Paul famously exhorted the church in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 to "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." We know this verse, we understand this verse, but often it is really hard to love this verse.
It is confusing. Was Paul serious? "Rejoice always?" "Give thanks in all circumstances?" Surely he didn't mean "always" or "all circumstances". The world that we live in is dark, sin-infested, and backward. We struggle with all the ramifications of sin. We see crime, disease, rampant sin, and disobedience, even in our own life. Are we supposed to give thanks for these things?
Words are important and that certainly applies to this verse as we attempt to make sense of it. You see, Paul was not saying we need to be thankful "FOR" our circumstances, but rather "IN" all of our circumstances. That makes all the difference. As Mark Howell writes, "This imperative speaks more about our perspective toward life than it does about our attitude toward our circumstances. To obey this command we must keep the big picture in view."
Because God is sovereign and supremely providential, we know our lives are like a tapestry. While made up of threads of both good experiences and some bad experiences, they are all being woven together by God into a beautiful tapestry according to His wise, good, and perfect plan.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
It is hard for us to see this beauty when life is hard and things are tough. It is like looking at the back of a tapestry. The back of a tapestry looks like a chaotic mess when you look at it from the backside. From that perspective, it is just a tangle of random, unruly, and ugly threads. This is how we view our lives most days here on earth. From this perspective, it looks random, messy, and chaotic. It is really hard to see the design and beauty.
While it may not seem like it, because of our providential God, through faith in Christ Jesus, we can take hope that things are not as they seem. That is His promise for us. God is indeed working ALL things together for good ... even if we cannot see it from our limited perspective.
We do not trust ourselves, but His infinite power and wisdom. This can only happen with genuine faith. "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1). Through faith, we trust God's goodness when life seems rotten. We trust His faithfulness and unfailing promises when it seems all is failing around us. We put our confidence in Him, instead of ourselves. We run to the Word of God and daily grow our faith in Christ Jesus and it helps us see everything from a different perspective.
God is indeed weaving a beautiful tapestry. We may not see it all just yet, BUT we can know the tapestry maker and He is trustworthy and faithful. One day, we will see the beautiful front side.
This life really is like looking through a keyhole, one day we will see fully behind the door. Until then, "let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith." (Hebrews 12:2)
We can give thanks today IN every circumstance today regardless of whether they are good or bad because our hope is Christ Jesus, who has brought us to the sovereign Father. He is working ALL things together for our good.