Give Thanks For What?
November 23 04

It is Thanksgiving week here in the U.S. I was thinking about that these last couple of days and the first thing that popped into my mind was the verse in 1 Thessalonians that talks about thankfulness as being the will of God for us. Here's the context: Paul has been telling the church at Thessalonica about the rapture to come and the Day of the Lord. He explains that the Thessalonians should remain alert and welcome those in the Lord who are warning them of the things to come. Paul then says that the Thessalonians should discipline those who are not laboring for the Lord. And, in this context of the end times, he reminds them to comfort one another. Paul then says "rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

These Thessalonians were suffering such persecution that they thought they must have missed the rapture and were now in the great tribulation. Paul writes this letter to set things straight: They had not missed the rapture, this was not the tribulation period, and what they were going through was the persecution that comes from the world simply for living out the Christian life. These brothers and sisters in the mid first century really had no reason for being "happy," yet Paul tells them to rejoice and give thanks. This is the same thing he tells the Ephesians (5:15-20) in the midst of "evil days." Give thanks no matter what is happening. Give thanks even though your circumstances look grim.

But why? How can we rejoice and give thanks when we don't know where our next meal is coming from, when we can't turn the heat on this winter, when loved ones are dying, when hearts are cold and unreceptive to God, when the car won't start, when those who ought to love us don't. Why be thankful? Because God is in control. If He knows us, then He will take care of us in all circumstances. Being thankful is an act of faith. We come to Yeshua by faith and now we must continue to walk in faith. These circumstances are moments of growth for those who choose to see it that way.

I don't always make that choice. Sometimes I lose sight of who God is. I forget what He has brought me through. Sometimes I forget that whatever is happening to me, whatever unpleasant circumstance I find myself in, there is always someone else out there who has it worse. I often think about Chad and Sis, a couple of drifters we met last summer in Wyoming. They lived in their truck; they had nothing. They didn't know Yeshua. They definitely have it worse than I do. I am reminded of the poor and destitute we met in Ogden, Utah, last August. We saw the desperation and sadness in their eyes. We heard their life stories of divorce and drugs. Lives lived apart from God. What could be worse?

Being thankful is a matter of trust. Do we believe that God knows what He's doing? Everything that has happened in this world has been allowed by God. We may not always understand it, and we may hate the things that we see and the circumstances we are in, but we must always rejoice and give thanks. It is God's will that we be thankful. This doesn't mean that we ignore the hard times and pretend that everything is okay. I'm not advocating "positive thinking." We live in reality knowing that God transcends what we see. We acknowledge our sins, we admit our mistakes, we take responsibility where it's due. Then we look to God with thanksgiving for disciplining us and drawing us closer to Him. Giving thanks to God in the bad times builds our trust in Him. Giving thanks to God in the good times keeps us humble. Giving thanks in everything keeps us focused on Yeshua, the "author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:1-6).

I pray that you would be able to spend Thanksgiving with loved ones, with people who care about you. I pray that you would see God in all circumstances, in all areas of your life. I pray that you would thank God for the open doors and the closed ones. May we extend ourselves to those who don't yet know Yeshua, that they may be able to give thanks, too. Have a great Thanksgiving!

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