“Be joyful always;
give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5, 16-18
The author of these words, Paul, was not given to asking other believers to do things he had not done himself, so we must assume that he practiced joyful, prayerful thanksgiving – in all circumstances. This included experiences of shipwreck, stoning, imprisonment and beating, unfair trials, slander, and exhausting journeys. He does not say give thanks “for” all circumstances, although he might well have done, since elsewhere he writes of how “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8 v 28). It is a staggering thing to say to someone, especially those to whom he is writing in this letter, a tiny, new, and beleaguered church. We feel ourselves protesting, ” but how unreasonable can you be Paul?!”
And yet, and yet… perhaps the key is in the final few words, where Paul reminds us that we are “in Christ Jesus”. When I begin to consider who I am “in Christ”, I find a new perspective on the realities of life. No matter what is troubling my peace, or destroying my plans, I am absolutely secure in my place as a beloved daughter of the King of Kings. No matter what other people say about my status and achievements (or the lack of them), or about the ways in which I may have failed them, I am able to hold my head high because I matter enough to be died for.
So, if God is working in all things for my good, and it is His will that I practice giving thanks in all circumstances, then that must be the best way for me to approach all of life – the way in which God will transform me more and more into the likeness of my Saviour, His son. This business of giving thanks, is one of the key ways in which I can co-operate with this process of transformation.
There are many who do not claim to be believers who testify to the power of gratitude in their lives, although I struggle to know to whom they express their thanks. For me, as a believer, one of my greatest joys is knowing the One to whom I express my appreciation, and my pleasure in the gifts so freely given.
I have been greatly helped in understanding this by the writer Ann Voskamp, in her book ‘One thousand gifts, a dare to live fully right where you are‘,(Zondervan, 2010), which I thoroughly recommend. I can testify to the power of thanksgiving, to taking note of the ways in which every day I receive God’s love for me personally. It is often the beauty of the natural world that catches my breath, or a piece of music, what is it for you? Perhaps seeing a parent loving and laughing with a child, or the genuine bond between friends sharing time together.
Whatever it is, I hope that in the week ahead, you find yourself often giving thanks, for in so doing, you will be prayerfully expressing joy in God’s presence, and fulfilling God’s good purpose for you!