There are a few verses that most Christ followers at least sort of know by heart. Verses like John 3:16. Or Hebrews 11:1. Or this one:
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
It’s a strange passage coming from a guy like Paul. Here’s a guy bitten by snakes, shipwrecked, beaten within an inch of his life on numerous occasions, a guy abandoned by his friends on some occasions, maligned by people he cared about on others, and yet a guy who stresses the concept of joy and thankfulness almost as much as he stressed grace and faith.
But I wonder – is there a difference in giving thanks in all circumstances, and giving thanks for all circumstances?
If there is, it means that no matter what situation you find yourself in, there is always something to be thankful for. You may not be thankful for the suffering, the pain, the hardship, or the persecution, but there are other things to lift your heart. When you consider everything that the Lord is, all that He continues to do in the world, and the next world waiting for the believer, there’s plenty of reasons to say “thanks.” No matter what happens to be going on.
If there’s not a difference, it means you believe that every circumstance, regardless of how devastating or marvelous, has come directly from God. And since you know that God is for you, not against you, then you can be thankful for the circumstance, even if you are doing so in faith. You are thankful because you believe that ultimately good will come of it.
I think people love Jesus and believe both of these things. And at the end of the day, both sets of believers are thankful.
But I would say this – in my own life, I have seen how over time, you become more thankful “for.” Over time, and with perspective, you begin to see the invisible hand of God moving in times that, in the moment, you could not see. You begin to reflect on His providential care and love and wisdom even when He may have seemed so significantly absent. You see how He has shaped you and guided you into a deeper experience of Jesus. And so, even if you aren’t in the moment, you become over time thankful “for.”