18). Though the Spirit always dwells within followers of Jesus, there are times we can grieve him (4:30) and be less in tune with his work, power, and presence in our lives. Giving thanks always helps to keep our minds and hearts focused on Christ and not our sins and temptations, and thus is a way to walk continuously in the power of the Spirit.