January 22, 2012

Thanks in all things

We are in the time between Christmas and Lent, sometimes called 'ordinary time,' because there aren't any great big church feasts. We are looking and praying through 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22 and the similar citation from Philippians 4:4-9. The Apostle Paul gives the churches at Thessalonica and Philippi directions for living a holy life. You can download them here for easy reference.

This week we come to the third of Paul’s instructions: “give thanks in all circumstances”. Like “rejoice always” and “pray without ceasing”, this doesn’t seem like an easy thing to do. How can we be thankful when bad things happen?
Another author notes that Paul says to “give thanks IN all circumstances” not FOR all circumstances. The letter to the Philippians makes it even clearer. “IN everything, by prayer and petition, WITH THANKSGIVING, present your requests to God.” Prayer, rejoicing, and thanksgiving all work together to give us confidence that “all things work for God for those who love God” (Romans 8:28)
However, when disaster strikes or the diagnosis comes back with bad news, it is difficult to “give thanks”. Yet, if we can look for God within the situation, it transforms both you and the situation. God is greater than anything we face. Time and again we see stories on the news about men and women triumphing over their situation or sickness because of their thankful attitude.

Psalm 56 is a recitation of a faithful person who, although he is beset by enemies, can say “I put my trust in thee.” Verse 8 says “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” God does not forget our sorrows, but because we are love, God transforms them so that we can say “God is for me.” (Ps. 56:9b)

Pollyanna, in the 1913 book of the same name (and assorted subsequent movies), makes it a game to find things to be thankful for. She calls it the “Glad Game” and looks for something to be thankful about in each situation. It is the same with the disasters in life, we can still find something, however small, to be thankful for!

An old hymn reminds us of one way to move past the seeming disasters of life.
When upon life's billows
You are tempest tossed;
When you are discouraged,
Thinking all is lost;
Count your many blessings,
Name them one by one
And it will surprise you
What the Lord has done.

An exercise that can help is to start a “Thankfulness Diary.” Each day write down one, two, three, or more things you were thankful for through the day. Sometimes if your day is really tough, it can be hard to remember the good things from the morning. Another idea is to take a pad of sticky notes with you throughout the day and jot down the things that you are thankful for as the day goes along. Maybe it’s a parking space when you need it. Maybe you got a nice phone call or an unexpected message from a friend. Perhaps just seeing a beautiful scene is enough to make you give thanks.  

Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” Next week, we will see that the result of the Joy, Prayer, and Thanksgiving is Peace.

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