How is it possible to give thanks in “all circumstances” when the circumstances get really bad?
When we trust in Christ, we are actually trusting in God because Jesus is God and God has sent His one and only Son to give His life as a ransom for many, and the many are those who have repented and trusted in Christ. Our trust in Christ should motivate us to “admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1st Thess 5:14), but we must also “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (1st Thess 5:15). The Apostle Paul tells us elsewhere that we should “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Rom 12:17) and “never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Rom 12:19), so “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21).
One of the shortest verses in the Bible and one that is also a command, is where Paul’s tells the church at Thessalonica to “Rejoice always” (1st Thess 5:16). This means to rejoice when things are going well, but also to rejoice while we’re experiencing persecution, hunger, joblessness, illness, and any other trial or tribulation. How hard it is to praise God and rejoice while you’re in the storm, but this is very pleasing to God. The Apostle Peter wrote, “to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1st Pet 2:21), because even when Jesus “suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1st Pet 2:23). From God’s perspective, “it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil” (1st Pet 3:17). So we should always rejoice because we know that the glory that’s coming can’t compare with the suffering of today (Rom 8:18).
Next, the Apostle Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing” (1st Thess 5:17). What does “pray without ceasing” look like? It means we pray every chance we get. We can pray on the way to work, while waiting in line, while on our breaks or at lunch, while in the shower, bed, or in the car. To “pray without ceasing” doesn’t mean you do nothing else but pray because your family will suffer if you lose your job if you stay home all day praying. What Paul means is to pray with every opportunity you have…day, night, and in between times. Just don’t stop praying is what Paul is saying. Jesus said very much the same thing where He told His disciples “that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1), so as Paul again suggests, we should be “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Eph 6:18-20).
Always Giving Thanks
Finally, we are told by Paul to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1st Thess 5:18). People are always seeking to find the will of God and here it is! Give thanks in all things and in every circumstance, because guess what, “this is the will of God.” God’s will is not some hidden mystery that we cannot find in Scripture. It is as plain as day. If you do a word search in the Bible for the word “thanks” or “give thanks,” you’ll end up going through the entire Bible because we are commanded to always give thanks and to do so regardless of what’s happening in our lives. We just don’t thank God when things are going well, but Paul asks “that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people” (1st Tim 2:1). His point is, “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col 3:17). Paul’s epistle (letter) to the church at Rome shows he gave “thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Rom 6:17). Isn’t that good enough of a reason to thank God?
I can tell you right now what the will of God is for your life. It is to “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1st Thess 5:18). Whenever I get asked by someone, “What is God’s will for my life,” I point them to various Scriptures that tell them what the revealed will of God is, like in 1st Thessalonians 5:18. When we want to know God’s hidden will (which I have no clue about), we must obey the revealed will of God, because God will not reveal His will for your life if you are not obeying His revealed will in Scripture. It’s as plain as the sun in the sky. There are dozens of verses that tell us what the will of God is, so instead of seeking God’s hidden will in your life, try obeying His revealed will first. Only then will God likely open up more of His will for your life, but if you don’t obey His written Word, He is under no obligation to reveal to you those things in His will that are presently hidden from you.