Ephesians 5:4 in the Message version says, ‘Thanksgiving is our dialect.’ A dialect is ‘a particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group’ and involves both specific words (eg a ‘bread roll’ may be called a cob, batch, bread cake, barm cake or scuffler, depending where you live in the UK) and accents (how these words are pronounced.) For Christians, we have a new language, Paul says: one which involves thankfulness.
There are times when it is extremely easy to be thankful: when you are healthy, when you feel loved, when life is going well for you and you are happy and successful, giving thanks is relatively easy. But the Bible encourages us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:17 TNIV), learning contentment whether we are in need or in plenty (Phil 4:12 TNIV) and also commands us to give thanks for everything. (Eph 5:19-20 TNIV)
As we grow in God, this command seems less baffling than at first, for we realise that nothing comes into our lives unless it has been filtered through God’s love. ‘God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ (Rom 8:28 TNIV) What the enemy means for evil, God is able to turn to good: as Joseph said to his brothers, ‘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 TNIV) God is never the author of evil, nor is He a sadist who enjoys our discomfort so much He gives us impossible commands and then laughs at us when we fail to achieve them. He is able, however, to turn every tragedy, every heartache, every trial and every suffering into something which will strengthen us and help us to become more like Christ, and therefore it is possible to give thanks for everything, however difficult that may be for us to do.
The autobiography ‘Joni’, written by a young girl who became quadraplegic after a diving accident at the age of seventeen, is one example of how God can work good from tragic circumstances. Understandably she struggled with doubt and depression and feelings of utter bewilderment as she realised that her life was not going to be as she had imagined it would be. At times she said “I wished God were like He used to be, a few notches lower. I wanted Him to be lofty enough to help me but not so uncontrollable. I longed for His warm presence, times when He seemed more… safe.” (‘The God I Love’) But she said she learned ‘Suffering provides the gym equipment on which my faith can be exercised.” (‘Suffering’) She has shown through a lifetime of rich and diverse ministry and endless help to the disabled that tragedy does not have to have the final word in our lives. Thankfulness can open the door to blessings that are poured out from heaven.