By Lynette Kittle, Crosswalk.com
Is it really possible to, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” as 1 Thessalonians 5:18 encourages?
1 Thessalonians 5:18 Popular Translations
"Give thanks in every situation because this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." - Common English Bible
"In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you-ward." - American Standard Version
"Be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus." - Good News Translation
"Whatever happens, give thanks, because it is God's will in Christ Jesus that you do this." - God's Word Translation
"Thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live." - The Message Bible
It seems like God is asking too much of us, especially during times of great disappointments, tremendous losses, or unbearable heartaches. It’s hard for us to comprehend how we are supposed to give thanks during these types of difficulties and challenges.
The Meaning of Paul's Exhortation in This Verse
We should be thankful in every condition, even in adversity as well as prosperity. It is never so bad with us but it might be worse. If we have ever so much occasion to make our humble complaints to God, we never can have any reason to complain of God, and have always much reason to praise and give thanks: the apostle says, This is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us, that we give thanks, seeing God is reconciled to us in Christ Jesus; in him, through him, and for his sake, he allows us to rejoice evermore, and appoints us in every thing to give thanks. It is pleasing to God. [Matthew Henry Commentary]
Give Thanks "in everything" vs. "for everything"
The misunderstanding comes in thinking we’re supposed to give thanks “for” everything when God is leading us to give thanks “in” everything.
It’s a concept some of us struggle with and resist, thinking God is telling us to be thankful “for” the difficulties. This makes us miss what He is really leading us to do, which is to be thankful despite the problems, to not let disappointments, failures, losses, and hurts keep us from being thankful to Him.
During tumultuous times, God asks us to focus on Him and His faithfulness to us, rather than on our circumstances; to dwell on His promise to never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and to trust Him to help us in every situation we face in life.
How do we begin to give thanks in everything?
Start Practicing Thankfulness In Prayer
What does it mean to keep alert? Alertness develops through recognizing situations where ungratefulness can creep into our thoughts and words without our realizing it, even seeping into our prayers.
Thankfulness in everything comes through practicing being thankful to God for His presence, peace, faithfulness, comfort, and more when facing challenges, rather than letting the difficulties be the focus of our thoughts, words, and prayers.
As Colossians 3:17 reminds, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Be Thankful In the Small Stuff
Being thankful in everything starts with the small stuff of life, where we can be watchful for the everyday type of issues that trigger ungrateful attitudes, like losing a parking space, or being caught in road construction or a traffic jam, or having a household appliance break down—all little things that can throw our attitudes off course.
Because Psalm 100:4 encourages us to enter His gates with thanksgiving, we can choose to start each day by giving thanks to God in our everyday circumstances.
Recently our family experienced a broken washing machine. Recognizing the potential stress and inconvenience associated with unwashed clothes, and how it could affect our attitudes in a negative way, we kept attentive to the risk.
As we considered whether it could be fixed or needed replacing, instead of focusing on what we didn’t have at the moment, we thanked God for all the years we’ve had one that works.
Through the experience, we gained a renewed appreciation for having a washing machine. With our new one, we give thanks to God on a daily basis for being able to run a load of laundry.
Give Thanks In the Storms of Life
Like so many in recent years, our family has experienced natural disasters and life-and-death type situations where our willingness to be thankful in everything has been tested. Following 1 Thessalonians 5:18 can seem impossible to accomplish during traumatic times, especially in difficult circumstances and times of great losses.
Years ago, our family of six was hit by, “The No Name Storm of the Century,” a storm that brought devastating destruction to Florida’s West Coast. Taking the Gulf Coast by surprise, it came with tornados, hurricane force winds, and 14-16-foot waves that ripped off our storm shutters, busted out windows, and swept our possessions out to sea.
After 12 hours of facing its fury, we were evacuated, and had to rely on friends for housing until we were able to move into an 800-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bath apartment for the next nine months.
Searching afterward through storm debris to find treasured items washed away in the storm, helped to fine-tune our perspective in life. Our thoughts started turning more to storing up treasures in Heaven, after seeing how quickly they can be lost on earth (Matthew 6:20).
Instead of letting all we lost consume our thoughts and words, we concentrated on being thankful to God for all He has given to us, receiving the benefits of “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).
Making an effort to be thankful in everything led us to see God’s faithfulness in preserving our lives and helped us gain an understanding of how stuff isn’t really all that important in life.
Keep Thankful In Times of Financial Stress
Another situation that seemed devastating to our family when it occurred was when my husband’s senior pastor position abruptly ended. It came on the heels of our going through a life-and-death medical crisis resulting in over 50,000 dollars of unpaid medical bills.
Losing this income was a huge and unexpected loss that brought so much uncertainty at a time when we were trying to recover from the medical emergency.
With our four young daughters watching our responses, we looked for ways to live out thankfulness to God in everything, in a manner where they could participate and understand too.
As a response, my daughters and I baked a “thankfulness” cake to celebrate God’s faithfulness to us. With frosting, candles, and singing, we praised and thanked God for His faithfulness to us.
Focusing on thankfulness instead of worry helped us to put into practice, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Cultivate Thankfulness In Our Outlook
In looking back, our simple cake baking made a lasting impression in our family’s outlook and helped set the tone for how we faced the job loss crisis. Approaching everything with thankfulness helps us see life’s difficulties as new opportunities for God to show us He is our Provider.
In Experience God As Your Provider, Author and Financial Expert Brian Kluth explains why we can truly be thankful, even during job losses and financial stresses. “You see,” explains Kluth, “the great news is that God is bigger than nations, economies, stock markets, currencies, and job markets. When we begin to understand this, we don’t have to live in fear, but we can live in faith in a God who provides for us in good times, bad times, and the in-between times.”
Years later I thought of sending “thank you” cards to the church members who had put us in that position, because it took our lives in a wonderful new direction. Through it, we saw God work all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), blessing our family in greater ways than we could have ever imagined. I truly came to be thankful to God for their decision that nudged us into following and trusting Him more deeply.
Express Thankfulness In Trust
When going through everyday disappointments, natural disasters, job losses, financial stresses, and more, thankfulness expresses our trust in God. As Isaiah 12:2 assures us, “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord Himself, is my strength and my defense. He has become my salvation.”
We can trust God to work everything together for our good, even in situations where it seems impossible for any good to come from them.
Still, in heartbreaking circumstance, it can seem like God is asking too much from us.
Lynette Kittle is married with four daughters. She enjoys writing about faith, marriage, parenting, relationships, and life. Her writing has been published by Focus on the Family, Decision, Today’s Christian Woman, kirkcameron.com, Ungrind.org, StartMarriageRight.com, and more. She has a M.A. in Communication from Regent University and serves as associate producer for Soul Check TV.
Photo credit: Getty Images
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