Give thanks in everything. Really?
It’s easy to be discontented. Everywhere we look, we see the desire and aspiration for “more” or “better.” As a mom to three little kids, I see this in my own children, who, despite having a myriad of toys and activities to keep them entertained, still want that “one thing” another child has. I didn’t have to teach them to be ungrateful or dissatisfied with their lot in life; that attitude comes naturally to us all.
Everywhere we look, we are bombarded with messages that fuel our dissatisfaction, telling us we’d be happier with a bigger house, better car, dream vacation, fitter body, greater wealth, and better health - the list is endless. Personally, I only have to pick up a home décor magazine, browse Pinterest or social media, or spend time admiring the gifts and blessings of others to realize how easily this ungrateful attitude rears its ugly head in me. The ungrateful, “green-eyed monster” is alive and well. What can we possibly do to rid ourselves of him? As we head into this season of Thanksgiving, I want to figure this out.
We face a constant battle with discontentment.
All throughout Scripture, we come across the command to "give thanks." One of the most familiar verses that speaks of this is 1 Thessalonians 5:18:
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
We may nod our heads in agreement, but the internal struggle to live with this kind of grateful heart is a constant battle. How can we, as Christians, cultivate hearts that truly are able to give thanks in ALL circumstances? Is this even possible, or is it just an impossible command?
We must learn contentment from the example of Christ.
As with all areas of the Christian life, the answer is found in Jesus, who, more than just being a good example of this, is the only person who perfectly lived this attitude out.
Praise God. He is our hope when we fall short with our own unthankful hearts.
As a church, we are walking through the Gospel of Mark at Berean, so I have also been reading it during my own quiet time with Jesus. I noticed something as I came to the passage leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. In Mark 14:22-24, we see Jesus and his disciples participating in the Last Supper together, and I am struck by these words (highlighted part mine):
“And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, 'Take; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, 'This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.'"
Now, I know I am likely not the first to notice this, but I’ve read this passage many times before, hearing it often when we gather to celebrate communion as a church body. Somehow, in all those times, I have never paid attention to that one statement - “when he had given thanks.” Take a moment to think about this. Jesus knows what is coming. He is about to face the most excruciating form of physical, emotional, and spiritual torture, and yet, here, he is able to give thanks. His blood would be shed; his body would be broken; the Father’s back would be turned from him as he bore in his own body the sins of mankind.
Jesus found contentment by looking to a future joy.
As Jesus awaited his crucifixion, what reason could there possibly be for thankfulness at a time like this? The writer of Hebrews gives us the answer in chapter 12:1-2:
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Here’s what God showed my heart as I read this:
Jesus was able to give thanks not because of his present circumstance but because of future joy.
Jesus wasn’t thankful in a simplistic, naïve, “keep your chin up” sort of way. His eyes were set on a future joy that allowed him to offer up thanksgiving to God the Father - even in the midst of intense trial and impending suffering. His eyes were fixed on the truth of what was to come, and so, he was able to give thanks. That didn’t remove his struggle but shifted his focus in a powerful and remarkable way.
We, too, must look to a future joy.
As followers of Christ, we need more than just a “here and now” focused gaze to sustain us in the trials of this life. We need souls that are fixed on a future joy if we are going to be able to “give thanks” while navigating the disappointments, unmet longings, and suffering of this life. We need hearts that know deeply the beauty and hope of what’s still to come.
The truth is that no matter what this life may hold, it is not our ultimate end.
One hundred years from now, whatever you are facing will not be your experience or reality. If you've accepted Jesus as your Savior, you will be with him, and the struggle will be over.
Yes, it is certainly true that there are present joys we can experience in our lives as followers of Christ, but sometimes, amidst the heartache, sorrow, and longings of this life, they don't always feel enough. There has to be something greater, beyond the here and now, that can sustain us and prompt us to “give thanks” when life feels all but hopeless and empty.
The Bible clearly teaches that Christians have a future hope and inheritance to anticipate! 1 Peter 1:3-9 lays this out so beautifully for us:
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
Here, we see that, in Christ, we have been given “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Our salvation and redemption are secure and guaranteed for us, and they will “never perish, spoil or fade.”
So much of the striving, envy, jealousy, and discontentedness we see and experience comes from the sin that still ravages our world and wars within our own flesh. We grasp and reach for things that will never be able to fully satisfy us. But our hope doesn’t lie in fulfilling all our earthly wants and longings - no matter how good they seem.
We need to know and believe that we have a treasure awaiting us in Heaven that is so much greater than anything this life may offer.
Because of Jesus, we have hope in the midst of a broken world.
Our desire here and now for “more” is just a desire for life to be the way God intended. All the earthly, temporal things we seek and crave can only satisfy us for a time. Soon enough, they will either wear out, be taken from us, or die. When we are at home and at rest with God, we will receive our inheritance in Christ and know joy and satisfaction we cannot even begin to imagine. There is a glorious hope for the future!
Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we who are "in Christ” will be resurrected to new life and will no longer be burdened by thwarted, misplaced desires in a decaying and broken world. On that day, no more envy, coveting, or unfulfilled longings will remain.
So, when we once again meet that “green-eyed monster” face to face in the mirror or identify an ungrateful and envious spirit lurking inside, we must turn again and fix our gaze on the joy set before us. In this battle against ungratefulness, we will, at times, lose our way, but still, we can rejoice, knowing that our Savior Jesus has already paid for our sins. His perfect record of thankfulness is ours because we are “in Christ.”
We will not ultimately lose this fight because he has already won it for us. His victory and inheritance will be ours to share.
This Thanksgiving, we must remember our eternal inheritance.
Don’t let that "green-eyed monster" win! As we head into this Thanksgiving season, fix your eyes on the beauty of all that Christ has accomplished. He will bring it to completion one day soon. Let that fill your heart with gratitude, so like Jesus, you can “give thanks” in ALL circumstances!
Thank you, Lord, for what you have accomplished for us and for the inheritance and joy that awaits us as we hope in you. May we be people who fix our eyes on that future joy and, in doing so, give thanks in all things.