We are mere days from Thanksgiving. For all of us, this means something different. Some people have to work, and will spend their Thanksgiving away from their loved ones. Some are living away from their family. Some are in the hospital or the nursing home. Some have just lost a family member, and are grieving.
In all of these circumstances, we are supposed to be thankful. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says to “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
I am going to be 100% honest. There have been many situations and circumstances that I have faced, that I haven’t been thankful for. There have been years that my heart could not find one thing to give thanks for. Is it that I didn’t have any? No. It wasn’t a matter of not having blessings, it was a matter of blocking my blessings.
Giving thanks in all circumstances is hard. To me, it is right up there with forgiving people who aren’t sorry. Both of these situations require a change in heart. How am I supposed to be thankful in some of the biggest trials in my life?
Recently, I read a devotional about the Apostle Paul. I have heard his story many, many times in my Christian life. Let me restate that. I have HEARD his story many, many times in my Christian life. I heard it. I never applied it. I never gave two thoughts to it. He was a man who was given absolutely horrible circumstances and yet, he managed to give thanks in all that he did.
Let’s give a brief recap of his life. Paul was born Saul. He was born into a Jewish family. At the age of 30, he witnessed the stoning of Stephen. It was at this time that Saul begins to lead the persecutions against the early church. According to Acts 8, Saul went from home to home and placed both men and women in prison for their beliefs. Their sentence would be death.
While on a trip to Damascus, a spotlight from Heaven shines on him and the voice of Jesus asks him “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” He is stricken blind for three days. God sends Ananias to meet with Saul, and his vision is restored. He was immediately baptized.
During the next thirty five years of his life, Saul (now Paul) spends his time spreading the gospel. While spreading the gospel, Paul suffers many trials and tribulations. 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 details these sufferings. “Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”
If we revisit 1 Thessalonians 5:18, it says to “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Would it surprise you to know that Paul, who has faced all of these trials, is the author? So, how can someone who has been flogged, imprisoned, shipwrecked, starved, and many other things, tell us to give thanks in all circumstances?
If Paul can give thanks through all of his trials, then surely I can give thanks through mine. The story of Paul helps us to see many key points. The first is that no matter what you have done, you are never too far from God’s grace. Paul was literally responsible for the death of those who believed, and yet he was given grace and his life was transformed. The second is that it is never too late to change who you are and your beliefs. Just because you have always acted a certain way, or believed a specific thing, doesn’t mean that you must remain in those acts and beliefs. The last is that we can always be thankful. The trials that we face are for a reason. They serve a purpose. We do not know these reasons, but God does. He holds all of the answers.
So, this Thanksgiving, I am going to be thankful like Paul. No matter the situation I will find reasons to be thankful. I will be thankful, first and foremost, for God’s mercy and grace. Everything else shadows in comparison.