Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. [1 Thessalonians 5: 18 (NLT)]
With his words, the Apostle Paul doesn’t give us any exceptions—we are to give thanks in all circumstance (rather than some or most and certainly not just in the ones we like)! Right now, however, I’m not feeling particularly thankful. In the span of a week’s time, two dear friends died—men that were like brothers to us. Distance and COVID meant that we couldn’t even grieve in person with their families. As I sit here tearfully, I realize that in the past eighteen months a dozen people who were important parts of our lives are no longer with us. Grief weighs heavy on my heart. When I consider my prayer list and the people on it who are struggling with the devastating aftereffects of a stroke or suffering from cancer, Parkinson’s, chronic pain, dementia, and heart failure, I realize that number will soon grow. I want to stomp my feet and shout at God that it’s not fair and ask Him how He expects me to give thanks!
As a Christian, I know I should be in a permanent state of thanksgiving for God’s grace in my salvation and I am thankful for that. It’s things like the suffering and loss in life that pose the problem for me. I should be reassured by the words of Romans 8:28 that, “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” In theory, I know that even in the worst of circumstances, God can take a bad thing and make it work for a good purpose. I know He is in full control of all of life’s happenings and that He can put all of those horrible events together to achieve a beautiful God-designed purpose. Nevertheless, that knowledge is of little comfort to those who mourn. Finding comfort in Paul’s words is a great deal harder than repeating them.
That David could say he was “worn out from sobbing” and his vision was “blurred from grief,” [Psalm 6:7-6] tells me that neither grief nor calling out to God in sorrow means a loss of faith; sorrow is an unavoidable part of life. One thing that frequently keeps us from giving thanks in our grief is that pesky question of “why?” I’ve written enough about Job to know that I have no business asking why and that I’ll never know the answer. Yet, even knowing God’s reasons wouldn’t take away the sense of loss or make the grief disappear.
Where do we find the ability to give thanks? Perhaps by looking more closely at the Apostle’s words. Paul tells us to be thankful in everything not for everything. While there’s a fine line between the two, we don’t have to be thankful for things like heart attacks, strokes, car accidents, COVID, or cancer but we do need to have a grateful heart in the midst of those afflictions.
Giving thanks in all circumstances requires a change of heart. Without that change, we might stop crying, start smiling, and even laugh at times but something sour will begin growing in our hearts—bitterness, anger, resentment, or self-pity. Giving thanks is the only way out of the pit of grief; yet it seems impossible until I remember the simple truth that God is good. Regardless of the circumstances, He remains the same loving, wise, and good God that He always has been.
Pauls’ admonition to give thanks in all circumstances follows two other directives—to rejoice always and to pray continually. In prayer, I asked the Spirit for guidance, strength and peace and then listed the names of those for whom I mourn. Thinking of each one by name, I rejoiced in the privilege of having those beautiful people in my life—to have talked, worked, agreed, and disagreed with them—to have touched and been touched by them—to have both taught and learned from them—to have shared good times and bad, gain and loss, secrets, sorrow, and laughter with them—to have loved and been loved by them. As I thanked God for the blessing of bringing each and every one them into my life, I found that I am, indeed, thankful in even this circumstance!