16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NKJV
Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends! With it being Thanksgiving here today, of course I wanted to write a bit about giving thanks and being thankful.
I think 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is a verse that is often misinterpreted or taken out of context. After all, how can we be thankful in the really awful times? Is he saying that we need to be thankful during these hardships because He wanted them to happen to us? When a child is really sick or a loved one passes away? When a marriage is really struggling, or finances just aren’t adding up to be enough to make ends meet?
This is tricky for me, because while I’ve dealt with tough stuff, I can’t even begin to imagine the pain of say, losing a child. I don’t want to step where I don’t belong. On the other hand, I don’t want to keep quiet about something I feel is important, either. And our attitudes are so important.
I believe that what God is saying here is not “be thankful for the worst thing that’s happening in your life because God wanted it to happen.” No, I think what God is saying is “even during the hardest times, there is something to be thankful for.” That attitude of being thankful for the good things that still exist in our lives instead of dwelling on the bad is what God wants from us and for us. His will is for us to have a joyful heart – to focus on the silver linings when everything else around is dreary and gray.
There is always something to be thankful for. We always have something that someone else is praying for. Often, it will be something that we consider to be so basic that we tend to take it for granted, such as food to eat, running water (even better if it’s hot!), a bed to sleep on, and a roof over our heads. And yet we have so much more than that! We might have an extra day with a loved one, we have access to medical care, we aren’t persecuted for our beliefs. Yes, these are all basic things to us. But to many, they pray and pray for these same things.
God doesn’t want to make us hurt just because He wills it. I think He allows us to hurt so that we can grow in character, so that we can learn compassion to encourage others. I also think He allows us to hurt because we are more likely to depend on Him. He wants us to know Him so that we can go to heaven; if going through hard times so that we realize we’re missing Him in our lives is what it takes to get us to heaven, so be it. It’s better to hurt a while here than to hurt for eternity in hell.
I don’t think He enjoys seeing us hurt, and I don’t believe that pain was in His plan for us. But that’s just part of living in a fallen world.
Of course, these words don’t make the hard times much easier. It’s still incredibly hard to watch a child suffer, or to live without a loved one. But even if we go through these hard times, there are blessings around us that we can hold on to.
Recently, my step-mom’s father passed away. She was very close to him and is having a hard time dealing with his death. When I said “Happy Thanksgiving” to her when I saw her yesterday, she replied, “there is nothing to be thankful for this year.”
Given that she was standing next to her husband, in a warm house, having just eaten lunch, and had her adorable grand-daughter standing in front of her, I knew that this wasn’t true. But her mind is clouded with pain right now and she doesn’t know Jesus. She doesn’t know that He has so much to offer her in the midst of her pain. Please pray for her; for healing and comfort, and that she might come to know God.
I want to propose a challenge for the upcoming holiday season. We in the western world are so blessed compared to the majority of mankind. I want to challenge you to find a way to bless someone else. It doesn’t have to be big; maybe an extra donation to a food bank or food pantry. Fill up a shoebox for Operation Christmas child with Samaritan’s Purse. Bake cookies and share them with your neighbours. Pray about it and decide as a family what you can do to bless someone else with what a portion of what you’ve been blessed with.
For the poor will never cease from the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’
Deut. 15:11 NKJV