Giving Thanks When It’s Hard To

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November 25, 2020

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. The food, the family, and the fellowship have always been something I look forward to all year. After enjoying our thanksgiving meal together, my dad would always have each family member go around and share what they were grateful for this year. Being the mushy and sentimental person that I am, I cherish this family tradition.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

While I love the beauty of gathering annually to sit back and intentionally enjoy God’s blessings, sometimes it is hard to be grateful. Most days, my natural inclination is not always thankfulness. It is far easier to fixate on what is difficult, missing, or imperfect in my life than focusing on the good. Our fallen nature steers our hearts away from seeing blessings — because the further our perspective sails, the harder it becomes to see God’s providence.

God knows this about us, and I believe that is why He gave us countless instructions in Scripture to pause, rest, and be grateful consistently and continuously. In 1Thessalonians 5:16–18, Paul writes,

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

That seems like a nice quote to stick up in your living room or above your dining room table. At first glance, these words seem like a nice thought, something to remember and strive for. But have you ever told someone going through an extremely trying season to “be thankful?” It is far easier to give and receive these words when things are going well — but what about when our worlds are literally upside down, and rejoicing is the last thing on our minds?

Paul gets it, and it’s precisely why he is telling the early church in Thessalonica to rejoice, pray, and give thanks. These men and women had it rough. They faced incredible opposition and persecution for being followers of Jesus (Acts 17:1–14).

Why then is Paul urging them to take a posture of gratitude when their lives were threatened, and people hated them? I think it is because Paul understood something greater was happening within them. Yes, things were tough, and it felt like life as they knew it was falling apart. Still, internally, he was reminding them of the hope they had been given through Jesus that transcended their circumstances and could never be taken away. A hope that is always worthy of praise and thanksgiving.

He was reminding them of the hope they had been given through Jesus that transcended their circumstances and could never be taken away. A hope that is always worthy of praise and thanksgiving

Now life hardly seems as trying and difficult for us today as it did for the early church, but that is not to say our experiences do not carry weight and heartache. This year alone has brought with it incredible losses and heartbreak. Even now, our nation stands divided, wounded, and exhausted. There is much to lament over this last year, but is it possible for us also to lift praise simultaneously?

I believe the instructions given to the early church stand firm for us today. While I think God welcomes our praises and prayers, this instruction is more for our sake than His. Because when we position ourselves before our Maker just as we are — bruised, wounded, and maybe even broken — we open up ourselves to the incredible power He has to encourage, restore, and heal in ways we could never imagine.

Paul goes on to say in verses 23–24,

“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”

Just as we see God using trials to shape His children into His likeness in Scripture, He can do the same transformative work in us today.

From this passage, I learned that God can use what is happening around you to shape what is happening inside you. My hope and prayer are that we would open our hearts to Him in gratitude, not just this Thanksgiving, but every day, trusting that God, who is sovereign over all, cares for our hearts with tender love and affection.