When life is good to us, it is easy to be thankful. We are thankful for the beauty of each day. We give thanks for the splendor of autumn and for the crispness in the air. We are thankful for cold mornings, the warmth of the sun at noon and for the brightness of the moon at night. We are even thankful for the more simple things in life: the excitement of football games, for warm cookies and cold milk and sweet potato pie, for movie theaters, for popcorn, for restaurants, for the pleasure received from Christmas shopping and for the brilliance of Christmas lights. When life is good, when life is happy, it is very easy to give thanks.
However, when life is cruel, and when life is miserable, thankfulness is something that comes hard. Autumn appears drab. The air seems stifling. Cold mornings only symbolize the frigid callousness of living. The sun is an annoying glare. The moon is irrelevant. Football and basketball games become pointless. Cookies and milk and pie are petty.
When your child is in the hospital, when your mother has just been buried, when your spouse is undergoing surgery, when you hear words from the doctor like cancer and Alzheimer’s— restaurants become mundane, movie theaters and popcorn are trivial. When you are laid off from work, when you are behind on your mortgage, when you are struggling to just buy groceries—Christmas shopping becomes oppressive and Christmas lights appear dismal.
So, how in the world are we ever to do the will of God by rejoicing always and giving thanks in all circumstances?
In Philippians 1, we read how Paul himself did it during his imprisonment. Alone in a dark, dank prison cell, with being beheaded as his apparent destiny, Paul rejoiced. But, notice that Paul did not rejoice or give thanks for being restrained in a prison. Paul did not give thanks for the morning or the air. Paul did not thank God for the sun, moon or stars. He did not rejoice for flowers or trees or cookies or milk or pie. Paul gave thanks and rejoiced in the only thing that he had left in that dark, clammy jail cell. Paul gave thanks and rejoiced for hope. Paul hoped that the gospel would be spread with even greater boldness because of his imprisonment. Paul hoped that through prayers, the Spirit of Jesus Christ would work out all things for the good. Paul hoped that God would wring whatever good could be wrung out of this, his most difficult hour.
Hope was the only thing that Paul had left. And hope was enough. Hope was all that Paul needed to give thanks and to rejoice in his miserable circumstance. The good news is: for persons with faith in Jesus Christ, who offers us a living hope, who promises to always be with us for our deliverance, whatever our circumstances may be, who promises us a new life even when our old lives end— thankfulness can be something that comes easy.
We may not be experiencing happiness. We may not be able to develop an extensive list of things in which we are thankful. But, on the list of every believer, even if there is only one thing, there is hope. Life can take away much and destroy much in our lives. But, there is no thing and no one that can take away our hope. And, hope is always enough. So, rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Amen.