Thanksgiving? Under these circumstances, you may ask. Look at how the election turned out. Look at the problems we face as a nation (many of which would be there had the election gone the other way). Look at the devastation from Sandy. Do you know that war seems to be breaking out in Gaza and Israel, with Egypt and possibly Iran about to get into the mix. Can you still give thanks?
In the face of all this do three things: be joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances! That’s how the Apostle Paul commands you to respond in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
Rejoice always! That is not the natural reaction to the suffering mentioned in v. 15. It is not the get even attitude of the world nor is it passive acceptance. This joy does not mean wearing a shallow grin. There is a legitimate place for grief in the life of the Christian (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13). Undergirding your reaction, even in bad circumstances, is an appreciation of God’s faithfulness in the Lord Jesus Christ. Your joy grows out of, not the problem, but the faithfulness of God that is evident even in the problem. John Calvin comments: “If we consider what Christ has conferred upon us, there will be no bitterness of grief so intense as may not be alleviated, and give way to spiritual joy.” (Commentary on 1 Thessalonians).
Pray unceasingly! Prayer focuses your attention on the God who sovereignly orders your life. This prayer can include petitions for relief from the problems. Paul prayed for the removal of his thorn in the flesh. Your continuous attitude should be a prayerful one. Remember that prayer involves communication with God. That ought to characterize all of your life, not just times of formal worship.
Give thanks in everything. The world finds some things for which to give thanks–and others about which to complain bitterly. As a Christian, recognize the hand of your faithful Father in heaven in all events. Thus give thanks, even when bad things happen. Discover ways in which God’s grace is being made evident in your circumstances. It was the sufficiency of God’s grace that was displayed in Paul’s own weakness involved in his thorn in the flesh.
How can you do this? God’s sovereignty lies behind Paul’s instructions. God’s specific command to you, his will for you, is to give thanks always, prayerfully, and joyfully. This is not an option, one way to go among others. This is how you must respond.
You are in Christ Jesus. Your prayerful, joyful thanksgiving is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. It is as God gives him to you as your Savior that he calls you to respond with joy in everything. As you repent of your sins and trust in Christ, you are united with the Lord who suffered and died in your place. There is no suffering through which you go which he has not already experienced. Psalm 34 is full of praise, joy and thanksgiving. It also revels in answered prayer. You remember the circumstances of David, described in the title. But while David praises God for hearing him in his own crisis, he is doing more than that. He is the voice of his greater Son, the Lord who faced danger far greater than an angry Philistine king and his court. When Christ hung between heaven and earth on the cross, and while suspended there endured the essence of what hell is, he prayed to his Father who heard him. Because you are in this Christ Jesus, you can rejoice, pray, and give thanks.
Christ’s suffering and yours are not the end of the story. The Savior in whom you trust is the Lord who has been raised. He is the One sitting at the right hand of the Father, the One who will come down from heaven with a loud shout. There is nothing in this life or the life to come that can separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus.
The triple command flows out of your living relationship with the Lord who loved you enough to go through much more difficult suffering than you will ever face. In him, give thanks–in every circumstance.
[In preparation for the sermon on November 18, 2013]