I find it fairly easy to give thanks when things go my way. I find it extremely difficult to do the same when my life careens into chaos.
This past week, one of our long-time, faithful members and former staff members, Jackie Long, was in a horrendous automobile accident, and even as I write this, her life hangs in the balance.
When I would see Jackie gracing us with her life-giving, joyful presence in the hallways, classrooms, and lobby at the church I serve, giving thanks was the most natural of all expressions.
When I think of her lying in a coma in ICU, giving thanks is not at the top of my to-do list.
But maybe it should be.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, ESV). All circumstances? Cancer? Abuse? Addiction? Car accidents? Death?
Here’s the key, at least as I understand it: “Give thanks IN” not “Give thanks FOR.” Yes, I’ve heard people say, “I give thanks FOR my cancer, because it woke me up to the reality of my temporal life and my need to get right with God and family.” There may be times when even our wounds evoke a gracious heart.
But if we fail to find the seeds of gratitude FOR the broken soil of our circumstances, we can at least find those seeds of gratitude IN them.
First off, we give thanks, because we know evil does not have the final word. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End (Revelation 1:8). He had the last word on the cross of redemption when He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), and He will have the last word at the consummation of the age, “It is done!” (Revelation 21:6). For Jackie, and all who have experienced the wretched anguish of this world, one day we will all see “death swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). We give thanks IN whatever circumstances we face FOR God is bigger than our circumstances.
Second, we give thanks, because we have a Savior who is not withdrawn but who has entered into our world of tragedy and trauma. God is not an absentee landlord who is cold and indifferent to the plight of our lives. He chose to step out of the comfort of heaven into the chaos of earth through His Son, Jesus Christ. He is a “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), and we are not alone. We give thanks IN whatever circumstances we face FOR God walks with us in our circumstances.
This Thanksgiving, may you and yours be filled with God’s peace through Jesus Christ by His Spirit, knowing that “He will quiet you with His love” (Zephaniah 3:17). And to Jackie Long and all who may need these words this Thanksgiving season, Requiesce in pace.