The year 2020 hasn't been very easy. It is marked with a lot of bad things that have happened and are still happening. Nevertheless, it is important for people to remain thankful in the midst of every single wrong that occurred this year.
One particular passage in the Bible reminds Christians everywhere to be thankful, regardless of their circumstances. In his letter to the believers in Thessalonica, specifically the passage in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, the apostle Paul urged followers of the Lord Jesus Christ to be thankful. He said in the passage,
"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
According to Pastor Chuck Swindoll, Paul wrote his first letter to the Thessalonian believers in response to their "faithfulness in the face of persecution." Thessalonica is located in what is now known as Greece, and the believers that lived there were in danger of persecution for their faith in Christ.
Paul went to Thessalonica during his second missionary journey and preached the Gospel of Christ there (Acts 17:1-3). Some of the people who were listening to him believed, but some didn't (Acts 17:4).
Some of those who did not receive the Gospel became envious of Paul and caused trouble for him and the believers (Acts 17:5-8). As a result, Paul and his companions eventually left and went to another place called Berea (Acts 17:9-10).
Paul knew the Thessalonian believers would undergo persecution for their faith (1 Thess. 1:6, 2:13-15). He would've wanted to stay with them longer, but they were forced to leave in haste (1 Thess. 2:17). Paul wanted to visit them, "but Satan hindered us" (see 1 Thess. 2:18).
The apostle Paul was very concerned about their faith in God, knowing that they might face persecution in the hands of those who were against the way of Christ. And so, he sent Timothy to them to establish them in the faith so they will be able to resist the tempter and the afflictions they might go through. (1 Thess. 3:1-5).
Paul, however, was glad to hear that the believers did not waver in faith (1 Thess. 3:6-8). He then reminded them of many things they need to grow in, such as purity and holiness (1 Thess. 4:1-8), brotherly love and more (1 Thess. 4:9-12). He also reminded them of the hope that believers have in Christ - that the Lord is coming back (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
He then urged them to live in sobriety, eagerly expecting the arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:1-10). He also reminded them to take good care of each other, to help one another in their walk with Christ (1 Thess. 5:11-15). He also exhorted them to rejoice in Christ and to keep praying at all times (1 Thess. 5:16-17). He also told them to be thankful to God in all things (1 Thess. 5:18).
Paul also had other instructions for them, such as to avoid quenching the Holy Spirit, to avoid despising prophecies, to test all things, to hold fast to what is good, and to abstain from "every form of evil" (1 Thess. 5:19-22).
It's God's will
What sticks out for believers in this passage, particularly in this time and season the world is in right now, is the part where Paul told the Thessalonian believers to "give thanks" to God "in everything" (see 1 Thess 5:18).
Why should Christians thank God this year? There's a pandemic that closed businesses, affected churches and made life harder for everyone. There are regulations preventing people from traveling to visit their families for Thanksgiving. There are some regulations prohibiting Christians from gathering in church to worship. In some places, those who are able to gather for worship aren't even allowed to sing with masks on.
There's an increase in the persecution of Christians everywhere. There's a massive battle for religious freedom in different places. Some ministers have fallen, are in need of help, of rest to refocus, have resigned for personal reasons, and so on. And the youth are looking for people to guide them to do what's right.
With all that's going on, why should Christians be thankful to God this year? Why should Christians celebrate Thanksgiving? The answer lies in Paul's very exhortation to the Thessalonian believers, who also went through persecution:
"In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
It's God's will for His people to be thankful to Him at all times - and His people can be thankful to Him because He is faithful (2 Tim. 2:13) and will never leave His children nor forsake them (Heb. 13:5); because Christ has already won the victory over sin and death (1 Cor. 15:55-57); because God cannot be shaken no matter what happens in this world (Psalm 2:4); and because Christ is coming back again (Acts 1:11; Rev. 22:12).
Christians have so many reasons to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, even with all that has happened. God is Sovereign. He is good. And He is Father to all who are in Christ (John 1:12). No pandemic, online censorship, fake news, and any other thing can separate His people from His love (Romans 8:31-39).