Tomorrow we Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving. This is a great holiday…perhaps by favorite, though it would be a tight race with Christmas. I love Thanksgiving for the food, of course, but I love the time of fellowship with family and friends, and I particularly appreciate the reminder to pause, reflect on all that I have to be thankful for, and give thanks to God. If you’re at all like me, you probably take your many blessings for granted sometimes, forgetting to give thanks.
As Thanksgiving has approached this year I have been particularly reminded of the importance to give thanks in everything, not just in the things that seem pleasant or desired at the time. I suspect I am not the only one who struggles to do this.
The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:18). This is undoubtedly the ultimate verse on this subject, but it is not the only one. James even specifies that which is most difficult to give thanks for in the moment when he writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2).
Paul, of course, had experienced plenty of “circumstances” in which it would have been very difficult, humanly speaking, to give thanks. Beatings, imprisonment, stoning, shipwreck… These are not the ingredients for a thankful spirit! Yet Paul had learned that God was still in control in those situations, and He was still working through them for His glory. James was writing to the first century Christians that had scattered because of persecution; surely their initial thought had not been to “count it joy.”
When the sun is shining–but its not too hot or humid; when there is still plenty of money in the checkbook after all the bills are paid; when everyone is healthy and smiling; when our favorite team is winning; when ________ (fill in the blank with something that makes you happy)…in those times it is easy to give thanks. So easy, in fact, that I think we sometimes do it cavalierly. It’s easy to give thanks for our food when we have plenty more in the pantry or the refrigerator, or, even if we do not, can easily go to the grocery store or a restaurant to get exactly what we want. I have to wonder, though, whether thanks that comes so easily–so automatically–really means much.
I am not suggesting that the words “thank you” are meaningless; they are not. Actually, I cannot think of many words that have greater meaning. But the way in which the words are said has a great impact on their significance. There are other words like that…”love” and “sorry” come to mind immediately. We trivialize them if we use them carelessly.
Back to my original point, then, sincere thanks given in the midst of circumstances that, on their face, do not seem thanks-worthy is a profoundly powerful thing. I can think of several situations that I have heard about in recent months that do not seem like reasons to give thanks, but upon further contemplation, there is always something for which to be thankful. And while thanks offered in hindsight is meaningful, how much more meaningful is thanks given “in the moment.”
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of a situation that seems lousy at best but turned out to be wonderful was shared with me in recent months. A friend of mine was bucked off of a horse, into a fence. He is a big, strong guy, but it was obvious that he was hurting. He was taken to the hospital, and tests were run. The only immediate damage was a broken rib. Still, not much to be thankful for really. However, in the course of running tests to make sure all the internal organs were alright, it was discovered that there was a cyst on his kidney. This led to more tests, of course, and eventually surgery to remove the cyst. Subsequent tests confirmed that the cyst was indeed cancerous. Yet, because it was discovered so early, it was able to be completely removed and the likelihood of any recurrence is only 4%. The doctors said that if another few years had gone by there would have been absolutely nothing they could have done for him. Amazing how all of a sudden getting bucked off of that horse turned into one of the most thanks-worthy events of his life!
I would never suggest that every one of life’s events will have ramifications that are that consequential. I am not even suggesting that we will always be able to decipher the good in every circumstance. What I do know, though, is that Paul did not say that we are to give thanks in every circumstance for which we can identify a silver lining. James did not say to count it all joy when we meet trials and see the value in them for our own improvement. Nope…there was no qualifier in either instance. The bottom line is simple: give thanks, count it joy…in all circumstances.