The Bible has plenty to say about gratitude, and both the Old and the New Testaments encourage us to gives thanks in all circumstances. In 1 Thessalonians, 5:18, Paul writes: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” But it is not just in 1 Thessalonians where we find this theme of giving thanks in all things. Throughout Scripture, we see exhortations to give thanks in all things, both in good times and bad, and we see examples of gratitude in a myriad of situations.
The Bible is clear: God wants us to be thankful not just for the good things in our lives, but even in the trying times.
One of my favorite examples of giving thanks in all circumstances is the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000.
What Jesus’ Feeding the 5,000 Teaches Us about Giving Thanks in All Circumstances
Take a minute and picture the scene. Jesus and 12 of his close friends are out in a remote place, maybe in the countryside somewhere, far from any grocery stores (which would have been marketplaces 2000 years ago) and far from any cities or towns. It’s getting late. People are getting tired and hungry.
If half of the men who were there were married with kids, then there may have been 10,000 people present. There were 5,000 men, at least. And there is no food for miles.
The disciples start to panic. “Jesus!” they might have said. “We have to send these people home! How are we going to feed them all? We have these 5 small buns and 2 fish. That’s barely enough to feed one family.” If this were happening today the disciples might have said “we have to call for pizza!”
But Jesus doesn’t send the people home. He doesn’t call to have food delivered. He gives thanks for the very small amount in front of him.
And here’s another important thing to notice: Jesus doesn’t panic. He doesn’t say “How are we going to feed all these people?!” He doesn’t say “This isn’t enough.”
He gives thanks. And he doesn’t give thanks for an abundance of food. He isn’t grateful for having enough food to eat. He’s grateful for scarcity. He is grateful first, not for having enough food, but for what little there is.
Normally, when we think about gratitude, we think about being grateful for all the good things in our lives. But how often are you thankful when you don’t have enough? When you don’t have enough money, or time? When you’re rushed trying to complete something? When you’re faced with a seemingly impossible task? These are not situations in which we are naturally grateful. But they are situations in which Jesus shows us that gratitude is the right response.
Jesus shows us how the role of gratitude and blessing is reversed from how we normally think of it. Jesus is not grateful here because he has enough. He is grateful first. And then, quite literally, gratitude turns what he has into enough.
Of course, there’s another layer to this story. Jesus has the upper hand, in a sense. Being fully divine, and being the agent of creation (through him all things were created), Jesus knows that he can turn a small amount into a feast. His turning a small about of bread and fish into enough to feed thousands shows us on a small scale what God does all the time: turning a little wheat into much wheat, and two fish into many fish. But there is also a great lesson in this story, beyond showing the divinity and the power of Jesus: Gratitude turns what we have into enough.
In this story of Jesus feeding the 5,000, God himself shows us how gratitude works.
It is easy to be thankful for abundance. It is easy to be thankful when things are going well, when we have enough food to eat, a lot of friends around us, and we get to do things that we enjoy. But this gets gratitude backwards, in a sense.
When we are thankful for hard things, for challenges, and for things that seem far too small to meet our needs, that is what stretches us, what changes us, and what turns 5 small buns and 2 fish into a feast that can feed thousands. That is what fills us.
So the next time you face a seemingly impossible task, or the next time you don’t have enough – whether that’s enough money, enough time, enough volunteers, or enough of anything else, try being thankful first. Go to God in prayer. Be thankful for the hard things. And then patiently wait and see what God does with it.
Why should we be thankful in all circumstances?
There’s a simple reason why we should be thankful in all circumstances: we know that God is in charge. When we trust this, really trust this, then it allows us to release control a little bit, and to trust that all things will work out in the end.
So what does “give thanks in all circumstances” mean? It means be thankful when things are going well, but also be thankful when things are going poorly. Go to God in prayer and begin with gratitude. Be grateful for what there is in front of you and trust that God will provide what you need.
This is what Jesus did when feeding the 5,000. He gave thanks for what little was in front of him – certainly not enough to feed all those people. And then he trusted that God would provide what was needed.
More Bible Verses about Giving Thanks in All Circumstances
There are dozens of Bible verses and stories about giving thanks in all things. Here are a few pieces of Scripture that suggest that we ought to be thankful in good times and bad.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. – Colossians 4:2
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. – 1 Timothy 4:4-5
And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:17
In every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. – Acts 24:3
The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him. – Psalm 28:7
I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. – Psalm 86:12
Bible Stories about Giving Thanks in All Circumstances
The story of Jonah gives us an excellent example of giving thanks in all circumstances. Jonah is on a ship, sailing far away from Nineveh, when a storm threatens to capsize the ship and all the crew. Jonah, knowing that the storm is his fault, volunteers to be thrown overboard in order to save the other men on the ship. Once in the sea, Jonah lands in the belly of a whale (who eventually takes him to Nineveh and spits him out on the shore). While still in the belly of the whale, Jonah gives thanks to God. Not after he was safe, not when his feet were once again on dry land, but while inside the belly of a huge sea creature, with no idea what would become of him, Jonah is grateful.
Daniel in the lion’s den is another great example of being thankful in all circumstances. Daniel was a man of God, devoted and faithful to his Creator. When King Darius made it illegal to petition anyone but himself – thus making prayer illegal – Daniel knows he is in trouble. Anyone caught making a petition to any god or man but the king would be thrown into a den of lions. And yet, despite the consequences, despite knowing that his fate would likely be to be thrown into the lion’s den, Daniel’s first response is to pray and to give thanks, as he usually did.
At the last supper, Jesus gave thanks for the bread and the wine that represented his body and his blood. Knowing that he is going to the cross, and knowing that he will be betrayed by a close friend, Jesus is thankful.
What do all of these stories of giving thanks in all circumstances have in common? Each person – Jonah, Daniel, and Jesus – had faith in God and trusted in him. Daniel trusted in God to save him from the lions. Jonah recognized that the whale was part of God’s plan, that God sent the whale to keep him from drowning. And Jesus knew that through death he would bring new life; that he would defeat death itself and restore the relationship between humanity and God.
Each of these individuals had faith that God’s plan would work out in the end, that all things would be made right, and that suffering, uncertainty, and loss were not the final words. Just as this enabled them to be thankful in all things – facing a den of lion’s, in the belly of the whale, and facing death itself – so too can this promise enable us to be grateful in all circumstances.
A Prayer to Give Thanks in All Circumstances
Loving God, Creator and Redeemer of all things,
Thank you for all that you have made. Thank you for the blessings and the challenges in my life. When my life is going well, help me to remember that every good and perfect gift is from above. May my heart always be grateful, and praise be continually on my lips.
When I face challenges, loss, or impossible circumstances, strengthen my faith in you. Help me to trust that you are in control and that you work all things together for the good of those who love you.
I know deep in my heart that suffering, uncertainty, and loss are not the final words. May I learn to live into that truth, to face challenges with courage, and to find rest and peace in your strength. Lord, help me to accept all things with gratitude. Help me to rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances.