Gratitude In All Circumstances
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
November 19, 2023
This Thursday is Thanksgiving.
I’m sure I didn’t have to tell any of you that, but it is a reminder, because our offices will be closed on Wednesday and Thursday along with the regular days off so that our staff can enjoy time with their families as well.
But every year as a nation we set aside the fourth Thursday of November as a day of thanks, Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is a national holiday honoring the early settlers and Native Americans who came together to have a historic harvest feast.
Within the next generation a war ensued and the history is pretty bleak.
But we continue to celebrate the idea of Thanksgiving, which I think is a great thing.
We celebrate the idea of family getting together, loving one another, sharing with each other what we are thankful for, and eating too much food and watching too much football, if there is such a thing.
But I also recognize that Thanksgiving is a difficult time of year for many people as well.
Some of us, may be having Thanksgiving all alone, or we gather around our tables without loved ones we would be so glad to have one more meal together with.
For some you may have loved ones deployed in military service half way around the world, yes you are proud of them and the work they are doing, but you are missing them.
Some of you may refuse to celebrate Thanksgiving altogether because of the dark history that eventually surrounds it.
I just want to be clear, American Thanksgiving celebration is not Biblical, I believe it is a good cultural practice, but it is not Biblical.
Now, in saying that; we must realize that the Scriptures do instruct Christians to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
The Greek word for will is θέλημα and it means, “desire, wish, purpose, will, decision, or intent.”
In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln decreed a national Thanksgiving Day, but God’s desire for us is to live a lifestyle of thanksgiving.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss states, “Thanksgiving really should be thanksliving—a way of life—day in, day out, morning, noon, and night—continually, forever giving thanks to the Lord”
So, let’s see what the Apostle Paul has to say to us about living thankful lives.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul was writing to a Christian community suffering from intense persecution—more so than most of the churches he shepherded.
And yet, even to these brothers and sisters, Paul encourages giving thanks in all circumstances.
But notice that verse 18 does not tells us to give thanks for all circumstances but “in all circumstances.”
Evil, injustice, and cruelty exist every day in this world.
Scripture never instructs us to give thanks for wicked, immoral, and sinful circumstances but to give thanks in them.
Continuing this practice even in times of suffering can help us keep our eyes on God and remember that God’s presence is always with us, even in the darkest day.
So, Paul lays out three commands for us in this passage and we need to understand those.
These are commands from God about
HOW TO LIVE WITH GRATITUDE GIVING THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES
First, GOD COMMANDS US TO REJOICE ALWAYS
Does “rejoicing always” mean that you always go around with a smile on your face and an upbeat “Tigger” bounce in your steps?
Are you sinning if you ever feel sad, depressed, upset, or grieved?
I have met Christians who seem to think so.
One person I used to know had some major problems in their life.
But whenever I asked, “How are you doing?” they would reply, “I’m just praising the Lord!”
They seemed to think that it would be unspiritual to reply, “I’m really struggling with some things.”
I think they had bought into the positive confession heresy that our words create reality.
So they always put on a happy face and said that they were praising the Lord.
But they seemed to be denying reality.
If “rejoicing always” means always being upbeat and never feeling sadness, then we have a problem, because neither Jesus nor Paul were always happy.
It’s interesting that the shortest verse in the Greek New Testament is (1 Thess. 5:16), “Rejoice always,” but the shortest verse in the English New Testament is (John 11:35), “Jesus wept.”
Listen for just a moment at the raw emotions Jesus and Paul had:
Hebrews 5:7, During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
In 2 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul described himself, “known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
In Romans 12:15, he tells us, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.”
He does not say, “Exhort those who weep to stop weeping and start rejoicing!”
So “rejoice always” does not mean, “Deny your feelings, put on a happy face, and never feel sad.”
So, what does Paul mean when he commands, “Rejoice always”?
First, it’s important to remember that he wrote this to new believers who were suffering persecution because of their faith (1 Thess. 3:3-4).
And the command follows Paul’s exhortation that we should not get even when someone mistreats us.
Probably Paul had taught them Jesus’ words Matthew 5:11-12, Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
So, given their difficult circumstances, this command to rejoice always has to be viewed not primarily as a matter of feelings, but rather of obedience.
When we are in difficult trials or if people have mistreated us because of our faith, we have a choice: either we can focus on our trials and lapse into self-pity.
Or we can set our minds on the things above, where Christ is at the right hand of God, where our life is hidden in Him (Col. 3:1-4), and rejoice.
As Paul commanded the Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; I will say it again, rejoice!”
That little phrase, “in the Lord” is the key.
Since we are eternally “in the Lord” through faith in Christ, we can always rejoice “in the Lord.”
Our joy cannot be totally oblivious to circumstances, but neither should it be governed by them.
So “rejoicing always” is a conscious attitude of gratitude wrapped in contentment, hope, and happiness that comes from deliberately focusing on Christ and the eternal treasures that we have received freely from Him.
So, how can we develop a habit of rejoicing always?
First, Focus Daily On The Riches That God Has Freely Given You In Christ.
This would be a great thing for you to journal about in your gratitude journal and we do have more available
For example, Ephesians 1:3-14 says that you have all spiritual blessings in Him.
God chose you in Him before the foundation of the world.
In love, He predestined you to adoption as His child.
He freely bestowed His grace on you in Christ.
In Him you have redemption and forgiveness of all your sins, lavished upon you by His grace.
He has made known to you the mystery of His will.
He has given you an inheritance and has sealed you with the Holy Spirit of promise.
Second, Walk In The Spirit, Not The Flesh.
Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
To walk in the Spirit means to daily yield to Him and to rely on Him to control your life in every situation.
It takes time to produce fruit.
It doesn’t pop out on a tree the day after you plant it!
But if you walk consistently by the Spirit, eventually the fruit of joy will be yours.
If you’re feeling down, get out a hymnbook or put on some solid Christian music and sing of God’s goodness, grace, and love.
Singing is one way of implementing the first strategy—focusing on the riches that God has freely given to you in Christ.
The longest book in the Bible is a songbook.
Use it often to set your mind on the things above.
Next, GOD COMMANDS US TO PRAY WITHOUT CEASING
Does this mean that you must pray every waking moment?
Obviously, not, because neither Paul nor the Lord Jesus did that.
It is helpful to know that the word translated “without ceasing” was used of a hacking cough.
A person with a bad cough doesn’t cough continuously, but often and repeatedly.
It was also used of repeated military attacks.
An army would attack a city but not succeed.
They would regroup and attack over and over until they won the victory.
Even so, our prayers should be frequent and persistent.
Like the friend who came at midnight to ask for a loaf of bread (Luke 11:5-13), we keep knocking until we get what we’re after.
Like the widow who kept bothering the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8), we keep coming back until we obtain what we were asking for.
Rejoicing always and praying without ceasing are related, because it is through prayer that we lay hold of the riches that we have in Christ, which are the source of true joy.
Prayer claims the promises of God in our trials.
Laying hold of God’s promises brings joy, because we know that He is for us.
As Paul wrote in Romans 8:31-32, What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
So, how can we develop a habit of praying without ceasing?
How can we develop an attitude of Gratitude in our praying?
It’s a lifelong process.
First, We must understand that We Can’t Do Life On Our Own.
Prayer is the language of trusting in God to address the issues we lay before him, or to respond to what he has laid on our hearts.
Depending on God takes daily surrender and consent.
We must continually confess our desperate need for God’s help and pray that He helps us to live dependently upon Him.
Oswald Chambers once said, “troubles almost always make us look to God, but His blessings tend to divert our attention elsewhere.”
Depending on God is necessary in the hard times and the good times, it’s unceasing dependence.
Second, Send Up Prayers Whenever You Can.
When you think of a loved one or friend, send up a prayer for him or her.
When someone asks you to pray for some need, don’t promise to pray later and then forget, no, instead pray right there with the person.
I’ve noticed, especially here at church if I am praying with someone, sometimes others will stop and join, not often, but prayer should not be foreign to us.
When I receive an email prayer request from the church, I stop what I am doing, and I pray right then because I know me.
I may forget to pray about it later and I want to make sure I pray for it right then.
Third, Spend Time In God’s Word And Prayer Each Day.
Pray the word back to God.
The Psalms are helpful in this way, but also all of Scripture.
Keep asking until you receive, seeking until you find, and knocking until the door is opened unto you (Luke 11:9-10).
Fourth, Read Some Good Books On Prayer.
Some books that I have found helpful are:
- Extraordinary Hearing by Greg Pruett
- Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster (chapter 3)
- The Power of Praying Boldly by Will Davis Jr.
- Power Through Prayer by EM Bounds
- A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law (chapter 14)
Finally, GOD COMMANDS US TO GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES
This command means that in every situation we are to give thanks to our sovereign and good God and Savior.
Paul says In Ephesians 5:19-20, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Giving thanks in every situation does not mean that we must be happy with every situation or resigned to accept matters without praying and working for change.
Also, we don’t need to feel thankful before we give thanks.
When God takes us through hard trials, we don’t feel thankful.
Sometimes followers of Jesus believe God’s love will shield us from all the trials and troubles of life.
But this is not a teaching found in the Bible!
Instead, Jesus promises his followers that not only will they have the same troubles all humans
face, but they are likely to have more suffering because they are committed to living lives that sacrificially pursue love and justice for everyone—even the vulnerable and even enemies.
It can be extremely difficult to give thanks to God in such times.
But the Holy Spirit is here to be our comforter, filling us with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
The Holy Spirit ministers to us in the midst of loss and pain; giving thanks during suffering can help us keep our eyes on God as we journey with him through dark valleys.
This is not a way of plugging our ears and closing our eyes, refusing to acknowledge pain and brokenness; rather, like a small child, we raise our hands to the Spirit in humility and honesty, asking for help—and receiving fruit in our inner selves to sustain us.
So, how can we develop a habit of thankfulness to God in every situation?
First, and most importantly, Deepen Your Understanding Of God’s Sovereignty And Goodness.
The story of Joseph (Genesis 37-50) illustrates this truth.
Joseph’s brothers hated him and planned to kill him until they saw a caravan of traders heading toward Egypt.
So they cruelly sold their brother into slavery.
He ended up getting thrown in prison, even though he obeyed God by resisting the advances of Potiphar’s wife.
He begged the cupbearer to mention his case to Pharaoh so that he could be released, but the cupbearer forgot.
Two years later, Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and was instantly elevated to the second most powerful position in the country.
Later, he was able to be reconciled to his brothers and to see his aged father again.
But after Jacob died, the brothers feared that Joseph would get even with them for what they had done.
At that point, Joseph wept and asked, “Am I in God’s place?”
Then he revealed the theological perspective that had sustained him during those awful years of slavery and imprisonment.
Listen to Genesis 50:20, You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Joseph saw God both as sovereign and good.
Submitting to the sovereign goodness of God in every situation the key to a thankful heart.
The key to developing an attitude of gratitude.
Second, When We Trust In God We Will Be Thankful.
Thankfulness and trust are bound together.
If you are trusting God, you’re thankful.
If you are not thankful, then you’re not trusting God.
This is illustrated with the children of Israel.
God delivered them from slavery in Egypt by the ten miraculous plagues on the Egyptians, while sparing Israel.
He miraculously brought them through the Red Sea and then closed the water on top of the pursuing Egyptian army.
You would think that by this point, they could thankfully trust in God.
But we read (Exod. 15:22-24) that they then went three days into the wilderness, found no water, and grumbled at Moses, which really was grumbling at God.
They didn’t trust that the God who had powerfully saved them from slavery could provide water in the desert.
If you’re grumbling, you’re not trusting.
Anybody in here besides me ever grumble…I grumble sometimes, not all the time but sometimes.
If you’re not trusting, you’re not thankful.
Develop a habit of trusting God, especially in trials, and you will thank Him both for His great salvation and for the opportunity to see Him work in your time of need.
And you will develop an attitude of gratitude.
Another way to develop an attitude of gratitude is to get the focus off yourself.
And as a church we have a great way to help you with that.
Today, we are giving away 277 Thanksgiving bags to our community.
If you weren’t already, why don’t you stay and help us with that.
We will be giving those out at 1pm.
If you can’t today, okay, mark on your calendar to help us as a church to distribute Christmas Eve Dinners to people in our community, or to serve in the kitchen or at one of the Towers in town.
There are ways to develop an attitude of gratitude starting today.