Thankful for What?
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Face it: this is not heaven. You live in a world that is dominated by sin and you can see its putrid effects all around you and even in you. The world is literally bound for hell. Satan and his forces are prowling around looking for ways to devour you and they pose a continuous threat by stealing, killing and destroying.
God is more aware of this than you are and He says that you should devote yourself to prayer, and being watchful and thankful (see Col. 4:2). You may not have any control over what happens around you or to you, but you do have control of your attitude. And God wants you to have a thankful attitude.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Col. 3:15). Being thankful is easy if you get what you want, but if you don’t like what is happening, you can be thankful only if you believe. When you are experiencing turmoil, danger or loss, your natural (sinful) reaction is to defend yourself and your interests. By believing what God says, on the other hand, you can let the peace of Christ rule within you in spite of your circumstances.
Notice that the verse says to “let” the peace of Christ rule; it is something you choose to do. This verse mentions letting God’s peace rule in you and being thankful, and both are related to your faith in God. Being thankful to God is a matter of choice and is possible only if you believe God, regardless of the circumstances.
The Bible encourages you to be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything” (Eph. 5:20) and to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:18). How is it possible to be thankful “for everything” and “in all circumstances”? Some would say that every cloud has a silver lining, that you can see good in every situation if you look closely enough. But I don’t think the Bible supports an approach to life that simplistically assumes everything is wonderful and somehow everything will turn out okay. The Bible does not promote blissful ignorance.
Biblical thankfulness is based on faith and knowledge. Consider Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” If you have responded to God’s call to salvation and you love Him, then God works everything together for your benefit–everything.
There is a key Greek word in this verse, synergeo, which means “works together.” This word is virtually identical to our word “synergy.” Synergy is what causes the combined effect of two or more forces to be greater than the sum of their individual effects. This means when two things combine synergistically, a reaction occurs. Consider a scriptural example in Deuteronomy 32:30: “How could one man chase a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight, unless their Rock had sold them, unless the Lord had given them up?” If each man chases 1,000, then two men would usually chase 2,000. Synergy causes two men to chase 10,000; their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects. Among other things, this demonstrates the importance of believers meeting together (Heb. 10:25) and being united.
That is the way God works in you. He uses your character, experiences and circumstances to produce something of value in you; even those experiences that ordinarily would harm you. He works all events together so they have a compounded benefit for you. He multiplies their effect to multiply your improvement.
Another key word in Romans 8:28 is “good,” which in the Greek refers to excellence, significance or usefulness. So God multiplies the benefits of everything you are and everything you experience to produce excellence of character in you. Now notice the first three words, “And we know.” Because you know that God works everything together for your benefit, you can honestly be thankful “for everything” and “in all circumstances.”
Choose to believe that God does what is best and choose to be thankful. James 1:2-4 reads, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Again, we see the idea of excellence or perfection: “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” You might feel like complaining and demanding happiness when life is unpleasant. During those times, however, recognize that God is compounding the benefits and producing excellence in you. Choose to be joyful and thankful, then persevere and let God continue His work in you.
Just like Romans 8:28, this verse shows the importance of knowing what God is doing: “Consider it pure joy . . . because you know.” The only way you can be thankful for everything and in all circumstances is by knowing that God is using them for your benefit to make your character excellent.
What situation have you not been thankful for, or what have you been worried or angry about? Why not choose to believe what God’s Word says? How does the Bible apply to you in your situation? How will you respond to what the Bible says?
The proper response is really very simple, though it is not easy: repent and change your attitude about your situation. Choose to be thankful about it. You might feel like you cannot be thankful as long as you are unhappy, but that is based on a carnal attitude. Nowhere does the Bible require you to be happy about your circumstances, but it does require you to be thankful.
Should you be thankful for what Satan does? Or for what his followers and demons do? It would be foolish to think God wants you to be thankful that sin exists and is destroying people. So what can you be thankful for?
1. God is God. Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. His kingdom exists in heaven, and someday soon He will expand it to include all of creation once again. Although it appears sin is running rampant, God is in ultimate control of everything. He honors man’s free will and allows you to choose whom you will serve. God has set limits on what Satan and man can do, so He is in control. When evil seems to be victorious, can you be thankful God’s kingdom is near? Yes.
2. Sin is a reminder. Learn to recognize sin and identify its destructive power; sin has destroyed man and creation. Develop a hatred for sin and what it has done. This requires a radical change in your thinking, because sin is very enjoyable. Every time you see sin or its effects, let it motivate you to eliminate every sin in your life. You do not belong on this planet; it is not your home. You are an alien to this world and its system. Someday you will leave here and go home to be with your Father, so do not let sin hinder you from graduating successfully from this life. There are no acceptable sins. Can you be thankful that sinful acts around you motivate you to become more righteous? Yes.
3. Everything can benefit you. God can and will work everything to your benefit, if you allow Him. Can He use a hurtful experience to break the power your sinful attitudes and behavior have over you? Can you be thankful for and in that? Yes.
That is why Ephesians 5:19-20 says we are to “speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Focus your attention on God by using psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to help you do it. Only by recognizing who God is and what He does, can you always give thanks to Him for everything and in everything.
God uses your character, experiences and circumstances to produce something of value in you, even those experiences that ordinarily would harm you. Biblical thankfulness is based on faith and knowledge. When you understand that God works all events together so they have a compounded benefit for you, you can be thankful in everything as well as for everything. You can be thankful that God is God, that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. You can be thankful that sinful acts around you motivate you to become more righteous. You can also be thankful that God will use even hurtful experiences to crucify your sinful thinking and destroy its power over you.