I’ll be honest, winter has always been a tough time for me. It’s like I feel grief for the flowers and trees that drop their dying leaves and petals. It seems, especially on overcast days, that all the colour has been sucked out of the world. I tend to stay inside on days like this, trying not to be envious of places that know perpetual summer. I know the winter is an essential part of the ecosystem, and snow can be pretty, but my flowers are dead, and I am sad.
When I was a kid I was taught to recite the verse that says, “In everything gives thanks for this is the will of God concerning you.” They told me that every bad thing that happened was God’s will for me. For many years I tried to bear pain and shame because I thought this is the life God chose for me, this is my cross to bear. Frankly it left me feeling more like God’s victim than his beloved child.
There are religious systems in the world that teach that everything that happens is fate doled out by god or gods, or is the result of punishment earned by sins in a former life. Some go so far as to teach that trying to raise yourself out of poverty by getting a better education, for example, is wrong because it does not accept fate. How can we pray for ourselves, or for others, when we call illness and poverty and broken hearts “God’s will?” How can we risk change or compassion when it appears God himself lacks compassion?
I have found that when something seems like an insurmountable obstacle, it is wise to back up and see the bigger picture. In this case I needed to back up and see the bigger context of the passage this verse came from. I looked it up in several translations. Many made it clearer that “this” referred to more than “everything.” The Phillips version:
Live together in peace, and our instruction to this end is to reprimand the unruly, encourage the timid, help the weak and be very patient with all men. Be sure that no one repays a bad turn by a bad turn; good should be your objective always, among yourselves and in the world at large. Be happy in your faith at all times. Never stop praying. Be thankful, whatever the circumstances may be. If you follow this advice you will be working out the will of God expressed to you in Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 5:13b-18)
So what is the will of God?
Live together in peace
Reprimand the unruly (patiently)
Encourage the timid
Help the weak
Be very patient with all people
Help each other not to return a bad turn for a bad turn
Make goodness your objective
Be happy in your faith
Never stop praying
Be thankful whatever your circumstance (there is always something to be thankful for)
So the will of God is not degenerative bone disease, or rebellious children, or financial devastation, but a way of life that brings about change from the inside out.
See the bigger picture. Back up and look at scripture in context. If some verses appear to contradict the character of God, and who he has revealed himself to be through Christ Jesus (who said “If you have seen me you have seen the Father,) then it is worth searching the scriptures for their setting. In this case it is inconsistent with the character of God to ask his beloved children to thank him for everything evil thing that happens to them. He says we can be thankful in every circumstance though.
There is something about being in Christ Jesus that gives us the strength to have a thankful attitude and look for hope in the middle of a mess, knowing God has a solution for every problem, and invites us to ask him for it.
Thankfulness is a mindfulness of the love and goodness of God, even when our circumstances are dismal, even when winter hides the dormant flowers.
Thankfulness allows us to walk by faith and not by sight. Thankfulness facilitates change; it reminds us that Jesus said he came to destroy the works of the devil, not glorify them.