In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
WHEN THE PILGRIMS first celebrated Thanksgiving in 1621, they celebrated an abundant harvest and a miraculous friendship. The harvest was a divine blessing, on which their lives depended. During their first winter in Plymouth, half of the settlers died of starvation and disease (some had already died coming over from England). The harvest came through the help of a divinely appointed relationship with the natives of the land, who at first were anything but friendly.
Living peacefully with the American Indians seemed to be out of the question, until two friendly Indians named Samoset and Squanto intervened. Squanto ‘just happened’ to be able to speak English, and so helped the Pilgrims communicate with the tribes in that area. Communication led to friendship, and the Indians taught the Pilgrims how to best grow and catch their food.
When the crops gave way to a fruitful harvest, Governor William Bradford, amazed at how God had blessed them, proclaimed “a day of Thanksgiving unto the Lord, so we might after a more special manner rejoice after we had gathered the fruits of our labors.” Two centuries later, Thanksgiving became a nationally instituted holiday, and so it is today. One day each November is given to consider our blessings, remember our heritage, and be thankful. It is a very special day.
Yet we do not need to wait for any special day in order to “rejoice in a more special manner.” The Bible clearly portrays the giving of thanks as an ongoing trait of God’s people. Not just here and there, but “in everything give thanks…” “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving” (Psalm 100:4). Pray with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6), and worship with thanksgiving (Psalm 95:2). Whatsoever we do, do it in the name of the Lord Jesus, “giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Colossians 3:17). “O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto thee forever” (30:12).
Like the early Pilgrims, we too can celebrate an abundant harvest and a miraculous friendship. Our abundant harvest is the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, access unto eternal life and the inheritance of the Kingdom. Our miraculous friendship is with God, having been reconciled to Him through His Son. Thinking on these things should be enough to cause rejoicing and thanksgiving.
The Scripture suggests that we may be thankful in any circumstance. “In everything give thanks.” A problem often occurs, however, when negative situations or circumstances take our focus off of all the good we have in God. It can be very difficult to be thankful in trying or upsetting times. In such times, it is necessary to go to the Word. It will bring comfort to be reminded that God’s will is to prosper us and not harm us (Jeremiah 29:11). “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
The Pilgrims had anything but an easy ride on their way to the new land. Death knocked at their door daily, but it was too late to turn back. Troubles ensued with the natives, the weather, starvation, and sickness. The loss of family members and close friends became a regular occurrence. Yet those who were fleeing the religious persecution in England held on to their hope and often retreated to prayer. They understood that God had a unique purpose for them and they called on Him to fulfill it.
It was not during these initial circumstances that Bradford called for a day of Thanksgiving! But when all was said and done and the losses were behind, they saw how the Lord had brought them to their new beginning. The mourning was over and the celebration began. Looking back would not be pleasant, but they could see how God had brought them to that miraculous point. And so they gave thanks.
It is possible to be thankful even in bad situations. The Scripture says to give thanks “in everything.” God has promised to bring us through every situation. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned. Nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:2-3; NKJV). That doesn’t mean that the waters or fires will be enjoyable. They may in fact seem overwhelming. But you will get through them, and you will find yourself in perfect condition in the end. The three young men in the fiery furnace came out not even having their hair singed (Dan.3:27).
Many of the trials we go through end up giving us power and authority to minister to others. “…that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2Cor.1:4). I have seen some believers even boast of the trials that they have gone through. They went through awful times, but now on the other side, they wear them as badges. This, I believe, is what Paul was doing when he said he delights in his weaknesses (see 2Cor.12). No one can enjoy weakness when they are struggling because of it, but once they’ve made it through, they delight in the power it gives them to minister to others. Paul’s whole point of boasting in this was to contrast his love for the Corinthians to the false apostles who were claiming to have authority. Paul’s suffering gave him more of an authority with his hearers. He was living proof of God’s power to see him through.
Therefore, thanksgiving can be given in any situation based on the hope of the ultimate deliverance to come. It will come! Meanwhile, it is possible to give thanks for other things. If we cannot give thanks for the trial at hand, we can think on something else to be thankful about. There is so much to be thankful for, we just need to set ourselves to thinking about the good that is in our lives. And even if it happened that no good could be found, we could be thankful for the good that is coming, and that this world is only temporary.
God’s Will for Us in Christ Jesus
I believe God’s will for us is to keep an attitude of thanksgiving, because He knows that will produce fruit in our lives and health for our bodies. Griping and complaining only brings us down. Giving thanks thwarts the enemy!
Yet while we should be thankful in everything, I do not believe it is correct to be thankful FOR everything. There is a Scripture that implies that, Ephesians 5:20: “giving thanks always for all things…” A devout Christian misinterpreted this and said that after much struggling, he learned to give thanks for his cancer. I admire and respect his devotion, but I believe this is wrong. That Scripture must be qualified. Cancer is an evil, and I don’t believe God wants us being thankful for the works of the devil. I don’t think He wants us giving thanks for sin! The point of that Scripture is to be predominately filled with thanks. But we need to resist and hate evil.
I don’t believe God wills bad things to happen to us in order to teach us a lesson. Perhaps He does to a gentle degree, but people have gone overboard on the “everything that happens must be God’s will” idea. This idea is unscriptural and wrong. There is a devil out there, we live in a fallen world, and often make poor choices. On the other hand, Jesus came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
Not only that, God’s will for us in Christ Jesus is a glorious one. When Jesus returns, He will return in glory. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11)! Throughout eternity, He will reign as the exalted Lamb, and receive blessing and honor and glory and power for ever and ever (Revelation 5:13)! The amazing truth is that we too will receive glory! Colossians 3:4 says that “When Christ, who is our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”
It can surely cause thanksgiving to know and understand that God’s will for us is good. Many believers can get depressed when they believe that God’s will is always against them, always chastening them, and always dowsing their desires. On the contrary, God wants us happy: “Delight thyself also in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Psalm 37:4). When we recognize that God is the answer and not the problem, it is easier to give thanks.
This makes it personal. God does not capriciously order the events around us, nor does He just give thought to us once in a while to see how we are doing. He loves us and is intimately concerned. He is so intimately concerned for us that he chose to dwell in us personally through the Holy Spirit. Before we were born, He knew us (Jeremiah 1:5; Psalm 139:16). He loved us before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4); and the sum of His thoughts toward us are beyond counting (Psalm 139:17-18). His words to us are, “Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me” (Isaiah 49:16). So He never forgets us.
Scripture says that whoever touches God’s people touches the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8). It may be hard to believe, but we actually bring joy to Him! “For the LORD taketh pleasure in his people” (Psalm149:4). So His concern for us is one of love and continual interest. He is always with us. When we feel He is far, He is just as near as ever. “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
Believe these things! Resist the temptation to allow your circumstances to dictate your feelings. Don’t wait for a special day once a year, or even once a week. Get into a habit of thanksgiving. It will encourage faith and change your life!