Thankful for What?
[Reading time: 9 minutes] Face it: this is not heaven. We live in a world that is dominated by sin and we can see its putrid effects all around us and even in us. Satan and his forces are prowling around looking for ways to devour us and they pose a continuous threat by stealing, killing and destroying.
We may not have any control over what happens around us or to us, but we do have control of our attitude. And God wants us to have a thankful attitude.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Col. 3:15, NIV). Being thankful is easy when we get what we want, but if we don’t like what is happening, we can be thankful only if we believe. When we’re experiencing turmoil, danger or loss, our natural (sinful) reaction is to defend ourselves and interests in anger and possibly by retaliating. By believing what God says, on the other hand, we can let the peace of Christ rule within us despite our circumstances.
Notice the verse says to “let” the peace of Christ rule; it’s something we choose to do. Letting God’s peace rule in us and being thankful are related to our faith in God. Being thankful to God is a matter of choice and is possible only if we believe God, regardless of circumstances.
The Bible encourages us to be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything” (Eph. 5:20) and to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18). How is it possible to be thankful “for everything” and “in all circumstances”? Some would say we should look for a silver lining on every cloud, that we can see good in every situation if we look closely enough. But I don’t think the Bible supports an approach to life that simplistically assumes everything is wonderful and somehow everything will turn out okay.
Biblical thankfulness is based on faith and knowledge. Consider Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” If we responded to God’s call to salvation and we love him, then God works everything together for our benefit. Everything.
There is a key Greek word in this verse, synergeo, which means “works together,” and includes the same multiplying effect as our English word “synergy.” Synergy is what causes the combined effect of two or more forces to be greater than the sum of their individual effects. This means when two things combine synergistically, a reaction occurs.
Consider a scriptural example: “Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand” (Lev. 26:8). Normally, if five chase a hundred, then a hundred would chase two thousand, because each would chase twenty. Instead, their combined efforts chase five times as many; that’s synergy.
We see the same effect – multiplication by five – in Deuteronomy 32:30: “How could one man chase a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, unless the Lord had given them up?” If each man chases 1,000, then two men normally would chase 2,000. Instead, synergy causes two men to chase 10,000; their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects. Result: one plus one equals ten!
That is the way God works in us. He uses our experiences and circumstances to produce something of value in us; even those that usually would harm us. Notice he uses the combination of multiple experiences and circumstances, not just individual ones, working all of them together so they produce compounded benefits for us.
Another key word in Romans 8:28 is “good,” which in the Greek refers to excellence, significance or usefulness. So God multiplies the benefits of everything we experience to produce goodness, excellence or usefulness in us. Now notice the first three words, “And we know.” Because we know that God works everything together for our benefit, we can honestly be thankful for everything and in all circumstances.
The next verse reveals the ultimate “good” God produces in us through our experiences. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Rom. 8:29). Here’s the goal we can focus on in faith: God synergistically combines our experiences to make us more like Jesus, if we allow him. Our part in that process is to believe that God does what is best, and choose to be thankful.
James 1:2-4 reads, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Again, we see the idea of excellence or perfection: “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” We might feel like complaining and demanding happiness when life is unpleasant. During those times, however, recognize that God is compounding the benefits and producing excellence in us. We can choose to be joyful and thankful, then persevere and let God continue his work in us.
Just like Romans 8:28, this verse shows the importance of knowing what God is doing: “Consider it pure joy … because you know.” The only way we can be thankful for everything and in all circumstances is by knowing God is using them for our benefit to make our character excellent.
What situation have we not been thankful for, or what have we been worried or angry about? Why not choose to believe what God’s Word says? How does the Bible apply to our situation? How will we respond to what the Bible says?
The proper response is really very simple, though it is not easy: choose to repent and change our attitude about our situation. Choose to be thankful about it. Nowhere does the Bible require us to be happy about our circumstances, but it does require us to be thankful.
Should we be thankful for what Satan does? Or for what his followers and demons do? It would be foolish to think God wants us to be thankful that sin exists and is destroying people. So what can we be thankful for? God is God. Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. His kingdom exists in heaven, and someday soon he will expand it to include all of creation once again. Although it appears sin is running rampant, God is in ultimate control of everything. He honors our free will and allows us to choose whom we will serve. God set limits on what Satan and people can do, so he is in control. When evil seems to be victorious, can we be thankful God’s kingdom is near? Yes.
Sin is a reminder. Learn to recognize sin and identify its destructive power. Develop a hatred for sin and what it has done. This requires a radical change in our thinking, because sin can be extremely enjoyable. Every time we see sin or its effects, let it motivate us to eliminate all our sin. We do not belong on this planet; it’s not our home. We are aliens to this world and its system. Someday we will leave here and go home to be with our Father, so we mustn’t let sin hinder us from graduating successfully from this life. There are no acceptable sins. Can we be thankful that sinful acts around us motivate us to become more righteous? Yes.
Our experiences can benefit us. God can and will work everything to our benefit, if we allow him. Can he use hurtful experiences to break the power our sinful attitudes and behavior have over us? Can we be thankful for and in that? Yes.
That is why Ephesians 5:19-20 says we’re to be “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Only by recognizing who God is and what he does, can we always give thanks to him for everything and in everything.
We won’t find anything worthwhile to be thankful for as long as our attention is on the circumstances. Don’t insist on finding something “good” in every experience, or the silver lining in every cloud. Turn to God. Be thankful he’s in control, that every sinful act can motivate us to become more righteous, and that God will use every experience for our benefit if we allow him.
Such experiences in themselves offer nothing good. Any good comes from the way we respond to them. Do we continue to trust God, even when evidence suggests he’s not doing his job of protecting us? Do we choose to intercede for our children continuously in the face of hopeless situations? Will we stand firmly on God’s Word and promises even when our world seems to be falling apart? Does our relationship with God depend on what he’s done for us lately?
Our circumstances can push us toward God and motivate us to develop godly character. We really can be thankful in all circumstances and for everything, but only if we focus our attention on God.
He is in ultimate control of everything, even if sin appears to be out of control. What he says is absolutely guaranteed, and he says in the end everything will be done according to his will. His kingdom is unshakable; everything else in creation can and will be shaken. “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28).
Can we be thankful in everything and for everything? Yes, but only if we choose to be. Developing a thankful attitude toward God is part of repenting – changing the way we think.
- “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
- What is the relationship between joyfulness and giving thanks?
- Why would it be God’s will for us to be joyful always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances?
- “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).
- “Pure joy” describes a state of complete happiness or satisfaction. How does knowing that a test can produce maturity cause us to have pure joy during trials?
- How can such an attitude cause us to be thankful in severe trials?
- “They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 5:40-42).
- How did rejoicing reflect an attitude of thankfulness?
- How did thankfulness enable the apostles to continue doing the very thing that caused them to be flogged
When we understand that God works all events together so they have a compounded benefit for us, we can be thankful in and for everything.