As Paul was wrapping up his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, he quit expounding on things and started rapid firing commands. Pray for and honor your spiritual leaders. Be joyful always. Test all things. Avoid evil. He puts one right in the middle that to me is one of the hardest commands. He says, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT). What? How can I be thankful in all circumstances? Why doesn’t he expound on this and tell us how? I’ve wrestled with these questions and this verse my whole life.
As I was pondering this recently, I remembered the words of a British Bible scholar from the 1600’s, Matthew Henry, when someone stole his wallet. He said, “Let me be thankful, first, because he never robbed me before; second, because although he took my purse, he did not take my life; third, because although he took all I possessed, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.“ Wow! That’s someone who chose to be thankful in all circumstances. He understood that you don’t have to be thankful for your circumstances, but you can find ways to be thankful in them.
It comes down to a matter of our heart. Are we choosing to blame God for our problems or are we finding ways to be thankful despite them? God’s desire for each of us is to learn thankfulness because it changes our perspective. When circumstances arise in our life, we can choose to become bitter or better. That outcome is dependent on what we focus on when we don’t like our present situation. Choosing to be thankful in all circumstances is definitely the more difficult choice, but it produces much better results in our life.
Photo by Bryan Minear on Unsplash
I Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (NLT). It’s one of those verses we can quickly read over. Paul was wrapping up his letter and was writing several commands for these new believers. He was wanting them to take these instructions and ingrain them in their new lives early on so that they would become a habit long term. Each of the things he said were important, but this one always jumps out at me.
He said, “Be thankful in ALL circumstances.” He didn’t say we had to thank God for our circumstances, but that we need to find something to give thanks for. In my most difficult time. I was living minute to minute. I would watch the clock and tell myself, “If I can survive this minute, I can get through this problem.” When the minute would pass, I would thank God for helping me to survive that minute, then the process would start over. I didn’t thank God for the mess I was in. I thanked Him for keeping me alive in it.
Paul, the writer of Thessalonians, had gone through some pretty dark days himself. He learned that if you focus on your problem, despair sets in. If you focus on finding something to be thankful for, praise fills your heart. That’s how he and Silas could praise in prison. I’m sure it started out as a conversation on things to be thankful for that turned into singing praises to God. It was in those praises that God moved the earth and set them free from their chains.
Don’t miss that powerful truth. When you praise, God frees you from your chains. Praise comes from a heart that is thankful. A thankful heart comes from a person who looks for the good in every situation. If you’re breathing, you’ve got something to be thankful for. If you have a bed to sleep in, you’ve got something to be thankful for. Your world may be falling apart, but God has not abandoned you. Give thanks for that. When you learn to give thanks in all circumstances, you’ll learn to praise in all circumstances.
Since I am on vacation this week with my family, I’m reposting some of my favorite devotions from the past.
Yesterday, I went to lunch with several coworkers from different departments in the company. When they suggested an expensive place to eat, I hesitated at first. They said, “What’s the matter?” Then one remembered and said, “Oh yeah. Your department doesn’t budget for food like ours does.” I replied, “I have to think about dinner. I don’t want to spend my per diem on lunch.” Someone replied, “Come on, poor kid. We’ll figure something out.”
I haven’t been the “poor boy” at the table since I was a kid. All these emotions came running back to me. I remembered what it was like to be at the mercy of whoever had invited me to eat. I had to see what they were thinking of ordering so I could order something less expensive. There were a lot of lessons I learned being the poor kid at the table. Lessons that helped shape who I am today.
One thing it taught me was humility. When you’re the one who is depending on someone else, you learn all about humility. You don’t get what you want, you get what they allow you to have. It’s when we can afford to get what we want that we forget about humility. We forget how to depend on someone else. We forget how to depend on God. We tell Him, “I can do this,” and we save Him for bigger things in our life. We start to treat Him like a genie.
God never wanted to be a genie and He doesn’t want us to save Him for the big things in our lives. He wants us to know what it’s like to trust Him for everything. He wants us to know what it truly means to walk by faith. The problem is that walking by faith is scary after you’ve adjusted to a life of walking by sight. It’s at that point that we only look to God in the dark hours of our life. He wants to be there with you in the light and the dark, the good and the bad.
Another thing being the poor kid at the table taught me was appreciation. I learned to appreciate what I had. I wasn’t going to get anything new for a while. I had to appreciate and take care of anything new that I got. My mom would say, “Those have to last you until Christmas. That’s when we can get you new ones.” Those words would ring in my ear as I had to make decisions. Other kids got new stuff when theirs broke. They didn’t appreciate what they had. God wants us to be appreciative for everything He’s given us and not to be always wanting something we don’t have.
God gives each of us what we need when we need it. We don’t always get what we want. He said that when we’re faithful over the little things He’s given us, He’ll give us more. We have to learn to be humble enough to recognize that the little He has given us is enough. We also have to learn to appreciate it and take care of it by being faithful with it. When we learn to do those things, He knows we’re ready for more.
There’s always another level for Him to take us to. Have we learned to be happy being the poor kid at the table so He can take us there? Or are we resentful that we’re in this position and are constantly trying to get to that next level on our own strength? I’ve tried it both ways. Yesterday reminded me that it’s ok to be the poor kid at the table. All I have is from God anyway. When I learn to accept what He gives, I’m really the rich one.
I enjoy this time of year. As much as I joke about it, I do like reading people’s Facebook posts of what they’re thankful for each day. About this time in the month though, most have quit doing it, a few will post the last several days together and some remain faithful to it. I believe that being thankful changes your perspective in situations. It takes your eyes off of what you don’t have to what you do have. If you’re constantly wishing you had more without being thankful for what you have, you will never be happy. You will never be satisfied in life and it will be a long, bumpy ride.
I saw two different children in Haiti that really got my attention. One little boy was running down the side of the road. He was pulling a string that was attached to the neck of a water bottle. There were two pencils stuck through the side of the bottle with bottle caps on the ends making wheels. He had a huge grin as he pulled his homemade car down the road. Another child I saw had a stroller wheel with a stick in it. He ran around holding that stick and pushing that wheel wherever he went. It looked like it was his favorite toy. Both kids were satisfied with what little they had. Both kids were thankful just to have a toy.
They both know that there are better toys out there in the world, but they’ve chosen to be satisfied with what they have. That’s the secret to happiness. I’m not saying you shouldn’t want to improve your life, have a better house or a job that pays more. I’m saying, learn to be content and satisfied with what you have right now. Don’t get caught up in the lie that says, “If only I had ________ I’d be happy.” Being satisfied and thankful for what you have right now is a choice that only you can make. Things should never control how you feel. I say that as a person who knows what it’s like to have everything I want and as one who knows what it’s like to have nothing.
When we allow things to control our happiness, we lose sight of God. We are telling Him that what He thinks we should have is not enough. We are telling Him that He is not a good provider. Once we learn to see that the things we have aren’t even ours, but rather they’re His and we are just stewards over them, we can learn to be satisfied and happy. God’s message is different than the world’s. It always has been and always will be. Therefore, as God’s people, we should live our lives differently too. We shouldn’t be worried about the things we don’t have, but rather we should be thankful for what we do have.
There’s an old hymn that says, “Count your blessings one by one. Count your blessing, see what God has done. Count your blessings, name them one by one. It will surprise you what The Lord has done.” That’s the thought I want to leave you with today. Count your blessings today and see what God has done and where He’s brought you from. You’ll have a lot to be thankful for, I’m sure.