When the Going Gets Tough . . . Give Thanks!

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Giving thanks in all circumstances. It seems easier when things are going well and worry feels far. But as I’ve thought about thankfulness more deeply recently, I’ve pondered how we can make sense of this command when life is crashing around us.

My mind drifted to two funerals that I have attended in the last five years—one in which a baby passed away after only a few days of life and the other where a father unexpectedly passed away, leaving a wife and kids behind. How can we make sense of God’s command to be thankful in these circumstances?

At both funerals, I was awestruck by a song both families chose to sing in the midst of the tragedies they experienced.

Though You slay me, yet I will praise you. Though you take from me, I will bless Your name, though you ruin me, still I will worship, sing a song to the One who’s all I need 1

Slain, yet praising our Father. Ruined, yet worshiping with thankful hearts. These words from Shane and Shane’s “Though You Slay Me”, actively remind us that God is all we need. We will fail ourselves. But our God will never fail us, and for that, we can be ever-thankful, blessing Him always.

Knowing both families personally, their decision to be comforted and dwell in the words of this song didn’t come the day their loved one passed away. Their decision started long ago when they chose to pursue and know their God when times were good—when they developed habits of thankfulness that weren’t based upon their circumstances. The impact was powerful and challenging.

 

Thankfulness Is a Decision

Colossians 3:15 shows us that thankfulness is an intentional decision. It says, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful”. It says to let peace rule—the “let” here is a decision.

Choosing to worship and thank God for who He is in the midst of a storm is not easy, yet it is essential to be able to weather hardship well. There have been several times in my life where I felt hopeless and scared looking forward. Where I was completely empty, where I had no words, where tears needed to come, but I was too exhausted from crying to cry more. That was when I turned to passages like this and reminded myself that our God is faithful and His truth remains even when my circumstances and efforts are failing me.

In these times, as we come before our Father and choose to place our trust in Him, we can believe that He is working out within us an eternal glory that far outweighs our current troubles even though we often don’t understand what’s happening (2 Corinthians 4:17, Proverbs 3:5-6).

Giving thanks in all circumstances requires a lot more than a strong will. It requires absolute trust in the goodness and faithfulness of our God and cultivating habits of thankfulness that naturally become part of our hearts, thoughts, and prayer life.

Things like daily keeping a journal of what we’re thankful for, putting verses around our home reminding us of the need to be thankful, and reminding ourselves and our families out loud on a consistent basis of the big and little things we are thankful for—these types of behaviors are not only healthy, they are biblical (Deuteronomy 11:18-20).

In the good times and the bad, we must be on our knees, cultivating hearts of thankfulness before our good Father, and fighting any doubts with the truth found within Scripture. When we do this during good times, it makes it abundantly more easy to have a firm foundation when trials hit. Though He slay us, yet we will praise Him.

 

The Promise That Follows

To this day, I cannot think of that baby’s funeral without tears flooding my eyes. It was one of the most tragic situations I have ever encountered, yet the peace and hope that resided in that building even amidst excruciating pain was profound. It forever changed my understanding of trusting God and turned the words of Philippians 4:6-7 into a tangible reality for me.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

When we present our requests to God with thanksgiving, He gives us a promise. Not only peace—but peace that will transcend all of our understanding—will guard (protect!) our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Friends, we must choose—just like these two families did—to trust God and give thanks to Him even when we don’t understand. That decision hit home personally after my precious niece passed away last year, and a couple of years ago when my husband and I suffered dearly for standing firm on the Gospel. We had to choose, regardless of immense pain, to remember that God (not us, not our opinions) is the very definition of good (Luke 18:19). We can know that He was and is faithful to give all of us enduring peace even in the midst of painful times.

If you could have been at either of those funerals, you would have seen that there was not a dry eye as the words to “Though You Slay Me” were sang, yet you would have also seen this promise of peace in action. It was a powerful reminder that God created us to live lives filled with thankfulness not just to appreciate the good times, but to keep our focus on Him even during the worst of times. May we all be able to trust in God’s goodness and live lives devoted to knowing, pursuing, and thanking our God, for His ways are higher than ours. He truly is the One who’s all we need.

 

1.  Shane and Shane, “Though You Slay Me,” Track #11 on Bring Your Nothing, Fair Trade Services, 2013.

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