- Eldon Peterson
Being Thankful Always
With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror, we will naturally look forward to Christmas. There is nothing wrong with this, in fact, this Sunday Christian churches enter the Advent Season that calls us to look forward to the celebration of Christ’s birth. But before we forget Thanksgiving, I would like us to consider what it means to be thankful.
One definition of thankful says, “The definition of thankful is someone feeling or showing gratitude. When you are pleased and grateful for what you have, this is an example of a time when you are thankful.” We’re likely to agree with this informal definition; yet this definition of thankfulness is lacking.
Certainly, I am thankful for a sunny day. I am thankful for physical health and a job. But saying this can imply that I will not or cannot be thankful for rainy days, or days of sickness or when I am without work. Should my thankfulness be limited to only times when things are “going my way”? Can I be thankful in times of trials and troubles? I hope not!
Possibly the best Bible verse about thankfulness is found in 1 Thessalonians 5. There Paul writes, “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (16–18) Those belonging to Christ are called to be joyful and thankful in all circumstances. When facing difficult circumstances, we can either do it naturally or unnaturally.
I’ve found that the unnatural way, willing ourselves to be thankful, is likely to be our default. Knowing that we are supposed to be thankful, we paste on plastic smiles and exhibit a insincere thankfulness. But unless our thankfulness flows out of a thankful heart, it will not only be meaningless but destructive.
Possibly you have felt pressured to exhibit joy in the midst of some sorrowful circumstances. It may have been in grieving over a death or a dire diagnosis or something else that has shattered us. A voice tells us that we are to be joyful, thankful in all circumstances, so we strive to will ourselves to do this. However, “faking it until we make it” will not work. Instead, we need to know the natural way of finding the joy that comes through Christ.
Joy is the natural fruit of knowing that our sins have been forgiven. It is a joy that enables us to navigate the trials of this life. It may not change our circumstances, but it will give us a new reality in which to see them. Rather than seeing through the lens of pain or loss, we can now see our circumstances with hope.
How can anyone have hope in the midst of loss? The answer is found in the promises that make us thankful. Should our thankfulness only come from times of ease, then when troubles come, our thankfulness will vanish and we will put on that unnatural, disingenuous smile and fake it. But knowing Christ, enables us to entrust ourselves to Him; knowing that we have eternal life in Him allows us to endure all things.
A verse that helps me understand this is, “Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2–4)
Traversing trials through my own determination is different from “Consider it a great joy”! When our hope is in Christ, we can embrace trials knowing that God promises to be with us and that He will not abandon us in them. God has promised to use the trials for our good. James says that as we walk through them with our eyes fixed on our hope, we can then rest in the promise that the Lord will use them to make us “mature and complete, lacking nothing.”
If I ask, “Who would like to be mature and complete, lacking nothing?” Who wouldn’t raise their hand? But learning that it comes through trials and endurance, we may wonder if there is not another way. However, knowing God’s goodness and love allows us to embrace our trials and “Be thankful in all circumstances.”
I pray that whatever life throws at you over the next month, that you will look to Christ and discover the hope that He was born to bring us. It is only in knowing Christ that we can be thankful in all things.