Summary: When will you give thanks? Our thankfulness is so often dependent upon the circumstances of our lives. Find a continual source of gratefulness in God and what he has and continues to do for you in Christ Jesus.
What do you see? Is the glass half empty or is the glass half full? The answer is, “Yes” since both are true. But we sometimes use that expression to describe a person’s outlook on life. Are you a glass-half-full kind of person – the optimist, OR are you a glass-half-empty kind of person, the pessimist or what they would probably call themselves, the realist? While there might seem to be some people who seem to have a personality that is one or the other, I think that a lot of times our answer might be dependent upon the circumstances of our lives. You might answer one way if you had a really bad day at school or work and you’re frustrated by someone or something, and you might answer another way if you just got a promotion at work, or you finished all your homework, or everything is right on schedule for Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, the circumstances of our lives can often affect our outlook – glass half full or glass half empty.
The person who wrote the three short verses of 1 Thessalonians 5 which you heard read a few moments ago certainly knew very well the ups and downs of life. The Apostle Pauls seemed to have such a bright future as a young, Jewish religious scholar, highly respected by his fellow Pharisees. Then he became a Christian. Suddenly he lost his status among his Jewish peers, he was forced to leave countless cities because of death threats, he was arrested, stoned and left for dead, beaten multiple times and imprisoned, all for being a Christian missionary. Yet, he closes this letter written to his fellow Christians by saying, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). There might have been a few people who read those words and wondered if all those beatings had finally taken their toll – that he had lost touch with reality.
How about you? Is there a part of you that feels that when you hear those words, “Rejoice ALWAYS, pray continually, give thanks in ALL circumstances”? Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s crazy! Obviously, you don’t know what my life is like!” You’re right. Maybe I don’t know what you’re going through. The first holiday without that a loved one. The uncertainty of having a job in the new year. Frustrations with a friend. Joyful? Thankful? Are we just supposed to walk around with smiles plastered on our faces pretending like everything is great when it seems to be anything but? That’s not realistic. And you’re right. And I think Paul and Jesus would agree, both having had experience living in this world. So then, how can Paul write what he does without denying reality?
The key is found in the final phrase of these verses, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” The key is “in Christ Jesus.” The joy and thankfulness that we have as Christians does not merely come from the circumstances of lives, what we can see or feel, or what we do or do not have. Our source of joy is much deeper, much more secure and stable than any of those things. Maybe you can think of it like a buoy floating on the water. There are sometimes when that buoy is just rolling over the gentle waves, and then there are times when that buoy is being violently tossed back and forth between whitecaps and high winds. Still the buoy just keeps popping up in the same place, not going anywhere. Why is that? It’s not because the buoy is so strong. Rather, it’s because of the anchor to which the buoy is tied, an anchor that you can’t see, but that is solidly and securely tied to the buoy, keeping it from going anywhere.
There are times in our lives when we might feel like that buoy. Sometimes things are going along smoothly and we’re just riding the gentle waves of this life. But then suddenly, the winds of hardship start blowing, the waves of sickness and suffering come crashing in, the rains of sudden loss begin to throw us around. And although we may be bounced around, we are at all times firmly anchored “in Christ Jesus.” Without that anchor of Christ Jesus, we’re just trying to make it on our own. While that may appear adventurous and liberating, it’s pretty scary because then your only purpose is to survive. But when you are securely anchored “in Christ Jesus” there is peace. Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not the type of peace where you get to avoid every storm of life. Instead it is the peace that comes from knowing that no matter what happens, no matter how hard it may be, Jesus has a hold of you, and will never let you go. You are “in Christ Jesus.”