If you’re like me, you may find yourself skimming over portions of Scripture without really thinking about what you’re reading. Sometimes a verse or passage becomes so familiar that it loses its significance in our minds, and we don’t deeply think about the practical application it has for us.
For instance, take 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, a well-known and often-quoted passage: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
When I read the words “give thanks in all circumstances,” it’s easy to reduce that to, “in general, be thankful more often than not.” Or, “give thanks even when it’s hard.” But neither of those sentiments accurately reflects what this verse says.
God’s will for us is to rejoice always (not sometimes), pray without ceasing (everyday, all throughout the day), and give thanks in all circumstances.
ALL CIRCUMSTANCES. Every single one.
This thought is repeated many times in Scripture. Take a look at the following verses, emphasis added:
Philippians 4:6- “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Colossians 3:17- “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Ephesians 5:18b-20- “…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Hebrews 13:15- “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”
Let the significance of this sink in. We’re commanded to give thanks for EVERYTHING, in ALL situations, CONTINUALLY praising God. This encompasses all the good things in life, but it also encompasses the bad things. Give thanks when your kids do nothing but fight, whine, and disobey all day. Give thanks when your plans are ruined. Give thanks when you lose your job. Give thanks in the midst of a difficult marriage or relationship. Give thanks when nothing in your life turned out the way you expected. Give thanks when you get a devastating diagnosis. Give thanks when your house burns down. Give thanks even if a child or spouse dies in that house fire.
Being able to have this mindset requires a radical shift. First, we need to accurately recognize and appreciate God’s grace for what it is. Our very existence, the air we breathe, and the ability of our lungs to breathe that air is due to God’s creating and sustaining power. Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus “created the world… and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Colossians 1:17 tells us that “in him all things hold together.”
Not only do we owe our existence to His grace, but every little thing we enjoy (or don’t enjoy, but should) is a gift from God as well. The warm sunlight. The sound of rain. The beauty of creation that becomes so familiar to us, we fail to notice it. The smile on a child’s face. The taste of your favorite food. The smell of a scented candle. A hug from a loved one. There are hundreds, even thousands, of little things each and every day that we take for granted and don’t acknowledge.
These are all good gifts from our Father (James 1:17), who doesn’t owe us anything. We don’t deserve any of it. Our sense of entitlement, our expectations that we should have whatever we desire, and our resentment that we have to endure hardships, trials, discomfort, and inconvenience, all come from a heart of pride that is never content. The importance of thanking God for the simple things in life cannot be overstated; if we can’t see His grace in these, and if we aren’t in the habit of giving thanks already, it will be nearly impossible to give thanks when times get tough.
Second, we need to reframe things that we’re used to thinking about negatively and look at them from a different perspective. This isn’t to say we should ignore or deny negative emotions, but we should not dwell on them. Acknowledge the feelings, pray for God’s strength, empowerment, and a better attitude, and then look for things to be thankful for. Instead of grumbling about going to work, thank God for His provision through your job. Instead of complaining about your kids, thank God for the blessing of children. Instead of being annoyed by your spouse, thank God for him or her. Instead of complaining about household chores, thank God that you have the physical ability to do the tasks.
And what about the times when we can’t find anything to be thankful for? Crappy jobs, whining children, annoying spouses, and mundane household chores are everyday irritants that most of us deal with. But there are other levels of suffering that are so heartbreaking, painful, confusing, and agonizing that we cannot even begin to find a silver lining.
This brings us to the third mindset shift.
I recently did a study on the book of Habakkuk. When you first read this book, you probably won’t have a clue what’s going on. Don’t let that discourage you. Really dig in and use resources to help you understand, because it’s worth it. Habakkuk begins by asking God why He is allowing so many bad things to happen. The people of Judah are facing exile and complete destruction because of their rebellion against God, but God is using an even more wicked country to bring about this judgment on them. It doesn’t make sense. Habakkuk questions God’s sovereignty, goodness, and justice in a situation where evil seems to prevail and God seems far away.
Throughout the book, Habakkuk comes to realize that God is still good, faithful, and just, and that He uses all things, even our suffering, to glorify Himself and sanctify His people. His ways are higher than ours. He sees and understands things we could not possibly comprehend. He will eventually punish and defeat evil, and the righteous will see His justice, although it will probably not happen when or how we expect it to. The challenge is to trust the character of God and find comfort in who He is instead of getting lost in the pain of our circumstances. Our hope is found in Him- everything and everyone else will fail us at some point, but the character of God is a firm foundation that never changes.
We have a choice to become angry, bitter, and depressed about our lives, or to worship Him for who He is and what He is doing, even if we can’t understand it. And when we choose to focus on Him instead of our circumstances, our perspective shifts. That’s what happened with Habakkuk. The book ends with this beautiful passage: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)
Habakkuk is looking at the worst case scenario here. He’s describing a situation with no food and no money. He knows his country is about to undergo complete destruction. He knows there is a lot of suffering and death coming at the hands of the wicked Babylonians. In the beginning of the book, he is essentially asking God, “How could you let this happen?” But at the end, he is saying, “Even if this happens, I will still choose to worship you.”
If your worst fears come true, you still have God. Sometimes, the only thing we can think of to be thankful for is the character and presence of God- and He is more than enough. Sometimes our thanks looks like praise. Not for our situation, but for the fact that we can trust Him to work all things together for good, even when it’s impossible for us to see how anything good could come from it. When there is no joy in our circumstances, there is joy in God. He is our strength. He is our source of joy. He is our eternal hope. He is always faithful.
I love this quote from Laura Story in her book, When God Doesn’t Fix It: “Joy is in the Lord. Brokenness is in the world. As long as we’re alive, both will coexist on earth.”
We must keep our eyes on the Lord. When we focus on our broken circumstances, we are likely to doubt and become angry, bitter, and ungrateful. Or, at the very least, to become burdened and anxious over the fact that things are falling apart and we have no real control or power to change anything. Satan wants us to be distracted by our circumstances. He wants to use anything possible to cast doubt on God’s goodness and sovereignty. In contrast, God wants to use each trial and situation in life to conform us to the image of Christ and increase our faith in Him. We need to use our opportunities wisely. We can choose humility and dependence on God. We can choose worship in the waiting. We can choose to give thanks in ALL circumstances.
Two of my favorite things are books and music, so I wanted to include links to a few books and songs that address being thankful no matter what, and worshipping God regardless of your life situations. Hopefully these resources will help further your study and enrich your praise.