22 December 2011
Ending 2011 With Gratitude
by Dr Mark Keown
One of the toughest verses in the Bible is 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” It is always easy to give thanks when one is the recipient of great news – like the birth of a baby. On the other hand, how does one give thanks after the loss of a loved one or something like the Christchurch or Japanese earthquake? It seems a naive and self-indulgent attitude in the face of the reality of life’s struggles. What is Paul driving at? Is he for real?
To get to grips with this seemingly unreachable ideal, we need to remind ourselves of how Paul saw things at the time. When Paul met Jesus on the Damascus Road his world was turned completely upside down. He was faced with the horrible realisation that he was dead wrong about Jesus and the followers of the way and his read on life was wrong. He had to rethink his whole theological framework. This he did, perhaps in the wilderness of Arabia. He reframed all of life and realised that the Messiah had come, Jesus Christ the Lord, Son of the Father, Saviour of the world, and that the redemption of all things had begun. He now knew all one had to do was acknowledge this Jesus as Lord, and live out of trust in him, and one was a part of God’s family. For Paul this was supremely good news!
Paul of all NT writers never made light of suffering, he was deadly serious about it. He recognised that the world was invaded by cosmic forces of evil, not merely Satan and his demons, but death itself – the corruption of God’s creation (e.g. 1 Cor 15:24; Rom 8:17–23). He knew suffering himself – deeply (2 Cor 11:22–29)! He recognised that being human in a fallen world meant to suffer. Even though such suffering threatened to overwhelm him at times (2 Cor 1:8; 4:7–12), all pain and torment was dwarfed when compared with the good news that God was moving in his world to restore (Rom 8:18; 2 Cor 4:17). Messiah has now come. Redemption is here. God’s Spirit is here to saturate one’s being and give strength in all circumstances enabling the believer to get through. Nothing can separate us from the love of our triune God (Rom 8:35–39). Jesus is returning and all will be restored. Nothing is the same.
So, Paul could have an attitude of gratitude and joy even in the most ridiculous circumstances of potential death (Phil 1:18–23; 2:17–18). Paul was so consumed with an attitude of gratitude that when he spoke of prayer, he invariably mentioned thanksgiving (e.g. Phil 4:6–7; Eph 6:18). Indeed, this attitude is the basis of prayer – to renarrate life through the lens of God and his good news and find reason to say thanks.
That said, there is nothing better for a Christian at the end of a year, than to sit in the silence of God’s awesome presence and ponder the year that has gone – and give thanks. Think back to the good times and bad times, and allow God’s Spirit to give you glimpses of God’s providential hand in the year, and allow whispers of gratitude to well up. There is healing in such prayers. But we don’t do so naively, as if all is perfect on planet earth. It isn’t. We remember those we love, the pain, the suffering – but we bring them to the gospel, and we find gratitude flows from us. It also motivates us to keep going in 2012. So, let’s end 2011 giving thanks.