Should We Really Give Thanks for Everything?Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 5:20 urges us to give thanks to God the Father for everything. For everything? Really?
Are we to thank the Lord for pain and suffering? For heresy and falsehood? For depression and death? For sinfulness and evil? For despair and darkness?
Common sense suggests that we should not thank God for that which is contrary to God’s own will. In 1 John 1:5, for example, we read that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” So if we thank God for moral and spiritual darkness, we are giving him false credit for that which is evil. I don’t believe Ephesians 5:20 means that we should specifically thank God for the evil in this world, that for which God is not morally responsible, that which he opposes. If I punch you in the face for no good reason, neither one of us should thank God for it.
But having said this, we should also realize that many things in this world that seem bad to us turn out, in fact, to be parts of God’s good plan. God can even use human evil for his providential purposes. Consider the case of Joseph, for example. He suffered many terrible things in his life, including attempted murder by his own brothers, being sold into slavery, false accusation, abuse of power, and unwarranted imprisonment. As he was rotting in jail, Joseph may not have been ready to pray, “Lord, thank you that I am rotting in jail.” But in retrospect, he would have seen how God used his being in jail for Joseph’s benefit, not to mention the benefit of his family and a whole nation. Thus, later in life, Joseph said to the brothers who had once tried to kill him and who sold him into slavery, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).
There are times when we simply don’t know how to pray, when we’re not sure if the things happening to us are of God or are manifestations of evil. In times like these, we may not know exactly what it means to thank God for everything. But even in such morally and spiritually ambiguous times, we can still thank the Lord. We can thank him for his presence with us. We can thank him for his compassion. We can thank him for never leaving or forsaking us. We can thank him for saving us from sin and death, and for giving us the sure hope of his future. We can thank God that nothing happens that is beyond the scope of his sovereignty, that he can and will use all things for his purposes. We can thank him that the most horrible action in all of history—the torturous murder of God’s own Son—turned out, in the mystery of his grace, to be the ultimate demonstration of divine love and the source of eternal life.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When you’re going through hard times, are you able to thank the Lord? Why or why not? What helps you to offer thanks even when your heart is heavy or your life is difficult?
PRAYER: Gracious God, thank you for all of your wonderful gifts to me. I can’t even begin to think of them all, yet alone to thank you for them. You have been so amazingly gracious to me.
Yet there are times, Lord, when I struggle to thank you. There are things in my life that are difficult and painful. Should I thank you for these things? Should I give you credit for that which is not from you? I would never want to falsely accuse you through misdirected gratitude.
At the same time, Lord, I recognize that your sovereignty is more than I can comprehend. You do indeed ordain that which I can’t comprehend. You use even those deeds that are done in contempt of you. As it was in the case of Joseph and his brothers, what humans intended for evil you intended for good. And in such a battle of intentions, you always win.
So I thank you for your amazing grace, for your awesome providence, for your all-surpassing wisdom. I thank you for using every bit of my life for your purposes. I thank you for being with me in all things and for using all things for my ultimate good and for your ultimate glory. Thank you, Lord, that, in all things, you work for the good of those who love you, who have been called according to your purpose (Rom. 8:28). Amen.
Mark Roberts is the Executive Director of Digital Media and the Theological and Cultural Steward for Foundations for Laity Renewal. He is the author of eight books, including No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer. He lives in Boerne, Texas, with his wife, Linda. Their children spend most of the year away at college on the East Coast. Send a note to Mark.
Don’t Worry, Be Thankful
In Philippians 4, Paul invites people to rejoice in the Lord always. Always? Even when Christians are being persecuted by Rome? Even when Paul himself is in prison? Always? Even when someone I love is dying? Even when I have lost my job? “Do not worry about anything,” Paul continues. Instead, we are called to present our worries to God with thanksgiving. Many of our readers in the United States are celebrating Thanksgiving this week, with a turkey dinner and pumpkin pie. We invite you to reflect on gratitude and thankfulness and consider sharing some thoughts with your family this week from our theme Don’t Worry, Be Thankful.