Give Thanks in All Circumstances! Really?

By Mark D. Roberts

November 22, 2016

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:18


The word "thanks" spelled out with Scrabble pieces.I’m struggling a bit with gratitude this week. Oh, to be sure, I have plenty to be thankful for. And I am thanking God regularly. But I’m also feeling heavy of heart because my mother is not doing well. We learned only a couple of weeks ago that she has very serious cancer. The cancer, which is causing her to feel considerable pain and discomfort, is not the sort that can be treated by surgery or chemotherapy. Thus, as you can imagine, this is a hard time for my family and me.

Yet, Scripture calls us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (5:18). Thanks in all circumstances? Really?

This verse in its original Greek calls us to give thanks “in everything” (en panti). This does not mean that we must give thanks for everything, as if everything, including evil, was from God. It does mean that even in the midst of suffering, even when we experience injustice, even when life isn’t working out as we wish, we can and should give thanks. We thank God for his good gifts. We thank him for being present with us in hard times. We thank him for using life’s struggles to draw us closer to him and make us more like him. We thank God that nothing happens outside of his wise plan for history and for our lives.

Why should we thank God? 1 Thessalonians 5:18 reveals that “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Giving thanks to God is a matter of obedience. We do it because God wants us to.

But that’s not the whole story. We thank God, not only because it is right to do so, but also because, through thanksgiving, we receive even more blessings. When we thank God, we remember all that he has done for us and feel glad. In thanksgiving, we find security and peace of mind. Giving thanks opens our hearts to trust God more, so that we might be ready for new blessings. In gratitude, we savor life’s goodness and, therefore, live to the fullest. And, through gratitude, we find the strength to endure in hard times, times of sadness and suffering.

So, these days I am thanking God for many good gifts, including the amazing gift of my mother. I’m thankful for her long, blessed life and for the eternal life that she will come to know. I’m thankful that God is with us at all times, even and especially in the hard times. I’m thankful for the freedom to speak honestly to the Lord and for the confidence that he hears my prayers. I’m thankful that nothing in all creation – including cancer – can take us away from God’s love.


Have you been able to thank God in the midst of difficult times? If so, what helps you? If not, why not?

For what are you most thankful today?

How does expressing thanks help you to savor life?


Gracious God, first of all, I must confess that I don’t always obey this verse. I am thankful at times, but surely not in all circumstances. When life is hard, when work is scary and disappointing, I must admit that it’s difficult for me to give you thanks. In retrospect, gratitude comes easily. But, in the moment of suffering or sadness or fear or disappointment, I often have a hard time giving thanks. Forgive me, Lord.

Help me to do what this verse encourages. May I be truly thankful in every situation. By your Spirit, remind me of your goodness when I’m hurting or afraid. Make your presence known to me, Lord, so that I might offer you thanks.

In this season of thanksgiving, may I join the chorus of those offering thanks to you. For all you have given me and, most of all, for your love and grace in Jesus Christ, I thank you. Amen.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Working Faith, Finishing Up, and Keeping the Faith (1 Thess. 1:1–4:8; 4:13–5:28; 2 Thess. 1:1-2:17)

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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