Corrie ten Boom in The Hiding Place relates an incident that taught her always to be thankful. She and her sister, Betsy, had just been transferred to the worst German prison camp. They had not seen Ravensbruck. On entering the barracks, they found them it overcrowded and flea-infested.
That morning, their Scripture reading was 1 Thessalonians. It would remind them to rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances. Betsy told Corrie to stop and thank the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters. Corrie at first refused to give thanks for the fleas. But Betsy persisted, and Corrie finally succumbed to her pleadings. During the months they spent at that camp, they were surprised at how freely they could hold Bible study and prayer meetings, without guard interference. It was not until several months later that they learned the reason the guards would not enter the barracks. It was because of the fleas.
The opening illustration points out an interesting dilemma we Christians face discussing praying with a thankful spirit. A grateful spirit becomes more challenging during times of oppression, persecution or grief than during periods of bliss. I have had seasoned, and new Christians ask me this question. “Please tell me how we are supposed to ignore all the pain and suffering and have a thankful attitude? What exactly I am thanking you for Lord?” Have you been there? Have you wanted to ask God this question? I want to explore the answer. We will see want answers God provides.
For our text, Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. I Thessalonians 5:15-18
One key to understanding the context is to realize Thanksgiving is addressed to God. The significance of this distinction is that our thankfulness is connected to God. We are thankful to God regardless of our circumstances and despite whatever may happen. We are not grateful for what happens to us. Our dedication is to God. The psalmist models this. You will see the psalmist pour his heart out to God in a lament. He is not thanking God for his situation, but the psalmist will lay his case before God. The writer releases his pain. He acknowledges his thankfulness for God’s faithfulness and strength. A sample of this is in Psalm 142. Examine the format below.
Address and introductory cry
With my voice, I cry out to the LORD;
with my voice, I plead for mercy to the LORD.
I pour out my complaint before him;
I tell my trouble before him.
When my spirit faints within me,
you know my way!
The Lament (the real problem)
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.
Confession of trust
I cry to you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my refuge,
my portion in the land of the living.”
The Christian through faith can rejoice in spite of meanness and persecution. The joy for the Christians is the result of the entire gospel of Jesus Christ. That Gospel wells up and overflows in the soul of the believer. This salvation is theirs in Christ. Our earthly joys fade, but for a brief moment due to our circumstances. We can remain thankful because the joy of salvation never fades. It is this joy of salvation that allows us to pray with a thankful spirit. So it is not the situation or some Pollyanna view of a broken world that shapes our thankfulness. We are reminded to rejoice in spite of the many little adversities. Satan will attempt to use against use to lessen and even darken our joy. But the Christian stands in bold defiance on the cross of Christ and declares, “Satan you will not take my joy. You will not ruin my happiness because my life merges into eternal joy.”
Other blog posts in this series on prayer.
 Green, M. P. (Ed.). (1989). Illustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 sermon illustrations arranged by topic and indexed exhaustively (Revised edition of The expositor’s illustration file). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.