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  • Adam Schell

In Every Situation




It was only a few short days ago that we gathered around tables to celebrate Thanksgiving. The turkey was carved. The stuffing was passed. The pumpkin pie was served. But now the turkey's been picked clean. The stuffing's been stuffed into Tupperware containers, along with the rest of the trimmings. And the pumpkin pie was polished off days ago. So Thanksgiving has come and gone for another year. 


But can we be honest here? I mean, we are in church…so it seems like we should be able to be honest here. And, if we’re going to be honest, then we need to admit that even though Thanksgiving was last Thursday for a lot of us it already feels like it was a million years ago. And that’s because for a lot of us as soon as we sit down our forks at the Thanksgiving table we immediately turn our attention away from turkeys and pilgrims and turn our attention to Christmas.


I mean for many of us it wasn’t long after our Thanksgiving celebrations came to an end that we wandered down to our basement or up to the attic to start pulling out Christmas decorations. And by the time we headed to the refrigerator to warm up some leftovers, our trees were up, our stockings were hung, and we were ready for Santa to come sliding down our chimney.


But I am well aware that not every family spends the weekend after Thanksgiving decorating for Christmas. There are plenty of people who’d rather spend the days after Thanksgiving looking for deals than decking the halls. It was estimated last year that more than 141 million people went shopping on Black Friday. Between Black Friday and Cyber Monday last year, Americans spent more than $20 billion. And the National Retail Federation expected consumers to spend just under a trillion dollars during the holiday season.


And when I think about all of that, I can’t help but wonder if anyone else finds it at least a little strange that right after we celebrate a holiday that is all about being thankful for what you have that we immediately go out and try to get more. But maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising that right after we celebrate Thanksgiving we go out and spend billions of dollars on gifts for ourselves and others because throughout this Thanksgiving season at Melbourne Heights, we’ve been talking about the fact that we aren’t great at being grateful.

We aren’t great at being grateful.

And since we aren’t great at being grateful, that means that we always want more. We want more money in our bank accounts. We want more food in our pantry. We want more clothes in our closets. And we want more presents under our Christmas tree. So even though we know we should be thankful for everything we have, we still want more.

Even though we know we should be thankful for everything we have, we still want more.

But as followers of Jesus, we know that’s not how we’re supposed to be. And we actually see this message all throughout the Bible. In places like 1 Chronicles 16:34 when King David is establishing the place where Israel will come to worship God, David tells his kingdom:


Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.


We hear it again in Psalm 30:12, which was a hymn written to dedicate this place of worship that David established, when the author writes:


O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!


We hear it again in the book of Isaiah. When Isaiah, who was a prophet – someone who spoke on behalf of God – was warning the people of Israel to turn their lives around before it was too late. But he still told the people:


Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.


Isaiah 12:4-5 (New International Version)


And these are just a couple of examples I can give you. But time and time again the Bible tells us: Give thanks to the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord. So from these passages alone, it’s pretty clear that God wants us to be thankful for what he has given us.


But that doesn’t change the fact that we still want more. So what are we supposed to do when our natural desire to acquire more contradicts the way that God wants us to live our lives? Well, that’s what we’ve been talking about this Thanksgiving at Melbourne Heights. Over the last few weeks, we’ve been working our way through a series of sermons called “Enough Is Enough” where we’ve been talking about how we can be more grateful in a greedy world.


So over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen that if we want to be grateful instead of greedy we need to realize how much God has already given us, and we need to share what we’ve been given with others. But there’s still at least one more lesson that we can learn that will help us be grateful instead of greedy.


And we find this lesson in a letter that Paul wrote. So, if you’ve got a Bible close by go ahead and open it to 1 Thessalonians 5. 1 Thessalonians 5, and we’ll start reading in verse 16. Paul writes:


16 Rejoice always. 17 Pray continually. 18 Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.


1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (Common English Bible)


Let me read that again for you. “Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” So Paul is telling us that if  we want to learn to be grateful instead of greedy, we need to learn to rejoice always, to pray continually, and to give thanks in every situation.


And you know what? That sounds nice. It’s a great statement. You may even want to write that down so you can share it with your family before you carve up the turkey next Thanksgiving.


But do you want to know the first thing that runs through my mind when I read this passage and hear it tell me to: Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for me? The first thing that runs through my mind is that it sounds nice…but it ain’t gonna happen. 


And it ain’t gonna happen because when Paul wrote this book – this letter – that we call 1 Thessalonians, Paul didn't know me. And when I look at my life, I can always find something that could be better. When I look at my life, I see that I have a car that’s more than a decade old and makes weird noises whenever I start it up sometimes. Or when I look at my life, I see that pair of running shoes sitting in my closet that kind of smells and has tread that is wearing out. Or when I look at my life, I see a laptop that doesn’t hold its charge and its memory is starting to fill up. So, yes, I know that I am blessed to have a car to drive, and clothes to wear, and a computer to work on…but I also know that I could have a better car, and nicer clothes, and a newer computer.


And, you know what? It’s hard to be thankful for what you have when you know that it could be better.

It’s hard to be thankful for what you have when you know that it could be better.

And no matter how good your health is right now, you know that it could be better. No matter how good you feel about yourself right now, you know it could be better. No matter how good your relationship with God is right now, you know it could be better.


So Paul can write that we need to give thanks in every situation…but Paul doesn’t know everything that could be better in your life. Paul hasn’t had to deal with the physical, the emotional, the spiritual things that you’ve had to face. And if he had, there is no way that he could tell you to give thanks in every situation.


But before we all start to break out the party hats and noisemakers for our own personal pity parties, I want to tell you a little bit more about the people that Paul wrote this book, this letter, of 1 Thessalonians to. And to understand who these people are, we have to go back a few books in the Bible and find the story where the Thessalonians are first mentioned. 


That story takes place in the book of Acts. And Acts is basically a history book that tells us how our faith in Jesus grew and spread in the first few decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection. And in Acts chapter 17, we meet the Thessalonians. This is what Acts tells us:


1 Paul and Silas journeyed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, then came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was Paul’s custom, he entered the synagogue and for three Sabbaths interacted with them on the basis of the scriptures. 3 Through his interpretation of the scriptures, he demonstrated that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. He declared, “This Jesus whom I proclaim to you is the Christ.” 4 Some were convinced and joined Paul and Silas, including a larger number of Greek God-worshippers and quite a few prominent women.


5 But the Jews became jealous and brought along some thugs who were hanging out in the marketplace. They formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They attacked Jason’s house, intending to bring Paul and Silas before the people. 6 When they didn’t find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city officials. They were shouting, “These people who have been disturbing the peace throughout the empire have also come here. 7 What is more, Jason has welcomed them into his home. Every one of them does what is contrary to Caesar’s decrees by naming someone else as king: Jesus.” 8 This provoked the crowd and the city officials even more. 9 After Jason and the others posted bail, they released them.


10 As soon as it was dark, the brothers and sisters sent Paul and Silas on to Beroea.


Act 17:1-10a (Common English Bible)


So in the verse we just read, we’re told that Paul and his buddy, Silas, go to Thessalonica and they start sharing the good news of Jesus. And almost as soon as they start sharing the good news of Jesus, people start believing in Jesus and committing their lives to following him. And almost as soon as people start believing in Jesus and committing their lives to following him, these same people start being persecuted.


A mob starts a riot to stamp out these people’s faith. They attack someone’s home to keep him and others from believing in Jesus. They drag that man out of his home and turn him over to the authorities to make an example and show other people not to follow Jesus. And they basically run Paul and Silas out of town to keep other people from believing in Jesus.


Now when I look at my life, I know it isn’t always rainbows and puppy dogs. But I have never had a mob chasing after me. My life isn’t always sunshine and roses, but I have never been forcefully drug out of my home. My life isn’t always unicorns and cotton candy, but I’ve never had someone try to force me to stop believing in Jesus.


But that’s what happened to the Thessalonians. The Thessalonians weren’t worried about driving a newer car,  having nicer clothes, or getting their hands on a new computer. They were chased by mobs, drug out of their homes, and persecuted – really persecuted – because of their faith.


And that’s actually why Paul writes them this letter. Paul’s worried about them. Paul knows that he and Silas were able to escape from this persecution but the people of Thessalonica couldn’t leave. Paul was so worried that he sent his apprentice, a guy named Timothy, to go and check up on the Christians there and see how they were doing.


And the incredible, almost unbelievable, thing is: they were doing great. So Paul writes this letter to them to encourage them and give them some instructions for how they could continue to live out their faith even in difficult times.


That’s why Paul tells them to: Rejoice always. Pray continually. And give thanks to God in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.


And I know that all sounds well and good. The Thessalonians had it tough – far tougher than I’ve had it – but Paul still encouraged them to give thanks in every situation. But it still doesn’t make sense. It still doesn’t make sense to be thankful in every situation.


But you know what? It didn’t make sense to the people in Thessalonica either. I mean, these people were being persecuted – mobs were rioting against them, they were being drug out of their homes and imprisoned; and seriously, who could possibly be thankful when they’re being persecuted?


But Paul doesn’t encourage them – Paul doesn’t encourage us – to be thankful in all situations because it makes sense. Paul encourages them – and Paul encourages us – to be thankful in every situation because it’s God's will for us in Christ Jesus.


What does that mean? Well, this is basically Paul’s way of saying, “I know that this doesn’t make sense to you…but trust me on this one. This is God’s will for you.”


So here’s the thing, I can stand up here all day and try to make sense out of this. I can stand up here all day and try to explain why we should give thanks in every situation. But it’s not going to work. And it’s not going to work because it is never going to make sense…until you actually do it.


And it’s not going to make sense because giving thanks in every situation isn’t a human thing…it’s a God thing. And we can’t understand these God things until we do what God wants us to do. But when we do, that lightbulb goes on and it makes perfect sense.


Because when we can be thankful in every situation – whether we’re succeeding or struggling – we can see that God is always with us. God is with us on the mountaintops and in the valleys. God is with us when we’re up and when we’re down. God is with us when we have everything going for us and when we have everything going against us. God is always with us.


And when we realize that God is always with us, it helps us to understand that we have everything we need…even if we don’t have everything we want. Because in life, we’re always going to want more. We’re always going to think that we can have better.


But nothing is better than realizing that God is with you. There’s no car you can drive, no clothes you can wear, no technology you can find that is better than knowing God is with you. And the only way to realize God is always with you is to rejoice always, to pray continually, and to give God thanks in every situation. Because when you do you see how God is always with you and at work in your life.


So, yes, we’re encouraging you to give thanks today. We’re encouraging you to give thanks in every situation. And we’re doing it even though it doesn’t make sense. But just take God’s word for it, try it and see for yourself how everything can change when you can give thanks in every situation.

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