EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by Jimmie Sheffield, Assistant to the Executive Director at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)
Thankful for COVID-19? No. Thankful in the midst of this pandemic? Yes. What does it mean “in” all circumstances? In part, I believe Paul is admonishing us to be mindful of what God does when we are in a crisis. Getting answers to questions like, “What is God doing in this setting? What is God teaching me in this situation? Why is God allowing this crisis?” and others will begin to give some indication of what it means to give thanks “in” all circumstances.
Therefore, I propose that one of the questions that needs to be asked is, “What is God doing during this pandemic for which we should be thankful?” The implication of Paul’s statement is that obviously there are things for which we can be thankful in any crisis.
I would suggest we should be thankful for several things as we go through this time of trial and testing.
First, we can be thankful that God is still God. He does not change. He is still in control. If He is a sovereign God, and He is, then He still is in control. This pandemic did not catch God by surprise. He knew it would happen and He will work through it to accomplish His will. Romans 8:28 is still true: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…”
Also, I think we can be thankful for the fact that in the midst of a crisis God is growing us as His disciples. James 1:3-4 says: “Because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James sets up this truth by saying in verse one that we should consider it joy when we are tested or facing trials.
Another thing for which we can be thankful is that God is teaching us new ways to be the church and fulfill our mission as a church. In the early stages of this pandemic, many churches had no service where God’s people came to a building to worship. There was no Bible study or Sunday School at the church building. In fact, many churches closed their buildings completely for a period of time.
In the midst of this trial and test, God taught many churches different ways to do worship together, to have Bible study together, to reach out to unsaved people differently, and to connect with other people. How many churches ever used live streaming or Facebook to broadcast their services before COVID-19? How many Sunday School classes used Zoom to have their weekly Bible study? Some churches are doing a virtual VBS.
Now churches are asking, “How can we use these tools to help us in the future as we begin to reopen our church activities?” God is teaching and has taught us some wonderful lessons during this time. This makes us want to be thankful “in” the midst of the crisis.
Related to how God has taught us new ways to do church, we can also be thankful that this crisis gives us the opportunity to evaluate all our activities, projects, and meetings. If you look at most church calendars, you will find a host of activities, meetings, studies, and projects. Yet, during this time, we have not conducted many of these activities. We can evaluate all our activities as a church and ask the question, “Is this activity, meeting, project or study absolutely essential for us to do?” Many of our members will be forever thankful if we can eliminate activities that are not essential.
Perhaps the greatest blessing for which we can be thankful is the opportunity to see God’s work in a crisis situation. Perhaps you can recall what happened in Acts 16 when Paul and his missionary team were thrown into prison. The scripture says, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God….” God moved in a mighty way and freed them from their chains. As a result, the jailer and all his family were saved and baptized. What a great story of how God works during a real crisis. I know that I am blessed when I see God’s work in a personal or family crisis to accomplish His will. How much more we should be blessed and thankful for God working all over the world to accomplish His will.
Do I know what His will is for this pandemic? No! But I am truly confident and thankful that God is going to accomplish His will even during a global pandemic.
May I suggest that instead of thinking and constantly being upset over all the bad things of COVID-19, maybe we should try being thankful “in” this crisis? I believe your life will be much better and you will find yourself much closer to God if you become more thankful! Try it. You will like it.