We see it printed on napkins or pretty, autumn-themed signs: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” But often this is far easier said than done.
As we prepare to gather with family and friends for Thanksgiving, our hearts and minds begin to turn toward all things harvest, from gratitude and bounty to thankfulness and appreciation for small blessings.
But especially this year, when everything, from economic and racial unrest to a pandemic, is turning so much of our everyday routine and even our Thanksgiving celebrations on end, many of us struggle with thankfulness. Sure, we’re grateful for our health, our family, the very breath in our lungs.
But how do we honor the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “give thanks in all circumstances” when so much hardship surrounds us? How can we give thanks in all things?
Is it Biblical to Give Thanks in All Things?
The notion of thankfulness echoes throughout the Bible and this particular line comes from Paul’s letter to the early church in Thessalonica.
The full verse encourages us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). It follows two other directives from Paul, including that we should also rejoice always and pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17).
Written around AD 51, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians was intended to be an encouragement to the early church, praising them for their spiritual maturity and persistence and pressing them toward deeper growth in their faith.
These three things — joy, prayer, and thanksgiving — are evidence of the fire of the Holy Spirit at work in every believer, something Paul well knew. Indeed, he followed his directive to rejoice, pray, and give thanks with a command that these believers “not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).
Their joy, prayer, and thanksgiving fan the flames of the Spirit, helping ignite similar fires for the Lord throughout the land.
What Does it Mean to ‘Give Thanks’?
The phrase “give thanks,” in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, comes from the Greek word eucharisteō or eucharistos, which Strong’s Greek Dictionary of the Bible defines as to be grateful or to express gratitude, such as to say grace at a meal.
It is the same word used in other thanksgiving moments in the Bible, such as when Jesus gave thanks for the seven loaves and the fish in Matthew 5:36 and then used them to miraculously feed thousands of men, women, and children, or in Luke 15:16 when Jesus healed the 10 lepers, and one threw himself at Jesus’ feet in gratitude.
It is appreciating the gifts and blessings we have, which we are not entitled to, but which God gives freely to us because He loves and cares for us. He gave us not only life on this earth in our human form but also eternal life if we follow and believe in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Why Should We Give Thanks in All Things?
Gratitude and thankfulness are important concepts peppered throughout the Bible. Many of the psalms are designed to offer thanksgiving, and we know gratitude was an important part of the Old Testament.
God’s people would offer sacrifices as a way of showing thanks, as well as sing songs in appreciation. In the New Testament, we see people offering deep thanks for miracles, as well as Jesus offering thanks to God for food, healing, signs, and more.
We are supposed to be grateful for all things, even when life is not going as we would like. We don’t need to be happy, nor does life need to be perfect for us to be thankful. Paul wrote a great deal about the importance of gratitude, and much of it he wrote while he was experiencing deep suffering.
He thanked God for his life, the opportunity to know Christ, and the chance to preach God’s word even while he was experiencing dire circumstances such as imprisonment and other persecution.
Gratitude helps us keep a thankful, positive attitude about life and the blessings we receive. It helps remind us we don’t deserve anything, and only because of God’s great love and mercy are we even granted life.
How Do We Give Thanks in All Things?
It helps to remember we are being asked not to give thanks “for everything” but “in everything.” This is an important distinction.
It’s not that we are asked to be thankful for a disease or calamity but rather that, while we are experiencing a difficult circumstance, it is important to have a grateful and positive heart that thanks God for life or other blessings in spite of our present situation.
That is, despite our troubles, disappointments, failures, or hurts, we should be thankful for the good things in life.
We Can Give Thanks Through Prayer
One way to give thanks in all things is through prayer. When we pray, we talk with God. We turn our hearts and minds toward Him and keep our attitude in a state of gratitude and relationship, which helps us become more thankful.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful (Colossians 4:2).
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Philippians 4:6).
Talking to God helps, especially over time.
We Can Give Thanks Through Perspective
Another way is by embracing the things of heaven rather than the things of earth. Material items come and go. Buildings crumble and bones turn to dust. But God and God’s Kingdom are forever.
Keeping our focus on things of heaven helps us pay attention to what really matters and helps us cultivate a heart of gratitude for intangible blessings. As Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Matthew,
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
We Can Give Thanks by Striving for the Right Initial Mindset
A third way is to adopt an attitude of gratitude from the start. Psalm 100 is known as the “grateful psalm.” It tells us:
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
When we enter the gates of the Lord with thankfulness, we have the right mindset from the start. It impacts the rest of our journey.
We Can Give Thanks Even for Difficulties
When we can do all this, we find that we might even be able to stretch our hearts to something we never imagined we could do: Be thankful even for the hard times and the difficulties.
Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
This means that even bad things can be used to serve a good purpose. An infirmity can help draw us closer to God; indeed, Paul had what he called a “thorn in the flesh” that he begged God to remove, but God chose not to.
He realized his “thorn” ultimately helped glorify God, for God’s power “is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). The death of someone close to us can help us learn to lean on God better and draw closer to Him.
Remember: Giving thanks in all things is a process. But through prayer, perspective, a positive mindset, and an open and willing heart, we can learn to cultivate more gratitude.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/natalie_board
Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism, and a member of the Wholly Loved Ministries team. Learn more at http://jessicabrodie.com.