IN Everything--not FOR Everything

11:08 AMHeather

A friend blindsided by a divorce. A 12-year-old girl enduring a 14 hour surgery to remove a brain tumor. Sweet friends reeling from having to say good-bye to a loved one way too soon. Another friend still navigating her way without her mom. Wounds that linger. Hearts that bleed. Fragile emotions. Honestly, I must admit once again that the hurts of those around me nearly overwhelm me at times. All part of asking Him to break my heart for what breaks him, this sweet brutality in trying to bear each other's burdens. My pastor's message on grief yesterday again emphasizing what I see around me.

And, I have to say that I was once again struck by how well meaning believers can have it wrong. In our zeal to help others, we cling to Scriptures for hope and offer them to encourage others--as we should. But, in so doing, we must be clear what these Scriptures actually say and what they don't say. One such Scripture keeps appearing in my face this last week, begging for my attention. After it once again came to my attention yesterday, I felt compelled to discuss it with you, my bloggy friends.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV

or, in the New American Standard version:
In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

This is a great Scripture summarizing what a sacrifice of praise looks like. But, I'm afraid we misinterpret the entire verse when we misread just ONE LITTLE WORD. We believers tend to make a life following Christ much more complicated than necessary. Instead of just trying to know and love Christ more every day and focusing on relationship (letting all else follow), we try to follow some long laundry list of rules. Instead of accepting His forgiveness, we carry around the weight of guilt and shame. Instead of living out our freedom in Christ, we stay shackled to our strongholds. Instead of calling on the strength of the Spirit moment by moment, we try to live in our own strength. Instead of letting the Spirit fill us resulting in its fruits, we try to grow those fruit all by ourselves. And, instead of just finding something to be thankful for within our current circumstances, we think we have to be thankful FOR our circumstances.

Look at that verse again. It does not say, "give thanks FOR all circumstances," nor does it say, "FOR everything, give thanks." Now, some people might be able to be thankful for a divorce, or a brain tumor, or a loss. But, I don't believe that is what God is asking of us in this verse. No, you see--he only asks that we give thanks IN all circumstances--or IN everything, give thanks. So, maybe within the circumstance of divorce, you decide to CHOOSE to be thankful for the friends and family who surround you. Or you are thankful for the judge who kindly brings closure. Or you are thankful that you can count on God's faithfulness. You are intentional to look for that which you can be grateful for despite the hardship. THAT is a sacrifice of praise.

Maybe during the trial of the brain tumor, you are thankful for the kindness of the nurses, the effectiveness of the pain meds, or the skill of the surgeon. In the senselessness of a loved one's death, finding something to be thankful for can be difficult. I vividly remember lying on the bed next to Chris, having rushed through packing suitcases for ourselves and our young sons so that we could leave early the next morning for our infant nephew's funeral. Senseless. Shocking. Numb. And, I can remember the wisdom of my husband. He offered a deep sigh, and then said, "What can we be thankful for here?" I'm sure I looked at him as though he'd lost his mind. But, his heart attitude was offering a sacrifice of praise. We sat in silence for a long minute. Then, Chris asked God to show us what we could be thankful for, even in that hard place. Over the next few moments, we began to list some things we could thank God for. The attentive doctor. The praying friends who were covering the situation. The fact we could pack up and go to be with them. The fact that our God was bigger than what we could see--that which we could NOT understand.

INTENTIONAL challenge: I trust that the God who made me knows my human limits even better than I know them myself. He is not asking me to be some Super Christian who has a happy-go-lucky thankful attitude FOR all that I endure. He is only asking me to choose a sacrifice of praise--to even ask Him for eyes to see that which I can be thankful for despite my circumstance or within my circumstance. Trials have a way of shedding light on who you are, who your friends are, and who your God is. They have a way of shedding light on what is REALLY important. Certainly within those revelations, we can find something to be thankful for. In in doing so, we are obeying "God's will for us in Christ Jesus"--just like 1 Thessalonians 5:18 implores us to do.

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