On Thursday, we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. We’ll join together with friends, family, and loved ones and remember all that we have to be thankful for. The following day, here in the U.S., we’ll trample and fight one another to take advantage of sales on things that we really don’t even need.
In any case, we know that having an attitude of gratitude is something that everyone who believes in Jesus for their salvation should have. After all, we deserved Hell and we’re given Heaven, we deserve condemnation and we’re given mercy, we deserve judgment and we’re given forgiveness, we deserve to be abandoned by God and we’re adopted into His family, freely given all things, and granted His very Presence to dwell within us. Given these simple truths, how could we not be thankful no matter what our circumstances are?
Just a few weeks ago, we were reminded by Dave Barrett that this is, in fact, God’s will for us!
1 Thessalonians 5:16-19
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit.
Giving thanks in all circumstances, although we know it is God’s will for us, isn’t exactly easy to do. It is our old sin nature to only be truly thankful for something after we realize the full benefit of it. It was previously inconceivable for us to be thankful for things like hardships, hunger, thirst, persecution, and all the five big ‘T’s: trials, tests, trouble, temptations, and tribulation.
Now that we are a new creation in Jesus, however, we can rejoice and be glad within them (Matthew 5, James 1)! As God transforms us by the renewing of our minds, we begin to see things like we’ve never seen them before. With eternity in clear view, all of the troubles of this world seem so insignificant and temporary. Even death, which we previously thought to be the greatest tragedy and time of greatest loss of absolutely everything, is now something we celebrate because we realize that it is then that actually gain absolutely everything! Even as Isaiah and Hosea laughingly proclaimed, “Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?” The victory is found in Christ Jesus alone!
This alone is why we can be thankful in all circumstances, because we trust in Jesus. Even though we may not know at this very moment why we may be experiencing difficult times. Even though we may not know at this very moment why we are permitted to suffer. Even though we may not now how things will ever change, we do know one thing. We can trust every aspect of our lives into the hands of Jesus. He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. He promised to be our refuge and strength; our very present help in our time of need.
To all of life’s questions that we may ever ask during times when it is hard to be thankful:
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
To gain an even more profound perspective of this life-changing statement of Jesus that helps us to give thanks in all circumstances, let’s read the context of what was happening in His life.
1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
We have the insight to know how this historically progressed. That evening, Jesus was taken by force to a mock trial. He was spit on, ridiculed, beaten, scourged, and ultimately put to death on the cross. Jesus washed away the filth from the feet of His disciples. The blood shed by Jesus that day washes away the sins of any who put their faith in Him. Jesus, King of King and Lord of Lords, our very Creator chose the role of a humble servant. It was not the act of washing each other’s feet that Jesus was referring to, but the humble laying down of our lives for Jesus and one another that He said we would be blessed if we do.
Choosing humility, not thinking too highly of ourselves, but rather, valuing others greater than ourselves, is a tremendously practical way of being thankful. After all, where does an unthankful attitude come from other than thinking that we deserve something that we do not have? When we think that we are entitled to something and do not receive it, we become whiny and begin to complain. We forget about who we are, who Jesus is, and what He has done for us. We forget about the example that He has set and become consumed with ourselves. This is far from God’s will for us and the destructive nature of unthankfulness is quite obvious. On the contrary, we are to:
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus trusted in His heavenly father. He knew who He was and what He was worthy of, but He chose to lay it all down. Jesus chose to serve His own creation and even allowed them to take His life. He knew that He could call on legions of angels to come to His rescue, but He instead humbly served and forgave even those taking His life. Jesus chose to give thanks no matter His circumstances because He knew that He could trust His Heavenly Father no matter what happened in the immediate time.
He taught His disciples this as well.
1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3 He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5 If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.
Can you imagine being sent as a missionary and being told to go with absolutely nothing? Not even a walking stick! That is exactly what Jesus did in this instance. He was teaching His disciples that they could completely trust in God. He didn’t say that things would be easy, in fact, He told them that they would encounter people who wanted nothing to do with them. They had to trust that God would prepare a way for them and their ministry through other people as they went from house to house and village to village. What is even more amazing is how they responded when they returned!
10 When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done.
Never is it recorded that they questioned Jesus or whined or complained. They simply went on their way proclaiming the good news about God’s Kingdom and healed people wherever they went. They didn’t starve to death and they didn’t get beaten to death, in fact, they all made it back just fine. Although we aren’t given the details, I’m certain that they had one testimony after another of how good and faithful God is! As if this missionary challenge wasn’t enough to teach them about our ability and the power of being thankful in all circumstances, we now read on:
Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, 11 but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.
12 Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”
13 He replied, “You give them something to eat.”
They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” 14 (About five thousand men were there.)
But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.”15 The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. 16 Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. 17 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.
When we trust our lives and our circumstances to Jesus, when we choose to do what He calls us to do, only then can He begin to do the miraculous! Even though we may not understand what He is up to and why He is asking us to do the illogical or unreasonable, when we prove our trust in Him with not only words, but also action, He can do the illogical and unreasonable!
He can make a jar of oil that never empties, bread and fish that feeds thousands, a single seed that produces trees and fruit for thousands and thousands of years, water from a rock, manna from nothing, money in a fish’s mouth, more fish than a boat can handle in the single cast of a net, and even more! All of these miracles happened because common people just like us simply did what God asked them to do. With this in mind, it becomes far easier to give thanks in all circumstances because we know that our circumstances are very temporary. When we simply obey God, He can do the extraordinary and miraculous!
Wherever you may find yourself right now, no matter how difficult it may be to give thanks in your current circumstances, Jesus simply says:
“You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
Trust Jesus, listen to His voice, and do what He asks. You never know what extraordinary miracle is waiting for you as soon as you put your faith into action!