give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. ¹⁹Do not quench the Spirit. ²⁰Do not despise prophecies, ²¹but test everything; hold fast what is good. ²²Abstain from every form of evil. —1 Thessalonians 5:18-22
Whenever we don’t know what to do, we know it's God’s will that we give thanks. No matter our circumstances, giving God thanks is commanded. It’s always fitting. And even more, it’s always helpful.
Giving thanks—in suffering, in trials, in loss, in fear, in doubt—is a strong antidote to despair. It’s not easy, nor is it typically what first comes to mind. But it’s possible. (God’s commands are not burdensome, 1 John 5:3).
When I was in my early 20s, I would call my Mom from Washington, D.C., where I was working on Capitol Hill. I was young, inexperienced, single, and often overwhelmed by the challenges of learning a new job. Add to that fear of navigating the city by myself, adjusting to new roommates, and difficulty forming friendships and finding a good church. She faithfully pointed me to God. “Trust in the Lord,” she’d say. “Seek first His kingdom,” she’d remind me. “Give thanks.”
“For what?” I’d counter, not seeing any reason for gratitude in my struggles. “For being God! For being good. For being in control. For promising to never leave you. For working all things for your good.” She was quick to point me to Scripture and the countless reasons I could thank God and give Him praise when I would rather feel self-pity and afraid.
What a help her words were in hard times. She taught me to make thanksgiving my first thought when trouble comes: “Thank you, Lord; this isn’t a surprise to you.” “Thank you Lord; you’re sovereign over this.” “Thank you; you haven’t forgotten me, and you intend this for my good.” There are many other prayers I pray when I get bad news, am afraid, or am suffering. I pray for wisdom to know what to do, for healing and strength, for provision and guidance, for grace and growth in godliness. But my mind now runs to this first: “Thank you Lord for this opportunity to trust you.”
Giving thanks in the midst of trials bolsters my anxious heart by reminding me that God is bigger than what I’m facing—whatever it is. Nothing is beyond His knowledge, power, goodness, mercy, grace, and sovereign plan. He knows all things and He brings everything to pass. He does not sin nor does He do evil (1 John 1:5), yet He does cause all things and He works through all things for the good of those who belong to Him (Romans 8:28). There is great comfort in knowing God is in control—over everything.
What can you be thankful for in hard providences—in illness, trauma, a car accident, job loss, financial distress? Give thanks to God for being in control; He has your good as His goal; He is able to do all things; He does all things well. This prayer also applies when daily irritations and interruptions threaten our joy. In all circumstances—whether good, frustrating, or overwhelming—we are to give thanks.
Notice that our verse picks up in the middle of a sentence. The command to give thanks goes with commands to rejoice always and pray without ceasing. All three go together and all three are “the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” They reinforce one another. For example, Peter says, “humble yourselves…casting all your anxieties on [God] because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7). The casting of anxieties on God is praying, and knowing He cares for us is reason to rejoice and give thanks.
The reason for most of our troubles remains a mystery to us this side of heaven. But we do know that whatever causes us anxiety comes to us from the fatherly hand of God (Heidelberg Catechism, Question 27). We know that what others intend for evil against us, God means for good (Genesis 50:20). Like Sarah, we can hope in God, not fear what is frightening, and rest in His care (1 Peter 3:5-6).
In all our circumstances may we remember the cross–the place where God predestined and accomplished the worst suffering for our greatest good (Isaiah 53:10, Acts 4:27-28). And remembering, may we trust in our wonder working God, rejoice, and give thanks. “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Chronicles 16:34).
What is your first thought when hard circumstances arise?
When you’re tempted to complain about your circumstances, ask God to help you give thanks instead. Then start practicing giving thanks.
Do a Bible word search for “give thanks to the Lord” for more help in learning how to pray prayers of thanksgiving to God in all circumstances.
Candice Watters is the editor of the Fighter Verses blog. She and her husband Steve are the co-authors of Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies. The Watterses have four kids ages 15-24. They live in Louisville, KY.