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Thankful in All Circumstances?

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Sometimes it’s hard to be thankful.

By Jerry Lutz, Chesapeake Conference president

Let’s admit it, shall we? Sometimes it’s hard to be thankful, especially when we find ourselves amid difficult, faith-stretching circumstances, particularly ones that threaten life and limb. When in dire, physical danger, we naturally, instinctively go into survival mode. It’s the fight-or-flight response, also known as acute stress response—a condition that refers to a physiological reaction that occurs in the presence of something that is terrifying, either mentally or physically.

In those frantic moments, probably the last thing on one’s mind is thankfulness. Gratitude is not part of the natural human response to deeply distressing or disturbing experiences. Instead, we either devote all our attention and energy to literally running for our lives or become so focused on the problem that all our mental, physical and emotional energy is focused on seeking relief or self-preservation at the exclusion of all else. 

What, then, does the Apostle Paul mean when he says, “Give thanks in all circumstances”? (1 Thess. 5:18, NIV). Surely he isn’t serious about the “all” part, is he?  Oh, but he is, as indicated in the second part of verse 18: “…for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 

First, we must recognize that Paul’s statement is not meant so much as a command as it is a call to commit oneself to respond to all circumstances from an attitude of thankfulness. Then, we must understand that unconditional thankfulness is an acquired state of mind that is developed over time by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is similar to what Paul says about responding to all circumstances in a spirit of contentment, which he says he “learned” (see Philippians 4:11–13). In other words, thankfulness—like contentment in all circumstances—is the result of living day by day in the presence of Jesus, learning it from the Great Teacher Himself, until it becomes instinctual. So, if Paul could learn these important lessons of life from Jesus, then surely we can too. Happy Thanksgiving!

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