Praise the Lord Anyhow!

1 Thessalonians 5:18

November 9, 2022 | Ray Pritchard

Don’t rely on Google for medical advice.
Always check it out.

That’s what our friend learned the hard way.

She had breast cancer, but because of something she read on Google, she thought she didn’t. Unfortunately, that delayed her treatment, which meant things got worse quickly.

I had no idea what she had been through until I read her story: “As Long As I Have Breath”.

Treatable but not curable

The bottom line is that her cancer has spread to other parts of her body. After many months of harrowing treatment, she faces the reality that her cancer is “treatable but not curable.”

Our friend is a strong believer in Jesus. No one who knows her doubts the genuineness of her faith.

But what do you do when the doctors say, “We can’t cure you”?

Before I share her answer, let’s meditate on the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

There is nothing unusual in that verse, except perhaps the words “in everything.” We are to give thanks in everything. That means the key to a happy life is developing a grateful heart.

Wanted: Grateful hearts

Who would argue with that?

We’ve all been around grumpy people who seem perpetually unhappy. They fuss, they whimper, they squawk, and they gripe about this or that. Nothing suits them, everything bothers them, and they can’t be happy because they won’t be happy.

They prefer misery, and since misery loves company, they want us to wallow with them in their fetid pool of discontentment.

That’s why this verse is such a challenge.

It reminds me of Mark Twain’s famous comment, “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me. It’s the parts I do understand.”

That certainly applies to 1 Thessalonians 5:18. There is nothing tricky, vague, or unclear about it. It reads the same in Greek and in English.

So we’re back to the hard part again. How do you give thanks “in everything”? Before considering that answer, let’s pause over the last two words: “in Christ.”

This is God’s will for you “in Christ.”

You play for a new team!

That speaks to the reality of supernatural conversion. If you are “in Christ,” you play for a new team, wear a new uniform, and follow new rules.

Jesus changes everything!

We can hardly expect people who walk in darkness to act as if they have seen the light. If you are spiritually dead and therefore blind and without the knowledge of God, life may seem haphazard to you. In a fallen world, things often happen for no apparent reason, and there is no clear pattern to life’s good and bad circumstances.

“A Christian is an Odd Number Anyway”

Lost people look at life differently than saved people.

That’s not just a religious motto. It’s the bottom-line truth about life. Lost people don’t see God’s hand in everything because they can’t see it. That’s why they hang up a four-leaf clover, a rabbit’s foot, or a picture of some long-dead saint. In an impersonal universe, things just “happen,” so if the rabbit’s foot brings you good luck, why not hang it on your rear-view mirror?

But the Christian thinks differently. A. W. Tozer explains the difference this way:

A real Christian is an odd number anyway. He feels supreme love for one whom he has never seen; talks familiarly every day to someone he cannot see; expects to go to heaven on the virtue of another;

The man who has met God is not looking for anything

empties himself in order to be full; admits he is wrong so he can be declared right; goes down in order to get up; is strongest when he is weakest; richest when he is poorest; and happiest when he feels the worst.

He dies so he can live; forsakes in order to have; gives away so he can keep; sees the invisible, hears the inaudible, and knows that which passes knowledge.

Tozer then adds this description:

The man who has met God is not looking for anything; he has found it. He is not searching for light, for upon him the light has already shined.

 If a person is “in Christ,” he believes in something the world can’t see and doesn’t understand. The world says, “seeing is believing,” but the Christian position is quite different. We say, “believing is seeing.”

“Once I was blind, but now I see.”

So how does this apply to 1 Thessalonians 5:18?

 If you are “in Christ,” you see things differently. You evaluate every experience of life through the vision of the crucified and risen Son of God.

That’s why the person “in Christ” can give thanks “in everything.”

You see something others do not see.

 A 4:30 AM Prayer

My wife and I ate lunch with some friends visiting from another state. When we started our meal, the thought passed through my mind that the husband looked more relaxed than I had seen him in a long time.

I soon learned the reason for his calm demeanor.

He heard a minister suggest a simple prayer for the beginning of each day. My friend said the prayer had made a profound difference in his life. His wife chimed in to say that she had noticed a drastic difference in him.

The prayer changes him!

Before he started praying the prayer, he often came home tense over things that had happened at work, but now he comes home relaxed and in a good mood. As I listened, I wondered to myself what prayer could make that kind of difference.

He explained that the key is to pray the prayer the moment he wakes up—even before he gets out of bed.  He said that he had awakened that morning at 4:30, so he prayed the prayer and then went back to sleep.

The prayer itself is the essence of simplicity. It goes like this: 

 “Heavenly Father, you are in charge of everything that will happen to me today–the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, the positive and the negative. Please make me thankful for everything that happens to me today. Amen.”  

The Apostle Paul would heartily approve of that prayer.

My friend said this prayer changed him on the inside, and that’s what made the difference. His circumstances didn’t change, but his attitude did.

That’s why he looked so relaxed when we ate lunch.

Stuff Happens

Let’s take a closer look at the text in three different versions:

“Be thankful, whatever the circumstances may be” (Phillips).
Be thankful in all circumstances” (NLT).
“No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (TLB).

I like that third one because of the phrase “no matter what happens.” That speaks to the uncertainty of life we all experience.

Stuff happens.

“At least you could have said, ‘Anyhow'”

Things happen to us we didn’t expect.
No one knows what tomorrow may bring.

That’s why the instruction “no matter what happens” helps us.

It may be good, or it may be bad.
Find a way to give thanks anyway.

“Praise the Lord, Coach”

As I wrote those words, I recalled a scene from my student days at a Christian college. Our basketball team had played a big rival on our homecourt. I don’t remember much about the game except that our guys lost. It was a gut-wrenching moment for the team.

I remember one student who befriended the players. When the game was over, he came up to the coach and said, a little too cheerfully, “Praise the Lord, coach.” To which the coach replied with admirable restraint, “At least you could have said, ‘Anyhow.’”

Praise the Lord anyhow.

That’s what Paul is telling us to do.

Above the dark clouds, the sun of his love shines forever.

We know we should give thanks when things are going well. It is right and good to “praise God from whom all blessings flow.” We shouldn’t take our blessings for granted or think we somehow deserve them. But if you only give thanks when you have money in the bank, when your marriage is good, when the deal goes through, when the doctor says, “You don’t have cancer,” when your kids are doing well, when the church is growing, and your friends are glad to see you, if that’s the only time you give thanks, what will you do when trouble comes?

Above the Clouds

 What will you do when your company downsizes and you are out of a job, when your retirement fund loses 45% of its value, when your marriage collapses, when your daughter gets pregnant out of wedlock, when the cancer returns, or when your friends betray you?

In those hard moments, we must return to God because his love for us does not change. On a plane trip, we spent several hours above a vast cloud bank stretching from one horizon to another. Underneath the clouds, no one could see the sun. But above the clouds the sun was shining brightly. Sometimes the clouds of life seem to obscure the face of our Father, and we think he has abandoned us. But above those dark clouds, the sun of his love shines forever.

Things often happen that make no sense. Try as we might, we cannot trace God’s hand in every circumstance because God paints on a canvas much larger than our tiny vision. So how do we give thanks when our hearts are broken? How do we give thanks when we are confused? How do we give thanks when we see what sin has done in the world?

37 Reasons to Praise God

We can give thanks because we know . . .

That God is sovereign.
That nothing happens by chance.
That all things work together for good to those who love God.
That hard times show us our total need for God.

God’s grace is sufficient!

That God has triumphed over sin and death through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
That God uses the worst that happens to promote our spiritual growth.
That God is faithful even when we are faithless.
That God’s Word will be vindicated.
That God’s promises are true.
That evil will not reign forever.

That heaven is real.
That this world is not the “real” world.
That when we are weak, he is strong.
That his grace is sufficient for every situation.
That nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
That our salvation rests on God and not on us.
That there is no pit so deep that the love of God is not deeper still.
That the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from every sin.
That God delights to save sinners.
That the Lord can soften the hardest heart.

That there are no impossible cases with God.
That even when we feel alone, we are never alone.
That our Father will not test us beyond what we can bear.
That the Holy Spirit abides with us always.
That the Lord Jesus feels our pain.

The Lord Jesus feels our pain

That the Holy Spirit prays for us when we are too weak to pray for ourselves.
That Jesus intercedes for us so that we are finally saved.
That our doubts cannot cancel God’s work in us.
That someday we will be conformed to the image of Christ.

That God is faithful to finish his work in us.
That our hardships equip us to minister to others.
That we are invited to come boldly to the throne of grace.
That God’s plan far exceeds our puny imagination.
That weeping endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
That we are still God’s children even when our faith falters.
That while we suffer outwardly, we are renewed inwardly.
That our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory.

Life on a Sin-Cursed Planet

There is no escaping this while we live on a sin-cursed planet. No one gets a free ride through life. I have lived long enough to know that there is a story behind every smiling face. Even the happiest people know their share of sorrow. And some people seem to receive far more than their share of pain.

We will never be able to give thanks always without the Holy Spirit’s help. Left to ourselves, the pain of life will drive us to bitterness and ultimately to despair.

But when we factor God into the equation, when we rest upon the rock of his sovereignty, then and only then do we have the grounds for saying “Thank you, Lord,” no matter what happens around us.

I do not mean to suggest this is easy, only that it is necessary. As hard as it may be to rejoice always, what is your alternative? To give in to despair and anger? Suppose you refuse to give thanks in every situation. In that case, you are virtually saying you know better than God how to run the universe.

We are all day-to-day, just one breath away from eternity.

We proclaim that God’s wisdom is greater than ours by giving thanks when we don’t feel like it. That simple act of giving thanks in the midst of sorrow is a testimony worth more than 10,000 words when things are going well. 

A Gratitude Journal

That leads me back to our friend whose cancer is now “treatable but not curable.” How does she give thanks in that circumstance? After all, this is not what she wanted or expected or planned for or prayed for.

But here she is.
What now?

Here is her answer:

I have a deep faith and trust that the Lord is with me at all times. I am not much of a journalist, but I have been keeping a Gratitude Journal. By focusing each day on my blessings, I find joy in life. It is my desire to spread that joy to others as best I can. So as long as I have breath, I will continue to spread God’s faithful love for us and the joy I experience.

She is keeping a Gratitude Journal.

Focusing on one day at a time.
Counting her blessings.
Finding joy in the journey.

Our friend included a phrase that is hard to read: “As long as I have breath.”

But that’s true of all of us, isn’t it?

As they say on ESPN when a pitcher gets an injury, “He’s listed as day-to-day, but, then again, aren’t we all?”

We are all day-to-day, just one breath away from eternity.

You have given us so much. Give us one thing more—grateful hearts.

Our friend has discovered the gift of continual gratitude, and she has found it in a most unlikely place. Despite her cancer, she is being made new on the inside day by day (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Note one final detail from the text: “This is God’s will.” Often we connect God’s will with life’s big decisions: Where will I go to college? Should I get married? If so, who’s the lucky person going to be? Should I move to San Diego? Does God want me to stay in North Carolina?

Those questions are important, but they don’t get to the heart of the matter.

What is God’s will? To see God everywhere and in everything and to thank him “no matter what happens.”

 This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Remember that this will be more clearly seen in the darkness than in the light.

Lost people may not listen to our sermons or pay attention to our doctrine, but they notice how we live under pressure. The world watches closely to see if our religion works as well in the darkness as it does in the sunlight.

If Christ still shines through us when we are broken by life, they may see our faith and come to believe Jesus is alive today.

No matter what happens, we can always say, “Praise the Lord Anyhow!”

Many people have been converted not by a sermon but by the testimony of God’s grace shining through the pain a believer endures.

This is the message for today.
No matter what happens, we can always say, “Praise the Lord Anyhow!”

Lord Jesus, without your help we will never live this way. Forgive us for complaining when we should be rejoicing.

 You have given us so much. Give us one thing more—grateful hearts.

 May your life flow through us this week so that we can give thanks in everything no matter what happens.

 Grant that our lives might be one loud “Thank you, Lord” for all you have done for us.  Amen.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?