In ALL Circumstances
I had been planning for weeks to speak on Sunday, November 20 on 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” After having set my sights on this day, the need for a tonsillectomy arose and, on November 11, I had a much-needed surgery to remove my tonsils and adenoids. I had nine days to recover and be ready to speak at the Thanksgiving worship service, no sweat.
Recovery was going according to plan. I had ramped up my activity on Thursday and Friday and was ready to go…until Friday evening, a week after surgery, I had some bleeding. It took about 20 minutes, but I was able to get it stopped. This occurred another time that night and again in the morning, each time following the procedure in my discharge papers and each time getting it stopped. After the third time I had to bow out of my speaking opportunity for fear that it may start bleeding again in the middle of the service. Up to this point, my plan for this blog was simply to write out what my message on Sunday morning would have been. Unfortunately, Saturday afternoon around 4:30 p.m. the bleeding started a fourth time. This time there was no stopping it.
Saturday evening was probably the scariest night of my life. It’s one thing to have an injury that won’t stop bleeding; you simply apply pressure, wrap it tight enough and, even if healing is slow, the blood is stopped. It’s a completely different matter when the blood is pouring from an open wound deep in your throat where pressure is not easily (or even possibly) applied. It’s a helpless feeling. But I couldn’t get out of my head the thought that it was God’s will for me to give thanks in ALL circumstances.
There was no choice but to go to the emergency room. The time in the ER was full of continued attempts to get the bleeding stopped. Silver nitrate sticks were pressed against the wound repeatedly and cotton doused in Afrin were pressed and held to the wound for five minutes. Nothing worked. In fact, it only seemed to increase the bleeding. All the while, I am spitting and swallowing lots of blood. After about five hours of this, I nearly passed out but snapped out of it when I vomited over a unit of blood. All in all, I lost at least two units of blood before the surgeon was called in to stop the bleeding.
In the midst of all this, gratitude—even in this crazy circumstance—was being pressed on my heart. A funny thing happens when you are feeling near death (whether my feelings were unfounded or not, I was scared): the things you take for granted are greatly appreciated. I was weepy as I hugged my kids to leave the house, cried as Carly and I hugged in the ER (so undeserving to have her by my side), so grateful for Pastor Mike and Letitia coming to visit, and thankful for every time a doctor or nurse appeared to help. And I’ve never been more grateful to have a surgery in my life.
God had been pressing on my heart leading up to Sunday that being thankful is way more than saying thanks for things and I looked forward to communicating this. When we are thankful for stuff, we miss the beauty and depth of expressing thankfulness. You see, gratitude arises from an undeserved gift and is directed toward the giver. Thanks for a thing, for a mere gift, is shallow. Gratitude toward a person, toward the grace-giver, is deep.
We live in a world where a foundational belief is that we deserve and are owed comfort and happiness (it’s an inalienable right). Therefore, we struggle to have a thankful heart in difficult times. Wages are earned, they are given as an obligation, while grace is given as something completely undeserved (Romans 4:4,5). Very rarely will you express thanks for your paycheck. You worked for it, you deserved it, you earned it. But a free gift, one you did nothing for, elicits a response of gratitude. When we express gratitude, we are expressing a position of humility, we are lifting up the giver of a good thing, and we are saying we are underserving of such grace.
As I struggled that evening in the ER, and really in the days since, my gratitude for such basic things has grown. The feelings of entitlement were stripped away and as I look back (though, not wanting to go back) I learned a little more of how to be thankful in ALL circumstances. I learned how this is God’s will for me.
I hope and pray that as I struggled to say thanks to a nurse that evening, or to express my thanks for the surgeon who was called in on his night off, or even as I said thanks to the worker who repeatedly couldn’t find a vein from which to draw blood, that it echoed not my gratitude but the grace of God flowing through me.
How can we be thankful in all circumstances? How can we not? We are the recipients of incredible and undeserved grace. In His Son Jesus, God has shown us His grace.
From the previous two challenges in 1 Thessalonians 5:16,17 we are also called to rejoice always and to pray continually. When we are joyful, it’s an attitude that echoes God’s grace in our lives for all to see. When we pray continually, it echoes back to God our dependence upon His grace. Joy was difficult for me on Saturday evening, but praying continually came quite naturally.
But when we give thanks (v. 18), it echoes to others that we are recipients of undeserved grace, whether in good or bad times, whether full of life or facing death. In ALL circumstances.
Dave Nicodemus is the Communications & Creative Arts Pastor and has served at Grace Polaris for over nine years, seven and a half of those as the High School Pastor. Dave joined the Grace staff after serving at a church in eastern Pennsylvania. Prior to that, he studied youth and family ministry, minoring in art at Grace College (2001) and completing a masters degree from Grace Theological Seminary (2003). He’s the husband of Carly and father to Jack, Henry, Emilia, and Charlie.