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.
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I’ve been a sales trainer for a few years, and one thing has been consistent. When most people show up for training, they’re not happy. They want to know if class is really going to take the full time. By the end of class though, many of them change their attitudes. They’ll walk out and say, “Thanks. I didn’t think I needed this, but I learned something.” Our attitude towards training is much like our attitude towards troubles in life. We don’t want them or see a need for them. However, when we’ve made it through them, we find ourselves stronger.
I think James was trying to make that same correlation for us in James 1:2-3. He wrote, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow” (NLT). Joy is usually the last emotion that I pair with troubles and trials, but James says they’re an opportunity for us to have it.
I’ve said before that joy is not dependent on your circumstances, happiness is. Joy comes from deep within. It looks at your big picture, while happiness looks at the little one. Joy is something you choose to be no matter what. Each of us choose our attitude in our circumstances. If we don’t, our circumstances will choose our attitude for us. In most cases, it chooses the wrong attitude. Choosing Joy gives you the strength to endure whatever comes your way.
The second part of that verse is where we get our Joy from. We don’t look at the current trouble, but the end result. What do trials produce in us? Endurance. Verse 4 says, “So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” If you can train yourself to keep the end in mind, you will learn to handle troubles a lot better. Don’t waste times of trouble. Use them for what they’re for: growth and endurance. By choosing the wrong attitude, you prolong your time in them, and miss what God has for you. Keep the end in mind, and choose Joy.