I have found it difficult to understand verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:15-18 which says:
"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances:
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
In all circumstances? How is that possible when our hearts are burdened with pain so deep, it is hard to express? What if we are struggling with a chronic illness. cancer or mental illness? What about when we are grieving a loss, whether through death or divorce, the loss of a job or the loss of our health or the health of someone we love? How is it God's will that we give thanks?
Giving thanks in the valleys of our lives is only possible when we remember God’s faithful promise to never leave us alone. That we remember we can trust him with the plans he has for us. We can trust that he is always with us, whether in the dark valley or the bright lit mountain tops. We can trust he is with us even when we are angry against him or we find ourselves doubting him. I pray that this week you will experience God’s presence with you whether you’re in places of light or places of darkness.
We can "give thanks in all circumstances" only when we look to Jesus and the example he gave us. When we remember Jesus in the Garden of Gesthemane, in front of Pilate and the crowds yelling louder and louder "Crucify Him! Crucify Him." Betrayed and alone, remember his stumbling walk up to the hill called Golgatha, with Simon being conscripted by the Romans to carry Jesus cross. Remeber the pain and suffering he experienced on the cross. Watch people's reactions. "It is finished" he cried as darkness came over them like a heavy weight. It is that Jesus we "fix our eyes on"
But don't stop there, remember the empty tomb proclaiming his resurrection and his defeat of death. The joy that brought his disciples and can bring to us. As we remeber all that Jesus endured for us, then even as we are walking through deep valleys of grief and pain or we are walking up the hill where God's light shines on us, we can only respond with gratefulness and thanksgiving.
We see the example Jesus gave us in Hebrews 12:2 (The Living Bible) :
"Keep your eyes on Jesus, our leader and instructor. He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterwards; and now he sits in the place of honor by the throne of God."
When we keep our focus on Jesus, that gratitude can be found in the darkest of places. While we don't give thanks for the situation we are in, we can give thanks to God for his presence with us.
I would like to share with you 4 Spiritual Exercises I found in the book “Spiritual Disciplines Handbook” that I believe may help us with "giving thanks in all circumstances." I invite you this week to pick option 1 or 2 and practice that for a week. Another way to let thanksgiving be a normal part of in our personal and communal lives is by doing options 3 and/or 4.
1. Begin a gratitude journal by keeping a record of the “abundances” God has given you.
Next to each abundance write what it means to you to have a God who interacts and intervenes in your life. * Notice what you have been given that you did not deserve. What do you want to say to God about these things?
2. End every day by saying thank you to God for at least one thing. Then tell God what that one thing meant to you.
3. Get a current hardship firmly in mind. How do you feel about this hardship? Tell the truth to God. * Where is there evidence of God’s presence in this hardship? Is there anything you can be thankful for? * If you cannot find God in your hardship, spend some time in the Garden of Gethsemane. What does he want to tell you?
4. What sorts of things tend to encourage you in thankfulness? Praise songs?
Worship? Time spent with friends? Giving and receiving presents? Plan ways of incorporating the things that encourage thankfulness into your life on a regular basis.
May God be with you as you think about giving thanks no matter what you are going through.