An honest answer to this question says much about your relationship with God. In the Scriptures, gratitude is a command. It is not an option. This in itself cuts across the grain of our flesh. Deciding what we will be thankful for is kind of an unwritten right that we assume for ourselves. What we are thankful for is personal. The command to Be thankful! (whether we feel like it or not) is a command we humans are not at ease with. But I Thessalonians 5:18 makes it clear that God commands gratitude from his people:
… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
The meaning of this passage is hard to avoid! Being thankful is God’s will for you. Notice, too, that we are not allowed even to choose which circumstances to be thankful for. The Holy Spirit tells us that thankfulness is appropriate in all circumstances. How can this be when there is so much difficulty and heartache in life?
The reason for this command to be thankful is that, unlike the plans that you or I might make, God is able to execute his plan faithfully, no matter what the circumstances. Paul is conscious of God’s unique ability to do all that he has planned to do. God has purposed to redeem a people for himself from every corner of the planet. So, Paul is intimately aware that even in the darkest of circumstances, God is moving redemptively in history, just as he purposed that he would. Even when those around us are insensitive, there is still reason for thankfulness. This is truly something to be thankful for always. God is at work saving those whom he has determined to save (Acts 17:24-28. Indeed, life on this planet will continue only has long as there people remaining that God intends to bring to himself (2 Peter 3:9). In 1 Thessalonians 4:3 Paul also says that it is God’s will that his people will be sanctified. Paul knows that God is faithfully accomplishing this purpose as well. God even uses the hardships of life to bring about the sanctification of his people (Hebrews 12:5-11).
Here, then, are two profound reasons for gratitude to dominate the life of a Christian. And there are many, many more. Our sins are forgiven in Christ. God provides our daily needs. He blesses us with family and friends. These are all things that we tend to forget easily. So, God in his kindness has commanded us to be thankful in all circumstances. This reminds us that God does not leave us or forsake us even in difficult time. He is always at work accomplishing his purposes, so we always have a reason to be thankful, as God commands. From this perspective, God’s command to give thanks in all circumstances is a great blessing. Obeying this command will reorient our thoughts to be more in line with God’s purposes for our life. We can more easily understand how the gospel motivated Paul when we , too, rejoice in God’s faithfulness to bring about what he has promised.
Perhaps now you can see a little more clearly that what you are thankful for is a helpful indicator of your spiritual health and your relationship with God. Consider carefully how your thankfulness reflects your priorities. Are temporal things are the main source of your gratitude? To the extent that they are, your relationship with God will lack consistency and encouragement. Temporal things–that primarily have to do with existence here on earth–will one day be discarded in landfills or corrupted by moth and rust. Certain relational aspects of life also fall into the temporal category. For example, your favorite athletes, even if they are among those who are called by God, will probably not wear the same uniforms in heaven they do on Saturday afternoons. If your love of the world is great, your gratitude will be focused on the world’s rewards.