This is the second and the final week of our series called Thankful. Since Thanksgiving is this week, I thought I’d take a little poll.
When the turkey is carved this week, what are you going to go for? How many of you are white meat people?
How many of you are dark meat people? Yeah! That’s my tribe right there. You all are my people. I’m all over the dark meat.
But I married into a white meat family. I will never forget the first Thanksgiving dinner I ever attended with Nicki’s family. Nicki and I had only been dating a few months. And as I looked around their kitchen, all I saw was white meat. I looked everywhere. Nothing but white meat. So I finally whispered to Nicki, “Where is all the dark meat?”
She looked surprised and said, “We threw it away. Nobody eats that stuff.”
I spent the next few minutes rethinking our entire relationship. I was thinking, “Wait a minute…this is a white meat family. If Nicki and I get married, what are we going to do? How are we going to raise the children?”
This was a big deal. But we eventually overcame this huge obstacle in our relationship. Nicki is still a white meat person. I’m still a dark meat person. But love will find a way, you know. Somehow, we make it work.
This week, our entire nation will pause to give thanks. But for those of us who follow Jesus, thanksgiving is much more than that. Like I said last week, thankfulness isn’t about a season. It’s a constant in the lives of people who follow Jesus. It’s not about a season.
But what we’re going to see today is that it’s also not about our situation. Thankfulness is not about our circumstances. Gratitude is not based on our situation. At first, that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. But for Christ-followers, it’s the truth.
Today is going to be tough. We’re going to dig down deep into some hard truth today. But that’s where real freedom is found. It’s found when we’re willing to embrace the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. Even when it’s hard. Even when it doesn’t make sense.
Today is going to be a day of freedom for somebody here today. And that gets me fired up, because that’s what we’re all about here at Connect. We exist to connect people to Jesus. We are all about people being set free in Christ.
So let’s pray for that to happen right now.
In this series, we’re exploring one verse in the New Testament book of 1 Thessalonians. The Apostle Paul wrote, “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV)
Last week, we talked about what it means to give thanks. But today, we’re digging even deeper. Paul said that it is God’s will for us to “give thanks in all circumstances.”
Paul didn’t say, “give thanks in some circumstances.” Or, “give thanks in good circumstances.” He said, “give thanks in all…ALL…circumstances.”
How in the world do we do that? Is he serious? What about those times when life just kicks us in the teeth? What about when things seem to fall apart? What about when life just flat out sucks?
I told you that today is going to be tough. We’re jumping into the deep end of the pool today. But we’re also chasing after some life-giving freedom today. So let’s dig down into this.
Here’s the first thing we need to wrap our minds around. Thankfulness is something we do, not something we feel.
There are times when I feel thankful. But there are also a lot of times when I don’t. There are a lot of times when I’m just not feeling it. And the same is true for you. When life punches you in the gut, you don’t feel thankful. You don’t feel thankful in times of uncertainty and hurt and grief and pain and loss. If you feel thankful in those times, honestly, you’re just weird. You need help.
But what we see in Paul’s words is that thankfulness isn’t a feeling. It’s an action. It’s not something we feel. It’s something we do.
Look at Paul’s words again. Paul said, “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV)
Paul instructs us to “give thanks.” He doesn’t tell us to “feel thankful.” It’s not passive. It’s not a feeling or an emotion. It’s something we do.
That means that thankfulness isn’t based on how I feel at the time. I can feel disappointed and discouraged, and I can still give thanks. I can feel angry and frustrated, and I can still give thanks. I can feel sad and even hopeless, and I can still give thanks. Because thankfulness isn’t something I feel. It’s something I do.
And here’s why that matters so much. Because it forces me into a new perspective. Giving thanks forces me to see blessings in the middle of my trials. It forces me to focus on what I do have rather than what I don’t have. It forces me to realize that God’s plans are bigger than what is happening to me right now.
It’s not a feeling. It’s an action. Thankfulness isn’t something that I feel. It’s something that I do.
And then there’s this little word. “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV)
This is so critical. Again, this will completely shift our perspective.
Paul said to “give thanks IN all circumstances.” He didn’t say, “give thanks FOR all circumstances.”
The truth is that if you’re in a really tough season in your life, you do not have to feel thankful for it. You don’t have to force yourself to feel that your situation is good when it isn’t. That’s not faith. That’s insanity.
It is insane to believe that you have to “feel thankful for all circumstances.” That’s crazy. It’s also not biblical.
Paul never said “feel thankful for all circumstances.” He said, “give thanks in all circumstances.”
And here’s why that’s actually possible in our lives. It’s possible because of what Paul wrote in another New Testament book, the book of Romans.
In Romans 8, Paul said, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NIV)
Again, pay careful attention to the wording. Paul tells us that in all things, God works for our good. He never says that all things are good. Huge, huge difference.
You don’t have to believe that what you’re going through is good when it obviously isn’t. You don’t have to believe that your divorce is good. You don’t have to believe that your job loss is good. You don’t have to believe that your anxiety and depression are good. You don’t have to believe that suffering and disease are good. You don’t have to believe that losing someone that you love is good.
You don’t have to wear rose-colored glasses to follow Jesus. You don’t have to walk around singing, “Everything is awesome!” when it obviously isn’t.
Paul never said that all things are good. He said that, “in all things God works for the good of those who love him…”
You can believe that your situation is not good, and still believe that God can bring good out of it. You can accept the reality that what is happening to you is not good, but God is strong enough and wise enough and loving enough to use it FOR your good.
To “give thanks in all circumstances” means that you have to remember this truth: what you see now is not the end of your story.
My wife is an avid reader. I don’t know many books she has read this year. Dozens and dozens.
This week, the two of us were sitting on the couch after the kids went to bed. She was reading and I was watching TV, because she is awesome and I’m lazy. And then, all of a sudden, she said, “No way!”
I looked at over her and she said, “I just realized that this book is part of a series!” She read me the last few lines of the book, and she’s right. The story just stopped. Nothing was resolved. Nothing came to a conclusion. It just stopped. And now she has to wait for book #2 to be released. The story is not over. It’s just to-be-continued.
Your story is not over. It’s just to-be-continued. What you see right now is not the end for you. Your story is still being written. And it is being written by the God who “works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Now, some of us don’t believe that. You hear that God is good. You hear that God is working for your good. But you just don’t believe it, because things in your life aren’t good. In fact, things are just plain bad.
I get it. I really do. I get the skepticism. I get the doubt. I get it. And it’s ok. Especially if you don’t really buy into all this Jesus stuff. You’re just checking it out, but you really don’t know if there’s anything to it. It’s ok. You have my permission to doubt what I’m talking about today. But I’ll tell you this…by the time we’re finished today, you’re going to want to believe it. You may not believe it, but you’re going to want to believe it. You’re going to want to believe it because it’s good news.
Here it is. I heard Perry Noble say this and I’ve never forgotten it. Everybody repeat after me. “If it ain’t good (if it ain’t good), God ain’t done! (God ain’t done).”
Now, I know that you grammar freaks are about to go into convulsions. Get over it. This isn’t English class. You’re not grading my paper. This is just the truth.
The truth is, your story isn’t over. What you see is not the end. Your story is still being written. And it’s being written by a good God who works all things together for the good for those who love Him. Translation: If it ain’t good, God ain’t done!
In John 20, we read about what happened after Jesus rose from the grave. Jesus had died on a cross three days earlier. And naturally, all of His followers thought it was over. Death is the ultimate “The End,” right? That’s exactly what they were thinking.
But now, something really weird had happened. The tomb was empty. Jesus’ body was gone, and they just couldn’t figure it out.
Check this out in John 20, starting in verse 11. “Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”
At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. [That is HUGE! We’re going to come back to that.]
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” (John 20:11-15, NIV)
Mary was so distraught, so confused, so overcome by uncertainty and grief that she completely missed Jesus’ presence and she could not recognize what Jesus was doing.
And that happens all the time to us, too. We are so overwhelmed by what is going on in our lives that we completely miss Jesus’ presence and we don’t recognize what Jesus is doing.
It’s so easy to miss Jesus when life hits us with both barrels. It’s so incredibly easy to lose sight of what Jesus is doing when we hurt…when we go through times of disappointment and discouragement and confusion and heartache and despair. In those times, it’s so easy to believe that this is the end.
That’s what Mary did. Jesus even spoke to her Himself, and she still didn’t understand what was happening. She still thought it was all over. This man that she had believed in…the one that she had put all her faith and trust in…was dead. And to make matters even worse, now his body was gone, too. Nothing made sense anymore. It just seemed like this was the end of everything. The story was over, and Mary just could not believe it ended like this.
But if it ain’t good, God ain’t done. Next verse.
“Jesus said to her, “Mary.” [This is so cool. Jesus didn’t say, “Hey, it’s Me! I’m here! Open your eyes and see that it’s me!” Instead, He just said Mary’s name. It’s so personal. It’s so intimate. Jesus knew Mary’s story inside and out. He knew the hurt and the pain and the disappointment and the loss that she was feeling. And it all came out when He calmly and compassionately said her name. “Mary.”]
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.” (John 20:16-18, NIV)
Mary thought her story was over, but it was still being written. And she ran to tell Jesus’ disciples the news. The good news.
It was good news that their story wasn’t over. It was good news that a new chapter was being written. It was good news because if it ain’t good, God ain’t done!
Go back to our verse in 1 Thessalonians. Don’t miss the last part of the verse. Paul said, “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV)
Giving thanks in all circumstances is God’s will for us IN CHRIST JESUS. Jesus is the reason that we can give thanks even in crappy circumstances, because in Christ, we see the truth that if it ain’t good, God ain’t done! Jesus turned a cross into an empty tomb! He turned a crucifixion into a resurrection!
When Jesus is the author of my story, then my story is not over. It doesn’t matter how hard this current chapter is. It doesn’t matter how broken and hopeless my story seems. If Jesus is writing my story, then “The End” is never actually the end! There are more chapters to be written, because if it ain’t good, then God ain’t done!
Now, I can understand why someone would still want to push back on this. How can this be true if someone I love is dying? How can this be true when I’m suffering?
And what about all the believers in Jesus who are being persecuted and killed for their faith? What about those Christians in the Middle East who have been killed for their faith by ISIS or other terrorists? What about them? How do you tell them if it ain’t good, God ain’t done?
Here’s how…those people who have been killed for their faith, if you could talk to them today, they would tell you that things are good, because they are now in the presence of Jesus.
What happened to them was not good. It was horrible. It was unspeakable. And I’m not going to get all political here, but I absolutely believe that our government and other governments of the world should be doing absolutely everything we can to stop these atrocities. It is NOT good!
But it also wasn’t the end of their story. If it ain’t good, God ain’t done. If we could talk to them now, they would tell us, “Now we’ve seen the end of our story. And it is very, very good!”
The ultimate good doesn’t come in this life, but it will come. It will come when we see this Scripture from Revelation become a reality. John wrote, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4, NIV)
When that happens in eternity, that’s when we will see the ultimate realization of this truth…if it ain’t good, God ain’t done!
Your circumstances are not the end. Your situation is not the end of your story. Hurt and disappointment and pain will NOT have the last word. Jesus will have the last word.
Your story may not always be a success story. Life roughs us up. We get hit with stuff that we never saw coming. There are seasons where we don’t understand why God is allowing this happen. There are times when life gets so hard that we doubt that God is doing anything at all because we just don’t see it.
Your story may not always be a success story. But it is absolutely a love story.
God’s love for you is not based on your situation. Your circumstances do not prove or disprove God’s love for you.
God’s love for you was settled when Jesus died on the cross for you. And God’s power was proven when three days later, Jesus walked out of that tomb.
That is all the evidence we need to know that God’s love for us never wavers, no matter what is happening in our lives. And whatever comes our way, God is bigger. God is stronger. God is greater. If He can overcome death itself, then He can handle what is happening in my life. Even in the worst times of your life, the cross and the empty tomb are still there.
The resurrection is the ultimate proof that if it ain’t good, God ain’t done.
One more time from 1 Thessalonians 5. “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV)
You don’t have to FEEL thankful FOR all circumstances. But you can GIVE thanks IN all circumstances because you know that your circumstances aren’t the end of your story. Something better is coming, because if it ain’t good, God ain’t done!
You have never walked alone a day in your life. And you have not come to end of your story yet.
This week, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, you might feel thankful. But you also might not. But no matter how we feel, we can give thanks in all circumstances because our circumstances don’t mark the end of our story.
Because if it ain’t good, God ain’t done!
Our God is greater than our circumstances. Our God is stronger than our situation. And Scripture reminds us that if God is for us, then nothing can stand against us.
God has not left you. God will never abandon you. And God is writing a better story for you.
If it ain’t good, God ain’t done!