In the bustling rhythm of life, amidst its myriad of challenges and joys, a timeless principle exists. A principle that helps to bring balance and keep perspective through life's ups and downs.
We are reminded of this principle at least once a year on Thanksgiving Day. Many families take turns before eating their Thanksgiving meal, for each member to share something they are currently grateful for. While a beautiful tradition, if expressing gratitude is limited to once a year before a delicious Thanksgiving meal, genuine thankfulness is not genuinely being practiced.
Expressing gratitude is crucial for navigating this old life and true thankfulness must be practiced regularly, even when things are not going to plan. Let's take a few moments to explore the biblical principle of gratitude and its transformative power in our lives.
Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18;
"Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."
Paul's final instructions to the church in Thessalonica included commands to help them live a complete and fulfilled life. While we are only focusing on three of these commands, these three are prevalent throughout Paul's other letters. They are themes he writes on often. And as it often the case, themes that are repeated in Scripture carry additional significance. Let's examine each of the three commands;
Rejoicing always does not mean plastering a smile on our faces regardless of the storms that rage around us. Instead, it’s about anchoring our joy in something unshakable—the unchanging nature of God. It’s about finding solace in His promises, even amidst the chaos, knowing that His presence sustains us. A profound peace accompanies the choice to rejoice despite circumstances, knowing that God is right by your side. (Psalm 27:4; Revelation 3:20)
When we have God with us, we have nothing to fear. Therefore, we should rejoice. With God's presence, we can experience a peace that surpasses any situation we may find ourselves in (Philippians 4:7,8). When you feel God's presence, you know you are never alone, and everything will be as it should be.
Therefore, rejoice. As Philippians 4:4 puts it, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!"
Michael Martin, commenting on this passage, writes,
"The church must not let its problems create an atmosphere of gloom or pessimism. Rather, an optimistic atmosphere of joy, thanks, and praise ought to characterize the assembly when believers gather."1
The Church is to gather together and encourage each other in rejoicing for God's collective movement.
Prayer, often seen as a scheduled dialogue with God, takes on a new dimension when viewed as an ongoing conversation with our Creator. It’s the continual realization of His nearness. We can talk with Him anytime and be assured He hears us. (John 9:31; 1 Peter 3:12; 1 John 5:15)
Incorporating prayer into our daily routine doesn't require grand gestures or eloquent words. It's about cultivating a posture acknowledging God's presence in every aspect of our lives. Whether in moments of stillness, silent cries for help, or situations that threaten to overwhelm us, communication with our Creator proves invaluable because it reminds us He is near.
Praying continually means allowing God to speak into every aspect of our lives.
Giving Thanks in All Circumstances
A call to gratitude that extends beyond the moments of abundance and encourages us through the trials that threaten to overwhelm us.
Gratitude is a transformative practice. It doesn’t deny the hardships but transforms our perspective amid them. In the darkest of nights, the light of gratitude shines brightest, illuminating the blessings that often evade our sight.
"Paul never instructed the church to thank God for evil events but to thank God that even in evil times and circumstances our hope remains, and God continues his work in our lives (Rom 8:28)."2
Gene Green continues this idea by stating, "The apostles never encourage believers to deny that adversity brings sadness and grief (see 4:13; 1 Pet. 1:6; Rom. 12:15), but they recognize that in the midst of the most agonizing situations the presence of God through his Spirit can infuse the soul with hope and the heart with joy. This joy is rooted deeply in the gospel (Luke 2:10–11) and became one of the primary distinctives of the Christian community."3
This is the sign of a healthy Christian Church, a place where people are experiencing Joy. Because joy is produced by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the believer (Galatians 5:22)
The fantastic thing about these three commands is that they are not just theological or left for the practices of religion, but they impact all areas of our lives. Ellen White, commenting on these three elements, states,
"Nothing tends more to promote health of body and of soul than does a spirit of gratitude and praise. It is a positive duty to resist melancholy, discontented thoughts and feelings—as much a duty as it is to pray. If we are heaven-bound, how can we go as a band of mourners, groaning and complaining all along the way to our Father’s house?"4
As the Thanksgiving season approaches, let us remember to follow these three important commands. Firstly, let us always rejoice, regardless of our circumstances. Secondly, let us continually seek guidance and strength from the Lord. And lastly, let us give thanks in all circumstances, recognizing the blessings in our lives, even during challenging times. By practicing these commands regularly, we can gain new perspectives and strengthen our relationship with the Lord.
What might an activity around your Thanksgiving table look like that incorporates all three elements?
1) D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians, vol. 33, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 181.
2) D. Michael Martin, 1, 2 Thessalonians, vol. 33, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 182.
3) Gene L. Green, The Letters to the Thessalonians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.; Apollos, 2002), 258.
4) Ellen Gould White, The Ministry of Healing (Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1905), 251.