Provocative Bible Verses: Give Thanks In All Things

Posted: November 27, 2008 in Provocative Bible Verses, Theology thoughts
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give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Does God really mean that in every circumstance that we are to be thankful? How can we possibly be thankful when things go horribly wrong? It’s easy to understand that we are to give thanks for all the blessings that come our way. Today is an entire holiday in the USA set aside for doing just that. People will gather with family and friends all over the country, have a big meal, and give thanks to whatever or whoever they think is the force behind their good fortune. But what do you do when it is hard to see the blessing in the midst of the tragedy?

I have noticed two approaches to the verse. One is hardly worth mentioning but the other is commonly thought to be the answer to the dilemma of being thankful in hard times. The first is to put on some almost other-worldly expression of thanks that totally ignores the reality of the situation. It is the person who is smiling in the midst of tragedy saying, “well praise God and give thanks in all things”. They come off as being on some sort of “spiritual ignore reality drug”. As to the second approach, often in the midst of tragedy there is some ray of hope that allows us to be thankful, like when you totally destroy your car in an accident but no one is seriously hurt. Certainly we can be thankful for that. But it still qualifies as an easily recognizable blessing that has come your way.

There is a great deal that is right and good in the second approach. In fact there is something that is very provocative about a faith that allows you to see the blessing in the midst of tragedy. It means that your focus is more on what God is doing for you than it is on what has gone wrong. It has a similar feel to Paul’s words to the Philippians when he said that he had learned to be content in all situations. He learned that because he kept his eyes on the sovereign Lord whom he served and not on his own expectations or desires or comfort.

But what do you do if the tragedy outweighs the blessing. It’s easy to give thanks when the car is wrecked but you are not. You and your passengers are worth far more than the car. What if two people died and you lived, then what? How do you give thanks then? How does a parent give thanks when a child dies? How does a young man give thanks when after just over a year of marriage his wife dies, having battled cancer the entire eighteen months? How does a city give thanks when airplanes crash into buildings and leave more than 2,000 dead? How do you give thanks when you are sitting on a bench in an African hospital praying with a 12 year old boy who is homeless, has AIDS, and is so malnourished that you can count his vertebrae through the thick jacket on his back as you place a hand on him while you pray. Does God really expect us to give thanks in situations like that? The short answer is yes.

Such situations may be the ultimate test of our ability to trust God no matter what. They bring us to the same place as Job when after the most unbelievable series of tragedies said, “Even though the Lord slay me, still I will trust Him”. There can come a point in our lives when we can’t find that bit of blessing in the hardship, when the pain far outweighs the good we can see. It is at that point that we must trust a sovereign God.

Whenever we gather for a time of corporate worship at Northland Church we remind people that we gather in order to worship God for who He is and for what He has done. We worship God for His character just as much as for the amazing things He does. Giving thanks in hard situations must follow that same wisdom. Even if we find it hard or impossible to thank God for some specific thing in our lives we can still give thanks for who He is. Paul did not say to thank God “for” every circumstance, but “in” every circumstance. The distinction is crucial. It means that even when you can’t find anything about the circumstance to be thankful for, you can and must still thank God that He is sovereign. You can still thank God for His love and mercy, even in a time when it feels so distant. You can still trust him as Job did. That trust will be evident in thanking God for who He is even when what He is doing makes no sense, is painful, and leaves you bewildered.

Today is a good day to begin to give thanks, not just for the good things in your life, but to give thanks to God for who He is. Ultimately that should be what we are most thankful for, that God is the kind of God we can trust no matter what our circumstances and not matter how limited our understanding of what He is doing in those circumstances.

Comments
  1. Dana says:

    Thanks Dan for distinguishing between giving thanks “in” every situation rather than “for”. It is something that I often forget. Giving thanks in every circumstance is so difficult at times. I think, for me anyway, the thing to remember is that our purpose is to worship God. That is what I was made for, to worship Him in every aspect of my life, in every situation, every day. If I trust that God is running the show and that I was made for worship then I can rest assured that every circumstance in my life is there to bring Him glory. Even the difficult circumstances where in my limited understanding I can’t see what good could possibly come from it. It doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle in the situation, feel hurt or that sometimes I feel like God is so distant in those situations. However, I have to trust that God is indeed sovereign and that He will be glorified in all circumstances. It’s not easy to do and I’m not very good at it but it is certainly my desire to worship Him regardless of the circumstances in my life!
    Thanks for reminding us to give thanks IN ALL things.

  2. Sean says:

    Thanks Dan for the thoughts and wisdom of this Biblical Truth. This was a major topic of discussion with family and friends this Holiday….

  3. Debbie says:

    Stumbled across your blog today. I was recently reminded of this verse again> Love the way you’ve explained it here.

  4. Joey says:

    Thank you so much for the post. It has really inspired me to do the right thing, especially in what I consider my misfortune (Having to work in a Muslim country). I envy people who can go to the Holy Mass every Sunday, worship and pray to God at their work place and such but then your blog cleared what I have been struggling to understand in the past 9 years here in Saudi Arabia.

  5. He is indeed worthy of worship; that is why we are here on earth. All things are for His glory and for His glory were we created. Give Him thanks irrespective of the situation. God is sovereign, not the situation. While situation changes, God does not. People can come and go; fortunes can come and go, but God remains. As we learn this, we become more able to cope with life’s uncertainties and unpleasantness like Job and Paul. May God enrich you, Dan, to bring the light to many. Amen.

  6. Gabrielleau says:

    seriously heart should be hurt

  7. Dave says:

    Thanks for the insights into this verse. You have rightly focused on “in all things”, but Eph 5:20 tells us to be – Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;

    In this verse in Ephesians the focus is on thanksgiving “for all things”.
    I would be interested in any helpful comments to span “in all” and “for all”.
    For instance, are we to thank God in our sickness or for our sickness? In our unemployment or for our unemployment? etc …

  8. Eva says:

    thank u for sharing this. i need this now. thanks so much

  9. Dave says:

    Hope this example helps attest to the power of giving thanks in all things – Early in January of this year my dad passed into eternity. He was a professing believer with a strong testimony. I have had to (and to some extent still am) processing the pain and grief associated with this loss. On one morning a few days after my dad’s death I found myself angry – firstly at God for taking my dad, then secondly (very strangely) at my dad for leaving (like he had a choice!). I then realised that this was not at all helpful and when I was listening to a Cating Crowns song – I will praise you in this storm, I started to give the Lord thanks for my dad – that he was a great dad, for his faithfulness to my mum, for his love, for all the help he has been to me, for his example in so many areas. I think this is an example of finding the thing to give thanks for in the midst of suffering – it certainly helped me.

  10. Give Them All To Jesus
    Recorded by Cristy Lane written by Phil Johnson and Bob Benson Sr.

    Are you tried of chasing pretty rainbows
    Are you tired of spinning round and round
    Wrap up all the shattered dreams of your life
    And at the feet of Jesus lay them down
    Give them all give them all give them all to Jesus
    Shattered dreams wounded hearts broken toys
    Give them all give them all give them all to Jesus
    And He will turn your sorrow into joy

    He never said you would only see sunshine
    He never said there would be no rain
    He only promised us a heart full of singing
    That’s the very thing that once brought pain
    Give them all give them all give them all to Jesus
    Shattered dreams wounded hearts broken toys
    Give them all give them all give them all to Jesus
    And He will turn your sorrow into joy.

    “As I look back at all the past events of my life the last 50 years I noted that everyone of the worst possible events that had occurred in my life had next also undeniably had the biggest blessings in my life when I had turned it all to Jesus.”
    http://jesussayscome.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/depression-is-a-big-personal-problem/

  11. stella says:

    i want to thank God for all what has happened in my life .

  12. Bill Nixon says:

    I was pondering this verse several weeks ago and what came to mind was “complaint.” Complaint is the full opposite of gratefulness. And complaining shows a lack of faith. Your example of the car accident with no injuries is a great one.

    I had a severe accident on (really off) my mountain bike this year. I destroyed my left shoulder and had six hours of emergency surgery that day. There were so many things that could’ve been way worse that day including the possibility of cutting the major artery in my arm and bleeding to death.

    While many people are praying for my healing, I am so grateful and humbled by God’s grace and mercy. I would have left a wife and kids to fend for themselves.

  13. A N Indira devi says:

    It is a wonderful experience to thank God at all times, in all circumstances and for all things.I am sure there is not a single moment when we have nothing at all to thank HIM.His Grace and mercy is such that it demands our thanks offering continually.

  14. Doreen says:

    Thank you bro. for your wonderful insight and in expounding this verse. I thanked the Lord for leading me to your page which is much needed now. You have an interesting site and I will check it out. God bless you and all the readers here.

  15. Irene O. says:

    I have been truly blessed reading this exposition on 1Thess 5:18. I found this page a few days ago as I was pondering on the subject – Seeking occasions to give thanks. Thank you very much for provoking us to “give thanks in ALL circumstances” and to trust that God knows best in every challenging situation we have to endure. Truly he who is capable of deep and reflective thinking, will have a grateful heart.

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  17. Liza says:

    I’m wondering why among all the situations mentioned, Africa was only associated with malnutrition and poverty. Couldn’t this have been written without mentioning a particular continent just like the other situations? Racism!

  18. Dan Lacich says:

    Liza,
    Racism? Really? You are not even close. Why you ask was Africa mentioned. The answer is simple. Because I sat on that bench in Africa holding that young boy whose body was ravaged by AIDS that was complicated by malnutrition and poverty. I didn’t pull that example out of the air but out of my life experience of serving people in Africa. If I had the same experience in Asia, or Alabama, or Alaska, I would have written of that.
    Dan

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