Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to ‘give thanks in all circumstances is a challenging one for us as Christians, because it addresses the attitude of our hearts. There are some verses in Scripture that seem to challenge you the more you think about and ponder them, and this verse is certainly one of them! It would definitely be easier and more comfortable to give thanks in ‘most’ circumstances, or in the circumstances when things are going well and ‘the world’s all as it should be’. Yet in his writings (and in his life) Paul never settles for the easy, comfortable option does he? Whilst this verse may be a challenging one when we think about the degree to which it may or may not be outworked in our lives, it is a vital one, as I believe Christians are to be marked by thanksgiving.
A question that would be worth asking ourselves from time-to-time is this: ‘is my heart full of thankfulness or is it full of grumbling?’ When our hearts are full of thankfulness, there are many blessing that flow to us (and of course those around us – I know what sort of person I’d rather be around!). These blessings include: grace, joy, contentment and right or enlarged perspective. On the other hand, when our heart attitude is one of grumbling it can, if left unchecked, like a weed grow up to stifle our joy, our contentment, and even hinder our spiritual progress. Jesus says in Luke 6:45 that it is ‘out of the abundance (or overflow) of the heart that the mouth speaks’. Both thankfulness and grumbling are in fact heart attitudes – and both are often manifest in the words we speak – whether that be gratitude, thanksgiving and honour or complaining, negativity, and criticism.
One of the things about human nature is the tendency we have to forget – we can forget to be thankful, even when we have so much to be thankful for. I have found myself in this place a number of times over the last 9 months or so since we purchased our German Shorthaired Pointer x Labrador puppy, Jonty. He is a lovely dog and I am thankful for many things about him such as the fact he doesn’t bark much, he has a lovely temperament, he is great with kids and is great to exercise with. Even so, I still find things to grumble about – the fact that his excavation business continues to grow in size and scope, and the fact that he has destroyed his kennel, a number of different beds, and the winter coat I bought for him to stay warm in the colder months! In my moments of complaint and frustration, I’m thankful that my lovely wife Steph brings perspective and reminds me that he’s just a pup, that he is in fact a good dog and he will settle down as he matures.
In a similar way, the people of Israel were quick to forget to be thankful to the Lord for all He had done for them. Grumbling seemed to be their default response when things got a little bit hard (see Exodus 15:22-16:12; Numbers 14:26-31) and the by-products of that included a lack of contentment, and the wrong perspective. Unfortunately, it also thwarted their spiritual progress and stopped many from entering into the Promised Land and all that God had for them.
As we are in the midst of the cold winter months here in Canberra, I want to challenge us to be a thankful people and not let grumbling be our default response. It’s easy to grumble about the cold, and to shrink back a bit because it’s winter. But there is a grace that flows to us when we intentionally purpose in our hearts to be thankful, even if it’s just for the little, seemingly insignificant things. Having a heart attitude of thankfulness gives us right perspective, enables us to step into more of what God has for us and it also brings contentment because we no longer focus on what we don’t have, but what we do. The apostle Paul practiced what he preached in so many ways, but particularly the exhortation to be thankful. In Philippians 4, we read that he had learned to be content no matter what the situation. I believe one of the keys to experience this kind of contentment is to be thankful. I pray that we would be a thankful people and know firsthand the blessings that flow to us as a result.