In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:18
For many around the world, this is the week of the Thanksgiving holiday, during which there is an increased focus on thankfulness. As I considered what I wanted to say in this article, I found myself hitting a bit of a wall. “Yes, Lord,” I thought, “But what about saying something about how hard things are this year? Is there a way I could creatively talk about thanksgiving that might make people feel better? What about those of us who just aren’t feeling that thankful this year?” I started considering Scripture passages about thankfulness, and I was struck by this commonly known (but no less beautiful) verse in 1 Thessalonians. And then a bit of tough love hit me. The verse does not say, “In everything give thanks….but, when there has been almost a year of COVID, division, anxiety, depression, and other things, then you don’t have to be as thankful. Also, if you don’t feel thankful, you can skip it altogether.” No, it simply says “in everything give thanks” (emphasis mine). It even goes on to say that this is God’s will for us! However you slice it, there is no easy way of getting around this verse – we are meant to give thanks to the Lord regardless of what our circumstances may be.
I think there are two essential things to take away from this verse:
- The verse says “in everything give thanks,” not “for everything give thanks.” I do think it is important to acknowledge that many of us are facing less than pleasant circumstances this year, and Scripture is by no means commanding us to give thanks for the broken situations we are in, often caused by our own sin or the sin of others. It is also not asking us to pretend that we do not have some negative emotions about these situations. It is asking us, however, to thank the Lord for the way that He is using these circumstances in our lives. We can ask the Lord to change our circumstances and openly bring Him all our emotions about them, but we can still give thanks for who God is and how He is working.
- We do not have to feel thankful in order to practice thankfulness. It is a frequent struggle for us that our feelings do not always align with what we know to be true. Thank the Lord anyway, and your feelings will fall in line later. If we waited to practice thankfulness until we felt like it, we would either never do it or only do it superficially. The Lord wants to grow us into thankful people – people who are consistently thankful in good times and bad.
The beautiful thing in all of this is that the Lord never changes. Though our world is constantly reeling from change and inconsistency, the Lord remains faithful through it all. So, during this season of Thanksgiving, cling to the Lord’s faithfulness and look for the ways He has blessed you this year. They might be small, but I guarantee you they are there. Praise the Lord for His unfailing love, delight in the relationships with others around you, and allow His Spirit to cultivate in your heart a pattern of thankfulness in all things.