How Can We Really Give Thanks in All Things?
- Jessica Udall Contributing Writer
- 2021 24 Mar
"Give thanks in everything, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Gratitude is an idea that’s getting a lot of play in popular culture these days. People talk about being #blessed. House decor is emblazoned with “Grateful” or “Give thanks.” We know we ought to count our blessings or keep a gratitude list. And yet giving thanks when circumstances are challenging remains something that is challenging to do. It’s relatively easy to say thank you to God when things are going our way, but how about when things take a turn for the worse? The NIV puts it this way: "give thanks in all circumstances". Is it really possible to give thanks in all things?
What Does Paul Mean by 'Give Thanks in All Thing/Circumstances?
Paul wrote a letter to the Thessalonians to encourage them about the second coming of Jesus and to give them instructions for living to honor him in the meantime. In his final instructions before closing his letter, Paul urges them to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Thankfulness is a common theme in Scripture, with the understanding that God is the one from whom all blessings flow, and so all praise is due to him. For example:
- Psalm 95:1-3: “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.”
- Psalm 136:1: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”
- Colossians 2:6-7: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
- 1 Timothy 1:12: “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord…”
- Hebrews 12:28-29: “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
Paul himself often expresses thankfulness to God for the people to whom he is writing. When he writes to the Thessalonians, for example, he opens with: “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers” (1 Thessalonians 1:2).
How Can I Give Thanks for Everything?
While giving thanks for things or people who are clearly blessings in our lives and naturally fill us with joy is encouraged in Scripture, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 encourages us to “give thanks in all circumstances,” and other verses agree, such as:
Ephesians 5:18-20: “...be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ecclesiastes 7:14: “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him..”
It may seem impossible to do this when faced with impossible circumstances. We are not commanded to call evil good or to pretend that we love the hard things that happen to us, but we are commanded to thank God with an attitude of trust because “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). The prophet Habakkuk lived in a time when it seemed like evil flourished and God was not taking action against it or saying anything. Habakkuk was honest with God about his frustration and confusion, but then he prays:
“Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer's;
he makes me tread on my high places”
This prayer, which does not explicitly mention “thanks” but implies it, brings us back to the link between rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks which we saw in the original verse: “rejoice...pray...give thanks…” Habakkuk is applying the concept that Paul later wrote about in his letter to the Thessalonians! Taking joy in God means realizing that even when we face lack or challenges, we find gratitude and joy in simply being with him, for “in your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11).
3 Ways to Give Thanks When You Don't Feel Thankful
It is easy to theoretically consider giving thanks even in hard times, but it is harder to apply it when we wake up in the morning and the day stretches before us full of sadness or lack or uncertainty. How to express gratitude when the thanks gets stuck in your throat? Or when you look for gratitude and it is simply nowhere to be found? Here are some ways to give thanks even when you don’t feel thankful:
1. Express appreciation for others.
As you interact with others during the day, think about what you appreciate about them, and articulate it. Whether it’s your daughter’s sense of humor, your barista’s ready smile, your doctor’s willingness to spend an extra minute answering your questions, or your co-worker’s attention to detail, put your thankfulness for them into words. Doing so will remind them of their worth and will reframe your day in terms of thankfulness at the same time!
2. Zoom in.
Take a moment to slow down. Breathe deeply, and feel thankful for the breath filling your lungs. Think about the parts of your body that feel good right now. Feel thankful for your ability to move, to think, to feel, to do. Walk mindfully through your day, being aware of what you’re doing. Feel gratitude for your breakfast cereal as it crunches in your mouth, for your pet’s soft fur under your hand, for the sunshine on your face when you step outside, and so on. When we feel we have nothing to be thankful for, we have often become numb to the beauty God has lavished on us all around us. Deliberately slowing down will refocus us and allow us to really see our life brimming with the brilliance of beauty and causing gratitude to well up in us moment by moment.
3. Zoom out.
When we worry about what will happen tomorrow or next year, fear can crowd out gratitude. Instead of thinking about the near-term future, it can help to think about our everlasting life in Christ. Zooming out and remembering eternal truths will reorient us and move us toward gratitude for God’s presence, for “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Meditating on Scriptures such as Romans 8:31-39 or Ephesians 1:3-14 can re-open our eyes to spiritual realities and instill renewed gratitude for God’s eternal goodness toward us in Christ Jesus that remains even when our earthly circumstances are difficult.
Because of God’s eternal goodness to us in Christ and because of His moment-by-moment blessings that he has graciously given us if we have eyes to see, we can obey the command to “give thanks in all circumstances.” Giving thanks is closely related to rejoicing and praying; the three are commanded together because where one is, the others are too! Cultivating joyful, prayerful gratitude is the lifelong path of the believer, walking through challenges and struggles in this life while also existing in the simultaneous reality “which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
Use our 30 Daily Devotionals on gratitude to refocus your life in thanksgiving to God! Save this PDF and share it with loved ones.
A Prayer to Give Thanks in All Things
Lord, teach me to offer you a heart of thanksgiving and praise in all my daily experiences of life. Teach me to be joyful always, to pray continually and to give thanks in all my circumstances. I accept them as Your will for my life (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). I long to bring pleasure to Your heart daily. Break the power of the enemy in my life. Defeat Him through my sacrifice of praise. Change my outlook and attitude into one of joyful contentment with my present circumstances. I thank You for… [Name a difficult circumstance in your life presently and thank God for it.]
Jesus, I want to be like You who obeyed the Father without complaint. You embraced the chains of humanity when You walked this earth. Convict me whenever I complain or compare myself with others. Give me Your attitude of humility and thankful acceptance. I want to be like the Apostle Paul who learned contentment in every circumstance. I choose to continually offer You a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that give praise to Your name (Hebrews 13:15). I long to bring a smile to Your face. Teach me the power of a thankful heart. I know that Your truth dwells in a thankful heart.
“I will give thanks to the LORD because of His righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens” (Psalm 7:17-18:1). In Jesus’ name, amen. (from A Prayer for a Thankful Heart" by Debbie Przybylski)
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Jessica Udall holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Bible and a Master of Arts degree in Intercultural Studies. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Intercultural Studies and writes on the Christian life and intercultural communication at lovingthestrangerblog.com.
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