Yesterday was Thanksgiving. What comes to mind when you hear the word “thanksgiving”?
Awkward family time?
No? Anyone? No one thinks about prepositions when you hear the word “thanksgiving”?
Perhaps you should. Maybe not every time–after all, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie are important, too–but I’d like to suggest why it can be a helpful thing to consider, at least this once.
In 1 Thessalonians, as Paul is providing some brief yet important instructions at the end of the letter (e.g. “rejoice always, pray without ceasing…test everything…etc), he throws in this little gem:
“…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (5:18 ESV)
Did you catch it?
Paul does not say to give thanks for all circumstances. He says to give thanks in all circumstances. It’s a matter of prepositions, and it may be bigger than you realize. It also may help to make sense out of your life as a disciple when it seems as if life doesn’t make sense.
Some circumstance in which we find ourselves are miserable and painful and horrible–and it is a misguided Christianity that calls you to give thanks for those circumstances, as if they really are good somehow and it’s just your spiritual immaturity that is preventing you from acknowledging that.
I don’t think that’s what Scripture presents. Instead, I think the point is to turn our eyes to something greater and set our feet upon something firmer in those times when life is at its worst.
Maybe some examples will help.
When a loved one dies, we are not thankful for the fact that they have died, but for the promise that death no longer has the final word. We are thankful for the promise of resurrection in Jesus Christ, not for the grief and loss.
When you are diagnosed with cancer and have to undergo painful rounds of chemo, no one is thankful for the misery and anguish of the cancer, but for the fact that we have a Savior who has suffered with us and for us. We are thankful for the promise of a time without weeping and weakness and sorrow (Rev 21:4).
When you are overwhelmed, worried, anxious, ostracized, persecuted, ignored, or lonely, you are not called to give thanks for the difficulty of those times, but for the indescribable comfort that comes from knowing that nothing “in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39 ESV).
Christians are not expected to somehow develop (or have instilled in us) a supernatural sense of ambivalence that enables us to shrug our shoulders in the face of hardship or horror, smile, and say, “Oh well. Thank God for this misery!”
Rather, we are called to cultivate a perspective that is focused on Jesus Christ and rejoices in the knowledge that our God walks with us through the ‘waters and fires’ of life (Isa 43:1-7). We are not called to look with indifference at the difficulties of life, but to look at them with the only set of corrective lenses that allow us to see things clearly.
I read this post from R.C. Sproul Jr yesterday, which I think speaks poignantly and powerfully to this idea. He, I think, would express the same sentiment: the point is not to give thanks for the death of his daughter, but to give thanks in the midst of the loss for the promise of eternal life that is now hers in Christ Jesus.
Do you see the difference? It’s one word, and small matter of grammar, but it is immense in its implications and reach.
No matter what is happening in your life, give thanks to God for what he has done in Christ Jesus. This is, after, what brings him glory and enables us to rejoice in all things.