(Note: Had great intentions of finishing this for Thanksgiving and as often happens around the holidays this only got as far as one paragraph and good intentions. Perhaps, it’s providential that I’m completing it now since this article concerns itself with being thankful at all times, in all places, and under all circumstances; not just at Thanksgiving.)
There are many things for which I am not thankful. Among many, I am not thankful for cancer or for child abuse or for terrorism. I despise all of them. Now take a close look at the Bible text above. Paul, the author of 1 Thessalonians, did not say we should be thankful for all circumstances but rather in all circumstances. And his tone is quite emphatic regarding the regularity of our gratitude; “…all circumstances”, the good, the bad, and the ugly, the happy and sad, all of the time and in every situation, barring none! So, although I am not thankful for many things, including cancer or child abuse or terrorism, God’s expectation for me is to still give thanks if I should ever face such calamities.
And why should we be prepared to always give thanks? For starters, because God said so! He always knows what is best for us and He makes it quite clear that a thankful heart satisfies His will for us which will equip us with His perspective toward our circumstances. When we look through God’s lenses we are enabled to see more of God Himself and less of the circumstance. His desire is to assure us that He is there in the middle of the circumstance to provide what we need in order to endure it or enjoy it as well as learn from it.
Christian writer Henri Nouwen was invited to visit L’Arche in France, the first of 130 communities worldwide where people with developmental disabilities could live and share life together with their caregivers. In 1986 he accepted the call to pastor an L’Arche community in Canada called “Daybreak’. It was during his pastorate that he wrote about his relationship with Adam, a young man with severe developmental disabilities. That relationship inspired the following quote and illustrates Paul’s teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4.
“Being grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives—the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections—that requires hard spiritual work. Still, we are only truly grateful people when we can say “thank you” to all that has brought us to the present moment. As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for. Let’s not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.”
Perhaps my five year old grandson, unknowingly, expressed it the best when it was his turn to pray at our Thanksgiving meal. He began by saying thanks for each one around the table, including the dog, and each family member that was not present. Then he named each one of his preschool classmates, his teacher, his toys, boys and girls who didn’t have any toys, anyone who might be sick, and to God for making things (Fortunately, he didn’t name them or we’d still be sitting around the table.) Finally, he turned his thankfulness to the food. While attempting to name each entrée by name he got stumped by one of grandma’s not so familiar looking dishes. He hesitated, looked at his famished family around the table, and then with a big smile on his face, blurted out, “Oh, thank you, Jesus, for everything!” Amen.