I have been doing some reading (and along with that…thinking) about being thankful. I am trying to go ahead and get a good start on the first two sermons I will preach at Granville Center Church of Christ. The first one will be on Sunday, November 17 and the second will be the following week. That puts them right there during Thanksgiving so I felt that a two sermon series on being thankful would be timely and appropriate. I have chosen 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 to be my starting point.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
As I have pondered those three short verses (always keeping their original context in mind) I have come to the conclusion that I am not as thankful as I should be. In fact…I am probably guilty of being ungrateful for the things that God has blessed me with. The passage I quoted above is taken from a letter Paul wrote to encourage a group of believers who were distressed. It is part of his closing remarks as he explains that Christ’s return will be soon. He pleads with them to remain “children of the light and children of the day” and to avoid the acts of darkness. He challenges them to be different from those in the world…those who have chosen to walk in darkness. Salvation, he reminds them, is found in Jesus and they should not lose hope. His final instructions mention acknowledging those who work hard, living in peace with one another, and warning those who fall astray. They are to do good to all. That is when the above passage comes into play.
Even when dire situations arise, believers are to hold to what is good and reject what is evil. Romans 12:9 echoes this when it says:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. (NASB)
The truth is…many of us, when faced with difficult circumstances, do the exact opposite. We look for the easy answer or the quick exit, even if we know it is not what God would have us to do. We look to the world for the solution and often compromise what we claim to believe. I know that I have been guilty of it. To top of it off, we gripe and complain about the problems we are encountering, even when we are the cause of many of them. We point fingers and place blame and do everything BUT what God has told us to do.
Let’s be honest, it is not easy to be joyful when things feel like they’re falling apart around you. It is hard to give thanks and be positive when it seems like the world is out to get you. Casting Crowns released a song a few years ago called Praise You In This Storm. The chorus goes like this:
And I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm
As difficult as it is to maintain this attitude, I believe that is exactly how we should respond. There have been too many times in my life when I was ungrateful for the things that God had done for me. I used my problems to excuse myself from being thankful in all circumstances. I cursed the negative things going on around me and neglected to recognize the blessings I was being given, even in the storms of life. In most of those times I stopped praying. That is dangerous. I believe you can directly connect the amount of praying you do with the thankfulness you have in your heart. A life lived without prayer quickly becomes ungrateful. Bitterness and hatred spring up when things go wrong. What’s worse is that God is not recognized and given praise when they DO go right.
Paul understood this. He had every earthly reason to be bitter and jaded, but he praised God and was thankful…even during persecution. He understood that regardless of what happens here on earth, we can find our hope and joy in the fact that Jesus died to bring salvation. That is reason enough to give thanks. When that becomes our motivating factor…we have no reason to be ungrateful any longer.