I Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Ephesians 5:18b-20 …but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ….
Giving thanks to the Lord can be a sticky thing to believers if they don’t understand God’s power, purposes, and heart. For those still unfamiliar with God’s word, or who think of God as distant, hard and demanding, the command to give thanks in everything can seem harsh and unfeeling. Why should we give thanks for pain, or trial, or persecution? Is God really that perverse?
The first scripture above presents almost a bird’s-eye view of how to move through our whole lives, always (deep down) rejoicing, praying and giving thanks in all things (or circumstances, as in some translations). It’s an attitude of life that should color our entire existence, not just pop up occasionally when we’re feeling especially spiritual.
This passage also says “in everything,” not “for everything”. God is not saying here to thank Him that others sin, or that someone died, or that you are suffering. We give thanks because He can redeem it all, that He is always working everything together for our good (if we are in Christ), and that He eventually works everything together for His glory. We can give thanks because He is with us in our circumstances (and being with us is a more powerful reality than most of us realize or take advantage of). We give thanks because we can see beyond the short-term pain to the long-term victories. We give thanks because, no matter what is right in front of us, He is in control, and His covenant love to His people never ends (Psalm 107:1).
Yet Ephesians 5:20 goes the next step, and tells us to “[give] thanks always for all things.” Interestingly, the key word for us here is not for, but all. Once we take a step back from the disappointment, the pain, the discouragement, the sin, and the failure, we can see the rest of it: His hand on everything, redeeming it all, working everything that comes our way for our good. We see that nothing stands alone, hurting us, but everything is in His hands, being worked out for a blessing.
Without God and His promises, we have no reason to be thankful in anything or for anything. But because He is with us, and working on our behalf, we have reason to thank Him. We may have to seek His face for the proper perspective from which to give genuine thanks, but there is ample reason in and for everything to give Him thanks.
Prayer: Father, help me look beyond what is temporary in my circumstances so that I can see what is eternal, and give You thanks for how You work all things to my good. Help me to be of a grateful heart so that I can see more and more things to thank You for and more and more reasons to be thankful for You and Your love.