In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 we read these rather direct words. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” These three things are not at all easy to do. In fact, the exact opposite is often the case. And yet there they are. But it is that third phrase that seems almost impossible to achieve at times. One study on this passage was titled, Three Impossible Commands. If Paul had only said, “Rejoice a lot, pray often, and try to be thankful,” maybe we could say, “Okay, I’ll try to do that!” But that is not what it says is it?
First, we must recognize, and take seriously, that these admonitions are said to be “God’s will for us”. And we must realize that these things must be possible because that is what He desires of us. The passage says that we are ‘in Christ Jesus’. That means we possess His indwelling Holy Spirit who alone can provide the spiritual strength and ability to do anything that God spells out for us.
But at Thanksgiving time, it is that third thing that stands out. ‘In everything give thanks’. Can that really mean what it says? Think of some of the things you are ‘in’ right now or that others you know are ‘in’. And think of some of the things that those we don’t even know are ‘in’ who reside in very difficult places in the world. Some of what God’s people face simply defies description. But these words seem to be for all in His faith family regardless of their lot in life.
We need to realize that we are not to be thankful ‘for’ all things. That would seem a bit much. We are not thankful for sin, wickedness or evil in the world. And we are not thankful when we somehow fail our Lord. And are we be thankful when a devastating medical test comes back, when the pink slip from the job is received, when a spouse has run off, when a child is missing or there is the loss of a home? There are things that we are not normally thankful ‘for’. But we are told to be thankful ‘in’ them non the less.
Maybe it has something to do with another parallel passage that speaks about thanksgiving.
Philippians 4:6-7 says, ‘Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.’
Don’t become anxious. But rather pray when hard times come and do so with a spirit of thanks! Not being thankful is at the core of the unregenerate heart according to Romans 1:21. And the opposite is to be true of those who have been saved and are in Christ. They are to remain thankful even ‘in;’ the midst of trails and troubles - no matter how severe or how long they last. The bottom line is that it is abnormal for Christians to not be thankful. But God’s will is that they stay thankful for their blessings and especially those that are spiritual and cannot be impacted by what goes on in a fallen world. The believer's thanks is to be on a higher plane that those who do not know God and the blessings He alone bestows.
Is this sometimes difficult? Of course it is. But it remains God’s will for us. And His indwelling Spirit enables us the victory and thus grants us the peace that passes understanding - no matter what we are 'in' at any given moment! And that alone is something to be extremely greatly thankful for!
“Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men! For He satisfies the longing soul, And fills the hungry soul with goodness.”