Giving Thanks in Every Circumstance?
Most of us have just celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday, but the practice of giving thanks is for more than just the fourth Thursday of November every year. You’ve probably heard the Bible verse that says “give thanks in all circumstances” (it’s found in 2 Thessalonians 5:18). As Christians, we’re supposed to rejoice and give thanks all the time. It can be easy to do this when everything seems to be going fine. Following this command gets a little difficult, however, when we face trials.
What Are We Giving Thanks For?
Being thankful when you get a pay raise is easier than being thankful when you’re laid off. Being thankful when you and your family are healthy and whole is easier than being thankful when they’re sick or hurt. Being thankful when the dinner table is full is easier than being thankful when the cabinets are bare.
I confess, this concept of giving thanks in all circumstances is difficult for me. When I was younger I didn’t even understand what it meant. What do we have to be grateful for when we’re in the midst of suffering? There are times when a difficult period in your life can have a visible positive impact, but that doesn’t mean we need to always be grateful for every circumstance we face. The verse doesn’t tell us to give thanks for all circumstances we find ourselves in, but to give thanks in all circumstances.
So what are we giving thanks for?
Changing Circumstances, Unchanging God
Our circumstances and situations can change at the drop of a hat. One phone call, one second looking away from the road, one moment where everything seems fine and then immediately feels like it will never be the same. Because of this, worldly peace, peace we get from whatever is going on in our lives, is incredibly unreliable. We have no control over the things that happen to us and won’t always know when things will change. Rejoicing always, then, can’t be based on worldly peace.
But God is unchanging. In theological terms this is called the immutability of God. If we find peace in our circumstances, as they change our peace will change too. God never changes, so if we find peace in Him we can always have peace. It’s the same with giving thanks; we can give thanks in all circumstances when we’re basing our thanksgiving on God.
Rejoice In the Lord Always
We see this same concept in the book of Philippians when Paul instructs his readers to rejoice.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.
We can rejoice always if we rejoice in the Lord. Ellicott’s commentary puts it this way: “It is, of course, a ‘joy in the Lord:’ for only in the Lord is joy possible to any thoughtful mind or feeling heart in such a world as this.” (1) The world can make us feel weary; our circumstances seem to drag us down and our emotions are temperamental. But we can rejoice in the Lord always.
Paul does not assume that we will be free from anxiety and worry, instead he tells us how to rightly address them.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
We can rejoice in the Lord and bring our anxieties before Him. And we do so with thanksgiving. All of these things lead to God’s peace guarding our hearts and minds.
Rejoicing in the Midst of Trials
Giving thanks in all circumstances will mean giving thanks during trials. The book of Habakkuk provides an example of this resolve.
In Habakkuk chapter 1 God reveals to Habakkuk that He is going to raise up the Chaldeans as judgment on wayward Israel. Habakkuk questions why God would allow the wicked to swallow up someone more righteous. He knew Israel had sinned, but for the Chaldeans, enemies of the people of God, to be granted prosperity and victory didn’t seem right to him.
In the second chapter we see God’s response. What He has declared will come to pass, it will surely come, it will not delay (Habakkuk 2:3). God assured Habakkuk that the Chaldeans would face judgment. They who had gathered spoils would become spoil for others (Habakkuk 2:7). Those who had plundered the nations would be plundered by those nation’s remnants (Habakkuk 2:8).
Habakkuk prayed (chapter 3) and recounted God’s glory, power, and faithfulness, then resolved himself for what was ahead. He is fearful, but trusts God as he waits for His promises to come true. No matter what comes, he will rejoice in God.
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.
Giving Thanks to God
Habakkuk knew that God would be faithful to His people and that, in the end, evildoers would be judged. Although he didn’t know when it would happen, Habakkuk trusted God to keep His promises.
Like Habakkuk we know the end of the story. God has revealed to us that evil will not reign for He has conquered sin and death. We can trust Him to keep His promises as we wait for them to be fulfilled. Yes, we will have difficulty in the meantime, Jesus said that in the world we would have tribulation, but that we should take heart because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).
God is going to make all things new and remove those things which now cause us pain.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Knowing that this is the future we look forward to and knowing the faithfulness of God, we too can resolve to face the days ahead, and do so giving thanks and rejoicing in the Lord always.
Do you struggle with giving thanks in all circumstances? How do you rejoice in the Lord when you’re going through something difficult? As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
Also, if you’ve never read through the little book of Habakkuk, or if it’s just been awhile, I’d encourage you to take a look at it. It’s only three chapters and a great reminder of God’s sovereignty and faithfulness.
- Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, on Philippians 4:4