It can be super easy to be thankful for the good in life. Food, water, family, shelter, Jesus, you know, the traditional answers to the “What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?” question. Being thankful for happy things, is fantastic. It is a great place to start when beginning a journey to be thankful in all things. 

However, we can’t stop there.

Giving thanks isn’t a suggestion; it isn’t a nice thought, nor is it something we can just do when we feel like it. It’s a command.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” ~ 1 Thess. 5:16-18

If we’re really going to follow the command to “be thankful in all circumstances,” somehow we have to learn how to be thankful for the bad and the sad things in life.

How?

Well, I’d like to share with you what I’ve been learning about this topic…

When the world seems to fall apart around us, it can be really hard to find a reason to be thankful. However, by keeping Jesus' example in mind, we can learn to give thanks even in the hard times.

“And he took the 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’.” ~ Luke 22:19

Jesus was thankful, setting an example for us in how we should partake in  one of the key elements of Christianity, communion. Communion revolves around being thankful. [Cool fact: another name for communion, Eucharist, literally means “grateful” in its Greek form (according to the Strong’s dictionary).]

When we partake in communion, not only are we remembering Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins, but we are expressing thanksgiving for that sacrifice. Communion=Thanksgiving.

I never noticed the connection between communion and thanksgiving or how Jesus gave thanks before the last supper until this past Sunday when my pastor pointed it out to us before we had communion.

Jesus gave thanks. We should too.

Not only can we follow Jesus’ example and give thanks during communion, but we can also follow his example in giving thanks during our difficult circumstances.

Think about it, Jesus is fully God, thus he knew what was about to happen to him. After he ate this last meal with his disciples, Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest buddies. His betrayer gave him over to the Jewish leaders, who manipulated the crowds and convinced Pilate to permit Jesus to be crucified.

Jesus knew all of that was going to happen, yet he still gave thanks over the breaking of bread, knowing that in a few hours he himself would be broken.Unlike Jesus, we don’t know what our future will hold. However, are we living a life full of thanks right now? 

Are we thankful during the happy times and the painful times?

Psalm 56:8 declares that “You [God] have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?”
(I love that verse!)
God holds all of our tears in a bottle. Isn’t that beautiful imagery?

As the young girl cries over the loss of her mother, God extends his hand and catches her streaming tears in a glass bottle.
As the girl cries when she doesn’t make the team, God places her tears in a bottle.
As the father mourns the loss of his son, God captures his hidden tears in a bottle.
As the woman cries when she finds out she has cancer, God collects her tears of pain in a bottle.
As the tiny boy cries when he learns his dog ran away, God holds his tears in a bottle.

God is with us through our pain. He’s there each step of the way, catching our trickling tears in bottles and keeping track of them in a book. Because we live in a fallen world, pain is going to happen. However, it’s reassuring to know that we’re not experiencing this pain alone.

Pain’s still hard, though; which brings us to a very crucial question:

How do we give thanks, even in the hard times?

Let me be the first to tell you that I struggle with this immensely. Four people whom I love dearly are dead. Throughout the years, three of my closest friends have moved hours away from me. I’ve faced rejection, betrayals, lies, and people masquerading as my friend.

Iknow pain. Yet, I have hope.

How, you ask?

Short version: My hope is found in the saving grace of Jesus Christ and my trust that he has a plan for everything. Therefore, I do not despair when things go dreadfully wrong. (Well, truthfully, sometimes I despair, but that’s when my eyes are fixed on the situation and not on the Savior.) 

Long version:
God promised the following to the nation of Israel before the Babylonians cast them into captivity:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you, and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart. I will be found by you…'” ~Jeremiah 29:11-14aJeremiah also wrote, “Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down with in me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” ~Lamentations 3:20-23

In John 16:33 (one of my favorite verses), Jesus reassures his disciples by saying, “I have told you these things so that in me you will have peace. In this world you will have trouble; but take heart! I have overcome the world.”

The apostle Paul wrote the following in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given to me in the flesh…Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

But even though I have hope, it’s still a struggle to give thanks for the hard circumstances.

I could go on and on about hope, but for the sake of time, I’ll just link more verses so you can look them up if you’d like.
I mean, come on now, I’m supposed to be thankful that someone died? That’s a tough assignment. I briefly mentioned in an earlier post that this past Sunday my pastor spoke about gratefulness. He said that gratefulness springs from a forgiven heart. The key passage of his sermon was Luke 7:36-50 (read the entire passage here).
Basically, in this story Jesus was invited to a pharisee’s house. A sinful woman came and worshiped him by breaking an expensive flask of ointment and washing his feet with  her tears and wiping them with her hair.The pharisee was disgusted.
Jesus addressed him by telling a story. A moneylender had two people who were in his debt. One owed five hundred dollars, and the other only owed fifty dollars. Neither of them could pay the debt, so the moneylender canceled both of their debts. Here comes the big question: which of the two debtors will love the moneylender more?
The pharisee answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.”
Jesus told him that he had answered correctly. He then tied his story to the sinful woman, who had displayed grand affection toward Jesus. He declared, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven-for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
Those who most know forgiveness most know gratitude. Gratitude springs from a forgiven heart.

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven- for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.

 Being thankful is simply a response to what God has done for us.

When we realize how much we are in debt to God and how much God has forgiven us, we cannot help but be thankful to him; our hearts cannot stop gushing gratitude to our God.

Returning to the two key questions:

  • Are we thankful during the happy times and the painful times?
  • How do we give thanks, even in the hard times?

By following Jesus’ example and by focusing on how much we are forgiven instead of how much pain we’re facing.

As I said above, I am in no way even close to being perfect at this. I don’t think I ever will be.

However, I’m learning to look to Jesus and to keep my eyes fixated upon his grace and forgiveness, and all of the cares of this world will fade compared to his glory.

It’s a journey I’m willing to make. I’ll mess up sometimes, and look at me  and my pain instead of at Jesus (like Peter in Matthew 14:22-33), but I know that with God’s forgiveness and grace, I can learn to say “Thank you,” in all circumstances.

What about you? Will you fix your eyes on Jesus? Will you focus on him instead of on yourself and your troubles?


 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:1-2

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