Have you found that one of the hardest commands in all the World of God to obey, or at least to remember to obey, is 1 Thessalonians 5:18: "In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you"?
I understand. On the surface it seems incredibly illogical, doesn't it?
Quite possibly you'd prefer to say that surely it must have been only for those living in Thessalonica almost 2,000 years ago, rather than for us today. You'd like to pass it off that way.
Yet deep in your heart, if you believe the Word of God is what it claims to be: the very bread by which every believer lives no matter what the year, the century, the age, then you know you cannot rationalize away this command. Understand it or not, God recorded this command in His Word. It is there for an eternal purpose. God tells us we are to give thanks in everything because somehow, whatever it is, it will fit into God's will for us.
Have you ever stopped to think about why we want to rationalize this verse away? Why is it so hard to walk in continued obedience to this command?
First and foremost, it's because our flesh naturally rebels and our mind readily concurs: why on earth should we give thanks? It goes against our nature, against all rationale, to give thanks in tragedies, in trials, in failures! After all, they are tragedies, trials, failures — disasters! They're riddled with pain.
How can thanks be given when disappointment reigns? Wouldn't it be hypocritical to give thanks when you don't feel like it or see any reason to? Good question. As you read on, see what you think. But first let's see about why it's so hard to give thanks.
It's hard — even a battle — because we don't have "the rest of the story." All we can see is the present pain, the present disappointment, the present defeat, the present disaster. We forget that with God, it's not the end of the story. "The rest of the story" is Christ likeness and the eternal weight of glory which eventually follows.
When we walk in obedience to this command and, no matter the situation, we give thanks in everything, and then we are walking in obedience of faith. We make a choice to walk in the Spirit rather than in the flesh, to live by faith rather than walk by sight. We know this is not the "end of the story." And knowing that, we choose not to react to the present situation according to our own reasoning, our own evaluation of the circumstance. Rather, we make the choice to look beyond what we see, beyond what we hoped for, to what God promises us.
Remember, if you truly believe, you will obey. Faith and obedience are synonymous. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen..." (Hebrews 11:1). The rest of the story: “But without faith it is impossible to please...God" (Hebrews 11:6). Therefore when you give thanks, you are acknowledging that somehow in the mysterious sovereignty of God, what you're experiencing is in accordance with God's will — it's part of the puzzle that makes up the rest of the story.
Listen to God's promise in 1 Peter 5:10:
And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)
You don't need to store up grace (enough for your next difficult circumstance) because God is there — and He is the God of All grace. God promises that He Himself, the God of all grace, will perfect you. The word perfect means "to mature, to complete." That is why you can give thanks in everything — because everything will be used by God to bring you to a greater maturity, to complete the work He needs to do in you in order to prepare you for glory, for the day you will see Him face to face.
God Himself will also use the circumstance to confirm you as you go through "whatever." The fact that you go through the circumstance, the fact that you survive, the fact that you discover God is there and has not abandoned you will confirm your faith and assure you of the genuineness of your salvation.
You can give thanks also because God Himself will strengthen you. When you walk through the fire with Christ at your side, your faith won't be weakened; it will be strengthened. Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, you'll come out of the "furnace" unbound. And you won't even smell like smoke. Instead, people will savor the sweet fragrance of the One who walked through the fire with you.
Finally, you can give thanks because you will be established — anchored more solidly in the faith, unshakable, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.
Plus, when you walk in obedience and in faith giving thanks, then you will experience His joy — not in your circumstances.
1 Corinthians 10:13 assures you that there is no temptation (trial or testing) which can overtake you but such as is common to man. God will not permit you to be tempted (tried or tested) above what you are able to bear. In other words, whatever you are experiencing is not unique to you — or a surprise to God. Nor will it ever be more than you can bear. If it were unbearable, then your sovereign Father God would not allow it to occur.
1 Corinthians 10:13 also promises that with every trial, test or temptation God has a way of escape. Note that the way of escape is God's way, not yours; His way will never go against His Word.
Now, how do you actually live this out?
You just do it — out of sheer, gut-level obedience. You make the choice to believe God, to walk in the Spirit, and not yield to the flesh. You offer to God the sacrifice of praise — the fruit of your lips (Hebrews 13:15). You continually give thanks. You remember that you still haven't read the rest of your story. If you're God's child, it has a happy ending! Everything works together for your good and for His glory. (Romans 8:28)
If you want joy now, even in the midst of the worst of circumstances, even though your circumstance may be the fruit of your own sin or failure, then believe God and give thanks in everything. Turn your weeping into joy through faith, and the joy of the LORD will be your strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
Host, Precepts For Life
Co-CEO, Precept Ministries International