It's crazy to think that at the end of 2019, we were excited about what the new year had to offer. Many of us looked forward to all the things we were going to accomplish. But we didn't have to get too far into 2020 before we were all asking for a refund. It's been a rough year for everyone.
But this year has been an excellent opportunity to remind ourselves what it means to be thankful. Can we learn to cultivate a sense of gratitude when things aren't going according to plan? When things are so different than we had hoped?
Let's take a peek into what Paul has to say about being thankful.
Paul's message to the Thessalonians
The apostle Paul ran into some trouble in Thessalonica during one of his missionary journeys, and had to leave abruptly. This meant that many recent converts to Christianity were persecuted without much support from more established believers.
When Paul writes his first letter to the Thessalonians, it's to encourage them in this challenging time and offer some instruction in godly living.
It's in the midst of this turmoil and confusion that Paul offers this wisdom:
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).
And when it comes to walking through difficult times, this is invaluable advice.
Turning our hearts toward home
If you want to become more grateful, putting Paul's guidance into practice is a must. Here are some tips for bringing these words to life—even in the most challenging seasons.
1. Rejoice always
We all tend to make the same mistake when thinking about the word "rejoice." We think of it as a response to a specific emotional posture. When we feel joy, we rejoice. Anything else feels false or manufactured.
The truth is that the secret lies in learning to rejoice when we’re not happy. Choosing to rejoice isn't "fake it until you make it." It's about making the conscious decision to look beyond what's right in front of us to see God's hand at work in the world around us.
We might not be able to rejoice amid our trying circumstances, but we can rejoice that God is at work through the eyes of faith.
2. Pray continually
The idea of continuous prayer is about maintaining a constant connection to the Father. Maintaining disciplined prayer times is critical, but a disciple learns how to preserve that dependence throughout their day.
This means being aware of Jesus's presence at every moment. And it's about learning to keep a dialogue running with God in the back of your mind. Maybe you're talking to a friend who has just received a difficult medical diagnosis. Continuous prayer allows you to minister to them while drawing guidance and encouragement from God.
Developing a discipline for maintaining a constant inner dialogue with God helps raise our awareness above what we see going on around us.
3. Give thanks in all circumstances
We must recognize what Paul is telling us. He isn't insisting that we thank God for all circumstances, but rather that we thank God during all circumstances. Paul doesn't have any delusions about every situation being something to be thankful for, but he understands the power of being thankful no matter what.
Sometimes we need to put in some effort to see the good in the middle of a difficult time. And sometimes, the best we can do is be thankful that God is working for the good (Romans 8:28).
This is God's will for you
Paul understood that practicing gratefulness wasn't just a helpful idea. It was a necessity. In fact, he tells us that God's will is for us to rejoice, pray without ceasing, and be thankful. Why? Because in this broken and hurting world, it's easy to give in to despair and forget that even when we’re feeling overwhelmed, Jesus has already overcome the world (John 16:33).
When you find yourself struggling to maintain a thankful outlook, it can help to focus on God's promises. Dive into these 20 Inspiring and Encouraging Bible Verses if you need a quick morale burst. You can even commit them to memory and treasure them in your heart.