How could the apostle Paul ask people who were experiencing great suffering, brutality, unjust imprisonment, and even the threat of death to give thanks in all circumstances? He was certainly no stranger to suffering himself. He must have understood their agonies, frustrations, disappointments, and struggles. In fact, Paul himself was ultimately killed because he chose to follow Jesus.
So what is the meaning of thanksgiving in the midst of such hardship? Paul was not blind to the peoples suffering or asking people to simply ignore their pain, yet Paul used the Greek word eucharistos to be grateful. This is where the word Eucharist comes from, reminding us of Communion and the Lords Supper given for us. It is also the same word that is used for grace, the thankfulness which is expressed for everyday things, such as meals.
A search in a thesaurus for the word thankful reveals some interesting associated words, including appreciative, pleased, sensitive, aware, grateful, observant, and alive. Thanksgiving does not mean to deny problems and difficulties, but to be aware that even in the midst of them there is something greater than our frustrations; there is something more than our pain; there is something beyond our disappointments. It exists now; it embraces us now. With sensitivity we can become aware of a love that will not let us go, which sustains us even through death, which was shown in Christa God who suffers with us.
The everyday joys, relationships, and beauties all around us contain miracles that point to a deeper truth. Our very lives and futures are a gift. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that supplies all this regardless of what we are going through. Some with great awareness have even discovered meaning for their lives through suffering itself. An attentiveness to what lasts in the midst of the temporary provides the foundation for giving thanks in all circumstances, for rejoicing always, for being appreciative, and for being grateful. If we can begin to comprehend that all we have comes from beyond ourselves, and that our present and future are secure in God who loves us, then gratitude is not only possible but natural.
Paul and others seem to be saying to all spiritual leaders that we must help people see that Gods steadfast love endures no matter what we face. Look around you and see this love expressed in so many ways already. Be attentive and this love will give reason to be truly thankful. What do we really have to offer people if all we do is recognize problems and suffering, and no more?
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19)
Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:19-20)
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. (1 Chronicles 16:34)
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
will tell of all your wonderful deeds. (Psalm 9:1)
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples,
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your steadfast love is higher than the heavens,
your faithfulness reaches to the clouds. (Psalm 108:3-4)
The disciples said to him, Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd? Jesus asked them, How many loaves have you? They said, Seven, and a few small fish. Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. (Matthew 15:33-37)
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:14-15)
Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
Lord, be my helper!
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
have taken off my sackcloth
clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. (Romans 16:3-4)
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. (1 Thessalonians 1:1-5)
Spiritual Practice— Living the Lesson:
The next time you find yourself in the midst of a problem or hardship, pause to remember what you are thankful for and be reminded of God's love which has not left you.
Focus for Journaling, Reflection, and Prayer:
Ten things I am thankful for are ...
For Further Study:
Abundance: Joyful Living in Christby Marilyn Brown Oden (Upper Room Books).