The apostle Paul wrote “in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18, NASB).
If anyone had reason to not give thanks for the circumstances in which he found himself it was Paul. Yet, despite being in jail, he was able to write to the church at Philippi with great joy and was able to give thanks for everything in his life, even his imprisonment and pending death sentence. His life reflects three reasons why we can find it difficult to give thanks.
The first reason is because “I wish”. Paul was sitting in a jail cell on trumped up charges and could have found every reason to wish his circumstances were different. Yet he was able to write “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel” (Phil 1:12, NASB). The nation of Israel had a bad case of the “I wishes”. In Numbers 11 it says that they became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord. They got upset because God was leading them toward a better future and yet they wanted to go back to Egypt where they had something to eat besides manna and were in captivity instead of heading toward freedom. It is difficult to give thanks in everything when we continually wish that things were different. Some people have the gift of complaining. It’s not a very spiritual gift, but it is a gift. When we complain we are not giving thanks to God in everything. We are not thankful for what is happening at the moment. Paul saw God’s higher purpose in his imprisonment, and was able to be thankful rather than to wish that is was different and miss the opportunity.
Dr Dale Robbins wrote, “I used to think that people complained because they had a lot of problems. But I now have come to realize that they have problems because they complain. Complaining doesn’t change anything or make situations better. It amplifies frustration, spreads discontent and discord, and can invoke an invitation for the devil to cause havoc with our lives”. In other words, complaining makes us miserable. We can’t be thankful for the moment when we spend our lives wishing our lives were different.
The second reason is that “I Want”. In Philippians 4:11, Paul wrote that he had “..learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am”. The truth is, unless we learn to be content, we’ll never understand how to be thankful. Discontent leads us to look for something better, something more, something else and never really see and appreciate what we have. True thankfulness comes when we can say with all honesty and integrity Jesus is enough! Contentment is a matter of perspective, seeing what we have rather than what we want. Many years ago, a cartoon pictured Charlie Brown bringing out Snoopy’s dinner on Thanksgiving Day. But it was just his usual bowl of dog food. Snoopy took one look at the dog food and said “This isn’t fair. The rest of the world today is eating turkey with all the trimmings and all I get is dog food. Because I’m a dog,” he said, “all I get is dog food.” He stood there and stared at the dog food for a moment and said “I guess it could be worse. I could be a turkey.” Perspective. Contentment is being able to sing the hymn “I Am Satisfied with Jesus” with integrity. If we can’t sing that honestly, we shouldn’t venture to ask the question “Is My Master Satisfied With Me?”. He won’t be satisfied with us unless we are satisfied with Him.
The last reason is because “I Worry”. We can lose the ability to be thankful when we fret over tomorrow and lose sight of the provision of today. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said, give us this day our daily bread. When Israel tried to collect more than a day’s worth of manna at once, the excess rotted. God provided for them as they went each day. He does the same for us. Paul wrote “Be anxious for nothing, 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 comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7, NASB). When we worry, we are saying, in essence, that we have lost our faith and confidence in God to care and provide for us as He said He would. Abraham believed that God would make provision for a sacrifice for Isaac, and when He did, he affirmed God’s faithfulness by calling the name of that place “The Lord Will Provide” (Gen. 22:14). When we worry for tomorrow, we don’t give God thanks for the provisions of today.
It can be challenging to give thanks “in everything”. There are times when we might ask what the will of God is for our lives. Giving thanks in everything is God’s will for our lives. Lord, grant us the faith to be thankful in all things.