Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of Christ Jesus for you.
I Thessalonians 5:18
With our thoughts turning to the feast of Thanksgiving this week, I wanted to send out a reflection I wrote a couple of years ago, which is now part of my newly-released book “The Heart of Encouragement: 176 Reflections to Build You Up and Empower You to Build Up Others.” This book retails at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and other book distributors. Please consider buying one of these for yourself and your loved ones, and pass on messages of encouragement, thanksgiving and many others.
Often we see the power of one word to change the meaning of something. In the instance we observe here, we see the difference between the use of the word “in” versus the word “for.” Many people mistakenly quote I Thessalonians 5:18 as saying “Give thanks FOR all circumstances,” when in reality this verse tells us to “Give thanks IN all circumstances,” a critical difference in meaning.
There are lots of people in the world who are suffering. Many people who are reading this message are suffering. Some of you have gone through a recent divorce, others have significant health challenges and others have lost jobs, moved unexpectedly, had your children get in legal trouble, etc. It would be unfair and unreasonable for you to say to God, “I’m so thankful that I have cancer,” or “I’m grateful that my marriage is over,” or “How wonderful it is that my daughter is failing math.”
However, it is possible to be thankful in all circumstances. It is possible to see at least some things for which we can feel grateful at all times. A person in the hospital can be thankful to the doctors and nurses that take care of him. The student failing math can be thankful for the teacher, the tutor or the parent who is willing to take time to make sure she learns.
Too often we focus on what we’ve lost, rather than on what we still have left. The highest goal and purpose in life is salvation. If you are alive to read this message, that goal is still on the table, no matter how bad your life might be going at this moment. If everything is going wrong for you, and I pray that it isn’t, we can comfort ourselves with the grateful thought that this won’t last forever. At some point, life on earth with its sufferings and setbacks will end and life in the kingdom of heaven will begin for the faithful Christian. I’m thankful for that. I’m also thankful that God focuses more on our efforts than our results. Because while success is something we cannot always control, we can control effort, and we definitely can control attitude.
We know that the suffering of Christ was not in vain. In fact, because of His suffering untold millions upon millions of people have found their salvation. Our sufferings need not be in vain either.
In Luke 2, we read the story of when Jesus was presented in the temple on His fortieth day. This was a Law from the Old Testament, that male children were to be presented to God on their fortieth day of life and the parents were to offer a sacrifice of turtle doves or pigeons. A priest named Simeon was in the temple and had been promised by God that he wouldn’t die until he saw the Christ. On that day, when he saw the baby Jesus, he took him in his arms and offered the prayer:
“Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Thy people Israel.” (Luke 2: 29-32)
Mary and Joseph must have been very excited to see their Son given this honor. Then Simeon turned to Mary, and said this, a line that most Christians seldom remember, if they know it at all:
“Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (And a sword will pierce through your own soul also) that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”  (Luke 2: 34-35)
Many times, when life gets really hard, my mind goes to these verses. As the sword seems to pierce my own soul, as I struggle, my thoughts go to the thoughts of the other hearts that may be revealed, in other words, something good can come from something bad. And it may be a good that I will see, or a good that I will never know.
In John 11, Jesus is told that His friend Lazarus was sick. His response was “This illness is not unto death; it is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by means of it.” (John 11: 4) We know that Lazarus did end up dying and that made his sisters, Mary and Martha, very despondent. We also know that Jesus used this occasion to raise Lazarus from the dead and many believed in Him because of it.
Christ can be glorified in any and in all circumstances. And because the number one goal in life is to glorify Him, so that we can receive entrance into His heavenly Kingdom, the spiritually mature thing is to be thankful IN all circumstances, even as we have sorrow FOR our circumstances. This is something to strive for. In our human frailty, it becomes hard to find thankfulness in all circumstances. It is much easier to talk about it than to do it. Christ has always presented us with the ideal. Ideally we find a reason to give thanks IN all circumstances, even as we are frustrated FOR the circumstances in which we may find ourselves.
Lord, thank You for the dawning of another day. Thank You for the circumstances of my life that are good (list some of them). Please help me to be patient in the circumstances where I struggle (list them). While I may not give joy for them, please help me to find You in them, and by finding You in them, may I feel thankful, and may I glorify You in all circumstances. Amen.
Learn to give thanks IN all circumstances, as God is able to work through any circumstance and any opportunity to grow in Christ or glorify Him is indeed a reason to feel thankful.