As a teenager, floundering to find the ‘Will of God’ for my life, I found this verse and adopted it:

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT)

It brought me such great comfort to know that God’s will doesn’t have to be overly complicated or difficult to achieve. Be joyful, keep praying, and be thankful all the time. This I knew I could do.  

But sometimes, life gets tricky.  Be thankful in all circumstances? This seemed relatively simple when I was living at home, going to school, and didn’t have much more to care about than getting my homework done. I’m not saying my thankfulness wasn’t sincere, it just wasn’t seasoned. 

Fast forward a couple of decades or so and here I am pondering this idea of thankfulness in ALL circumstances.  I’ve certainly increased in the number of things and people I have to thank God for, but likewise, my awareness of difficult and painful things has also increased. Am I really to be thankful when people I love are hurting? When disappointments come and confusion sets in? When things and people don’t turn out like I thought they would, and so many have, and continue to experience loss?  Is it really realistic, or even appropriate, to be thankful in ALL circumstances?

In times of trouble, when our need to be thankful is brought up, many times it’s in the context of, “it could be worse,” or, “Compared to (fill in the blank) I have so much.”  This kind of logic never sits right with me.  If my thankfulness is based on comparison, what does that mean for the people I’m comparing myself to? I mean, if it’s all about a ‘who has it worse than someone else’ pecking order, then someone down at the bottom of the line has it so badly, they simply don’t have to be thankful. Is their sad pitiful state, and my not being like them what all of our thankfulness is based off of?  That seems really messed up!  Thankfulness has to be more than just a “I’ve got it better than others” competition. Are we all just supposed to fake it and pretend everything is alright? 

As I brought all my ugly questions to the Lord, He gently led me to a familiar passage, Psalm 23.

“Yahweh is my best friend and my shepherd.
I always have more than enough.
He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love.
His tracks take me to an oasis of peace near the quiet brook of bliss.
That’s where he restores and revives my life.
He opens before me the right path
and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness
so that I can bring honor to his name.
Even when your path takes me through
the valley of deepest darkness,
fear will never conquer me, for you already have!
Your authority is my strength and my peace.
The comfort of your love takes away my fear.
I’ll never be lonely, for you are near.
You become my delicious feast
even when my enemies dare to fight.
You anoint me with the fragrance of your Holy Spirit;
you give me all I can drink of you until my cup overflows.
So why would I fear the future?
Only goodness and tender love pursue me all the days of my life.
Then afterward, when my life is through,
I’ll return to your glorious presence to be forever with you!”(TPT)

This psalm brings images of comfort, resting in a peaceful valley. Reading it here, I see other seasons as well: walking through the valley of deepest darkness, surrounded by enemies that want to fight. These seasons seem less than peaceful!  Yet because the Lord is present, there is no fear. Even in death itself, God’s promise is His presence. We are in fact, never alone.

Hebrews 13:5 says:

“Don’t be obsessed with money but live content with what you have, for you always have God’s presence. For hasn’t he promised you, “I will never leave you, never! And I will not loosen my grip on your life!” (TPT)

When God says ‘be content with what you have,’ He is not saying to stop whining and pretend like everything is OK because other people have it worse. God is reminding us of what we do have: Him. No matter what we’re going through, no matter what we’ve experienced, we are not in this alone, and neither are our loved ones.  God has promised that He will never forsake us and His tenacity is beyond anything we can comprehend.  Yes, we go through challenges, even at times the deepest valley of darkness, but we never go through it alone. He is with us and His love never fails.  

So, can we be thankful, truly in all circumstances?

Yes. Resoundingly, absolutely yes. Not because of the circumstances themselves, but because of our faithful God who is with us, caring for us through it all. I’m so glad we’re not alone! And as I pray for people, I know they too, are not alone.

God is with us. He is our Provider, Protector, and constant Friend, this stirs up genuine thankfulness in me, not something fake or easily shaken. In every season, every circumstance, no matter what is going on, I have God with me, and you can too.  For that I am really, truly thankful.   

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