“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”1 Thessalonians 5:16–18
If it’s true that thankfulness is the foundation for all Christian ethics, then the numerous Bible exhortations to be thankful at all times should come as no surprise to us. Beyond the above-quoted verse, Paul’s desire is that we “[give] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20). Thankful always? Thankful for everything? Giving thanks in all circumstances? Who is possibly cut out for this?
We all know someone who seems to have a cheery disposition no matter what, someone on whom the sun always seems to be shining. At some point or another the persistent pleasantness may start to annoy us, because it just doesn’t seem natural! At a low moment, you might permit yourself to think, Why can’t they be as a grumpy as me? But, in reality, we should admire this attitude. What might we do to better cultivate it ourselves? How can we live in faithful submission to the command of always and only thankfulness—especially in light of the troubles and sorrows of life that will inevitably come?
One of the most powerful correctives is to take to heart Paul’s teaching here: Gratitude is “the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Thankfulness, contentment, and happiness is something that God actually wants for you! What a God we serve! It brings him a smile to make me and you smile. So many people are desperate to know God’s will in their lives, seeking answers and direction. Well, here we have it: one of the few places in the Bible where God’s will is explicitly spelled out for us. The direction he would have us walk is the way of joy, ceaseless communion with him, and constant thankfulness.
Simply knowing that the God of the universe has an invested desire that I be grateful changes my perspective. How about yours? He has charted this course for us through the gift of the gospel, having “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (Eph. 1:3). When we survey our circumstances and we sense lack or disappointment, we must preach to ourselves the truth that God has given us everything in Jesus, so that we would be contentedly grateful (Rom. 8:32).
Reformer John Calvin wrote,
God has such a disposition towards us in Christ, that even in our afflictions we have large occasion of thanksgiving. For what is fitter or more suitable for pacifying us, than when we learn that God embraces us in Christ so tenderly, that he turns to our advantage and welfare everything that befalls us? Let us, therefore, bear in mind, that this is a special remedy for correcting our impatience—to turn away our eyes from beholding present evils that torment us, and to direct our views to a consideration of a different nature—how God stands affected towards us in Christ.1
God’s plan for you isn’t to be disgruntled or disappointed. Grumpiness doesn’t make it into glory. God’s will—both his desire and his plan—is that we’ll be joyful for eternity. God wants you to be grateful, and what God wants he gets. For the here and now he has given us new hearts that are supernaturally equipped with a capacity for gratitude. And for the hereafter, we’ll be so consumed with thankful praise that the thought of being anything less will be an absurdity. Instead, we will sing: “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Rev. 7:2).
1 Calvin’s Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, reprinted 1981), XXI:297.