Does thankfulness characterize us?
In Colossians 3, Paul instructs the Colossians about how they are to relate to one another and to God. And a big part of Christian living, it seems, is to be thankful. In fact, that’s exactly how Paul puts it: “And be thankful.” Full stop. Not “be thankful when it suits you” or “be thankful when good things happen” – just “be thankful.” He is even more explicit in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” Christian thankfulness is not circumstantial.
God’s timing is always spot-on, so the day I first really read Colossians 3:15 was the exact day I needed to hear it. My family had just received some pretty bad news, and that night, I read “And be thankful.” I immediately broke down crying. What do you mean, God?! And be thankful?! Do you know what I’m going through right now?
Of course, He did. Although that situation was, thankfully, resolved, I have experienced other situations in which thankfulness has been difficult: mental illness, a sudden twist in my study abroad plans, an unexpected illness in my family. I’m sure every one of us can name some hard situations that we’ve been through in which being told to be thankful would feel like a punch in the gut.
We can be thankful and mournful, thankful and righteously angry, thankful and praying hard for something we don’t have. But, regardless of our circumstances, we are called to be thankful. Paul tells the Thessalonians to give thanks in all circumstances because “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Sometimes God chooses not to reveal his will to us; this is not one of those times. God’s will is that we are thankful, no strings attached.
But what does it look like to be thankful, regardless of our circumstances?
Sometimes it helps to look for an earthly silver lining, whether that’s in our relationships, our physical health, or having our basic needs met. Even if we can’t find an earthly silver lining, though, we have heavenly blessings. Earthly trials can kill our bodies, but they cannot kill our souls (Matthew 10:28). We are free from sin through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:22; Galatians 5:1), and nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:37-39). We are children of God through faith (Galatians 3:26), and we have a great High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses and allows us to draw near to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:15-16). These blessings do not change, because the God who grants them does not change.
Because of these spiritual blessings, we can even give thanks for hard times. James 1:2 tells us to “count it all joy” when we have trials! Our grief, hurt, and pain are real. But God knows them, and He will use them.
After telling the Colossians to be thankful, Paul goes on to describe what that looks like.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”Colossians 3:16-17 ESV
Thankfulness is a lifestyle. It manifests itself in how we speak to one another and how we worship God. It shows itself in whatever we do, whether in word or deed. Thankfulness should characterize every day, not just Thanksgiving. And when we remember this, we give ourselves to God, gratefully acknowledging all He’s done, and live every day for Him, no matter our circumstances.