Rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, in every thing give thanks—for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. ( Thessalonians 5:16–18)
Giving thanks in every thing is relatively easy when the sun is shining and everything is more or less, “going our way.” Yet there are times—and for our church family at Westside, the past few days have been one of those times—that giving thanks in every thing can seem difficult, if not impossible.
How can we give thanks when tragedy strikes, when our world comes crashing down around us, when the circumstances in which we find ourselves are, in and of themselves, anything but good? How can this possibly be the will of God? Now it is important to point out that we are not called to pretend as though our circumstances are not as bad as they in reality are. There is a difference between giving thanks in everything and giving thanks for everything and it is the former we are commanded to do. Yet how can we, in the midst of sorrow and suffering and tragedy, continue to give thanks at all?
We must begin by recognizing that the command to give thanks does not stand on its own. It is the third in a series of commands that are so closely tied together that, in Greek, form a single sentence. The first of these commands is to rejoice evermore. This command to rejoice has little or nothing to do our emotions, which, on any account are almost always outside of our direct control. It has instead to do with the focus of our hearts.
No matter what is going on around us, we are commanded to celebrate Who God is and what He has done. Our circumstances change constantly—God never changes. He is always holy and sovereign and wise and good. If we ever, in our brokenness, wonder about any of those attributes, we only need look to the cross to see a permanent demonstration that God knows what He is doing—He knows how to bring good out of that which, in and of itself, is anything but good—even when we can’t figure it out at the time.
Second, once we have celebrated who God is and continues to be, we must bring every need before Him in unceasing prayer. We serve a God who delights to answer the prayers of His people. Though He may not always answer them in the way that we wish Him to, no prayer that is in accordance with His will ever goes unanswered. God has committed Himself to fully restore this groaning creation. He will, in the end, reverse the brokenness that causes us to cry out to Him and every prayer that His children pray is a part of that process—whether we see the answer in the present or not.
When once we have praised God for who He is, and prayed to Him for what we need, thanking Him for what He has given is the only thing that makes sense. We are not called to deny that our circumstances are broken—we are called upon to deny that our brokenness is ultimate. We are not called upon to hide our tears—we are called upon to remember that they will one day be wiped away. We are called, in other words, to look past the cross to the resurrection—and to believe that God knows what He is doing, even when we don’t. That is always a cause for thanksgiving—in every thing.
Note: the above is adapted from a message I preached on January 8 entitled, “In Everything Give Thanks” To listen to the message, please click here.