What does it mean to give thanks in all circumstances?
Published on: 11-25-2020
Somewhere in the Bible, it is commanded, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Does that include the pandemic that pins this planet and the United States down this Thanksgiving?
As far as I can tell, the command does not indicate an exclusion clause. Though let’s be quick to recognize this is not a command to “give thanks for all circumstances”— it is a command to “give thanks in all circumstances.”
After all, how could we possibly thank God for the disease that has taken away our loved ones (1.41 million deaths globally — 260,000 deaths across the United States as I write these lines)?
No, the command is specific — “Give thanks in [not for] all circumstances.”
After all, how could we possibly thank God for the disease that has stripped away our personal economic security?
“A new Pew Research Center survey finds that, overall, one-in-four adults have had trouble paying their bills since the coronavirus outbreak started, a third have dipped into savings or retirement accounts to make ends meet, and about one-in-six have borrowed money from friends or family or gotten food from a food bank. As was the case earlier this year, these types of experiences continue to be more common among adults with lower incomes, those without a college degree and Black and Hispanic Americans.”*
The apostle Paul, himself no stranger to economic deprivation and intense personal suffering, is clear in his apostolic command: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18, NIV).
But really — we’re supposed to find a reason for thanksgiving in the midst of this COVID-19 onslaught — are you serious?
May I make a humble effort to suggest a small list of possible things to be grateful for this Thanksgiving? Perhaps your list will look quite different:
I am grateful for the technology that enables me to worship remotely with people I can’t see — somehow knowing, in a divine sort of way, we are connected to one another, though very much physically distanced.
I am also thankful for the people who put up with the bother of wearing a face mask when they’re around me — what an “I care about you” kind of gift!
I am grateful for the cell phone that lets me reach out to people I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to reach during this pandemic.
I realize more and more the simple truth embedded in that old saw, “I complained to God about having no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”
I am grateful for the lesson this pandemic is trying to teach me — that what matters most in life — more than professional success, more than economic comfort, more than even religious or theological correctness — what really matters most of all is relationships. I want to treasure the ones I have all the more, especially the one with God.
I am thankful that as a result of this pandemic, my wife, Karen, has become a first-class homemade bread specialist.
I am also grateful that my COVID-19 test a couple of weeks ago came back negative.
Perhaps there is more truth than poetry to an “attitude of gratitude.” Consider these three one-liners I found in the chapter “Mind Cure” in Ministry of Healing:
“Nothing tends more to promote health of body and of soul than does a spirit of gratitude and praise” (p. 251).
“When you open your eyes in the morning, thank God that He has kept you through the night. Thank Him for His peace in your heart. Morning, noon, and night, let gratitude as a sweet perfume ascend to heaven” (p. 253).
“This command [1 Thess. 5:18 — see above] is an assurance that even the things which appear to be against us will work for our good” (p. 255).
Did you catch that? What appears to be against us “will work for our good.” That’s what God did at the cross — took the enemy’s absolute worst and transformed it into salvation’s absolute best — as only Jesus can do.
Gratitude? Are you kidding? A blessed Thanksgiving, indeed!