The Apostle Paul writes, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”(I Thessalonians 5:18.) I used to puzzle over this verse. How on earth do you give thanks in all circumstances? How do you thank God, when your water’s about to be turned off, your children are sick and you’ve just heard that you’re being laid off? How do you thank God when your best friend is mad at you, your boss in on your case and your spouse has blown up at you? How do you thank God when divorce has left you in poverty or the death of a loved one has colored your world in gray? How do you thank God when your world is in chaos, your heart weeps and you can hardly keep from drowning in your pain? And what is this stuff about it being God’s will – those trying moments you’re in. Is this really what God wants for you?
I don’t think that the Apostle Paul ever intended us to read his letter that way. I think his intention was that we recognize God’s presence in the midst of what we are experiencing. When we look at our lives through the lens of thanks, we find much to be grateful for. We see God’s hand coloring our world with beauty in every season. God writes a masterpiece in the sky. We look up on a clear night and we know that we are part of the vast mystery of all creation. We are awed by a sense that we have a place in God’s universe.
When trouble lands at our door, God is there to break into our darkness with light. In our brokenness, God yearns to make us whole. We are touched by acts of kindness, mercy and compassion. God’s presence and love become a source of courage, strength and hope. When we despair, God surprises us with life giving waters. Then, in some inexplicable way, God weaves the bitter and harsh places of our lives into a tapestry that glimmers with beauty.
We may never be grateful for the crisis which threw us into turmoil and grief. But we can give thanks for the people God sends into our lives who care. We give thanks for the ways we are helped through our crisis. The care we are shown is cause for gratitude. One day we will look back through the perspective of years and realize, that even there – especially there – we were covered with the light and love of God. In the midst of our turmoil we discover God planted people in our lives to listen, to care, to touch us with love. A book, a sermon, a word from a song, a friend reminded us that we are beloved and precious children of God. Genuine gratitude is born out of recognizing that God has not left us without comfort or comforters. The apostle Paul wrote his words to the people of Thessalonica through the eyes of one who had been shipwrecked, beaten, imprisoned and falsely accused. He knew there was nothing that would ever separate him from God’s love in Jesus Christ. For that gift, we can indeed give thanks.