As we scroll through social media today, we are bound to see all the wonderful things people are thankful for–and rightly so! But we seldom see gratitude for the losses, the challenges, the really hard times. I would imagine that God did not author 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to remind us to be thankful for the good days (as those are pretty easy to be thankful for), but more likely as a reminder that He is still working in the difficult ones.
Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT
There are some things that happen in our lives that we are truly thankful for. We are grateful for births, weddings, and family gatherings. But some things that happen are really difficult: illness, the death of a loved one, divorce, or some other sad event. Applied to these events, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 may strike a bitter chord. We might wonder how in the world God expects us to be grateful for those things. However, when we look closely, we see that Paul actually says to be thankful in all circumstances. The original word used here means “in the middle of” or “during.” In other words, we may not be thankful for the event, but we can be thankful during the event.
Several years ago, I fell at church. I had just handed my 3-week-old daughter to my husband to take to the nursery so I could drop off some baked goods in the temporary trailer where we met with our small group. The wooden stairs leading up to the trailer had gotten wet in the rain, and down I went! I heard a very loud pop and several hours later, the x-rays revealed I had broken my foot in about a dozen places. I had never broken a bone before, so I might as well go big, right? I was informed at the hospital that the next couple days would entail surgery, pins, and crutches.
In addition to a nursing baby, I had two young sons (age 3 and 7). As I lay in bed that night, unable to sleep from the pain, I was anything but thankful. I remember thinking how ridiculous and pointless it was. It’s not like I was injured saving someone from a burning building; I just fell for no good reason. I lay in bed wondering how in the world I could care for a newborn and two rambunctious boys, and work (albeit from home) while on crutches. The entire situation just seemed absurd and I was beyond frustrated.
Then, as clear as day, I heard 1 Thessalonians 5:18 in my spirit. “Be thankful in all things.” It was palpable. In the still of the night, God halted my complaining and showed me His way. So, I quietly obeyed. “Lord, I do not understand why this happened. But now I thank you for it. I pray that you can make something good out of it. I’m frustrated, but I’m trusting you right now.” The more I prayed, the more my attitude changed, and eventually, I drifted off to sleep.
A few days later I did have the surgery. It left two large pins protruding out from the bottom of my foot so I was forbidden to put any pressure on it at all for the next three weeks. That meant I could not safely hold my daughter and move at the same time. It was summer, so both boys were home around the clock. My husband was wonderful when he was home but he worked full time. We were between a rock and a soft cast.
As it turned out, a family member volunteered to come stay with us. What a blessing. Now this was something to be thankful for. But the best part was one late-night conversation we were able to have during her stay. We were watching TV and something came on that mentioned a deacon at a church. I remember it being some silly sitcom with no particular reverence to the church. But, it sparked a question from our guest who knew that my husband had been a deacon for several years. Her one question opened up a wonderful dialogue about our faith. We were able to discuss the entire gospel–the good world God had made, the terrible choice mankind made which separates each of us from God, the need we all have for redemption, and the amazing salvation plan of God through the sacrifice of His Son. Our conversation was natural and it was very well received.
Of course my foot healed and the pins came out, and we all went back to our normal lives. But not long after our time together, this family member and her husband found a great, Bible-believing church, started studying the Bible, and currently never miss a Sunday. They found their faith, and I believe that our conversation was one of the seeds that God intended to plant.
I had prayed for this family member for years. Who would have guessed that God might have been answering by sending rain to fall on those wooden steps that Sunday morning? For a conversation like that, with someone who had not yet heard the complete salvation plan, I could not be more thankful!
I wish I could say that I am always that compliant with the gentle nudges of God. It’s not always the case, but it should be. When I grumble and complain about the circumstance I’m in (or when I fail to express gratitude) isn’t that my way of telling God that I don’t trust His hand; that I am pretty confident that He does not know what He’s doing; that, contrary to the clearly stated promise in Romans 8:28, He cannot use it for my good?
This Thanksgiving, I’m reminded that giving thanks keeps my eyes open to see what good things God intends to do with every single turn of the path He puts me on.