Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
By Pastor Jeremy Rebman
If there were ever a time for thanksgiving, it is now. In this time of Covid-19, division, rioting, political rancor, and uncertainty, perhaps the most neglected gift from God is gratitude. There is a place for lament and grief in a time like this, for sure. We long for and plead for the renewing power of God to bring spiritual awakening in our day. We pray for peace and healing. All of this is certainly appropriate for the followers of Jesus. And yet, God also commands us in His Word to give thanks in all circumstances. Isn’t it interesting? As the Apostle Paul is carried along by the Holy Spirit, God directs him to be clear about the circumstances under which we should give thanks – all of them.
Paul knew the challenges of believers. In addition to the challenges of life that we all face – illness, relationship struggles, financial strain, loss, grief, they would face persecution for following Jesus. Surely, we might think, God doesn’t expect us to rejoice through tears. God wouldn’t expect us to give thanks as we are losing home and family and even life itself? Paul knew these challenges better than anyone else. He knew what it was to be hungry, cold, shipwrecked, beaten, stoned, whipped and rejected. He knew personal loss and grief. He knew severe illness. What was it like for Paul as the Lord put this message on his heart? It seems clear to me that Paul was not just reporting the Word of the Lord here, he was also testifying to its truth.
Paul had experienced the resilience given to the believer who maintains a grateful heart before the Lord. Paul knew that praising God is medicine for the soul. Look at how often he gives thanks to God in his letters, how often he praises God. These are not just the platitudes of a man trying to win over his audience. These are the heart-cry of a man whose eyes are on Jesus, whose hope is in the Gospel, whose heart is filled with the Spirit, and whose soul is gratefully bound to his Abba, his Heavenly Father. Rejoicing and giving thanks are the natural territory of the redeemed of the Lord, of those who have been saved by the grace of Jesus Christ.
On any given day, there is so much going on inside of us that is quite unnatural to Gospel-centered, biblically-ground-ed, Jesus-following Christians. We take so much on ourselves. Somehow we believe that the weight of the world, the very future of our country and humankind is somehow bound up within us. And so, we worry. We take on anxiety, as though worrying over something actually impacts reality.
But when we give thanks to God in all circumstances, we are lifting our eyes beyond ourselves. We are setting our eyes above the things of this world. We are fixing our gaze on the things of heaven, where Jesus lives to intercede for us, where God is seated squarely on His sovereign throne, where Jesus has prepared a place for us, and from whence Jesus will come in all his glory to make all things new.
Resilience is found in this sort of gratitude quite simply because, by it, we are turning the eyes of our hearts to Jesus. We are resetting our hope on Him. We are coming back to the one who is the source of our strength. Let us, therefore, give God our thanks and praise, for He alone is worthy.
Pastor Jeremy Rebman is the Senior Pastor at First United Methodist Church. For service times or for more information, go to umc.org.