When I was a teenager I only had one long-term goal in my life: To become a United States Marine. Although I did a lot of other things through my teen years, the ultimate goal didn’t change. When I started college and declared a major, I did so, again, with the goal of finishing so that I could get a commission as a Marine Officer. I hoped that one day I would not only become a Marine, but that I would have the opportunity to lead Marines in combat. This was all that I wanted.
And then I went to Officer Candidates School.
For those not familiar with Marine Officer Candidates School (OCS), this is the equivalent of Boot Camp but for those seeking to become officers. And for those that will inevitably tell me that OCS is nothing like Boot Camp, I did not come here to argue. It is not the same but it is the equivalent for those who wish to become officers. Regardless, my time at OCS put some reality on my dreams of wearing the uniform. It turns out that the rigors of a three month long school environment where the main instructors spend long hours each day telling you how worthless you are is not as fun as I had envisioned. In fact, even though this was exactly what I had always wanted to do, I was having serious second thoughts.
Its funny how you can get what you thought you wanted, and in my case what I thought God wanted for me, but because of the pressure that comes with it feel anything but thankful. That was the moment God reminded me that He was still in charge. Late one night while sitting alone and feeling sorry for myself, I picked up a small camouflage New Testament that was sitting on the desk where I was assigned phone watch (Its exactly what it sounds like. I sat next to the phone in case it rang. Literally “watching” the phone.) I didn’t pick the Bible up for spiritual reasons, but because it was late and I hoped that reading would keep me awake. That being said, I was not particularly picky about what I read. I opened up that small New Testament and the first words I read were these:
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. – I Thessalonians 5:18
Twenty-seven years later this moment still has an impact on me. God could not have been any clearer than if He had spoken the words to me out loud.
“This is where I want you to be. I am in control. I have a plan. Your only job it to be thankful.”
The crazy thing about this verse is that it says we are to be thankful “in every thing”! There is so much that could be said here, but I just want to remind you that if you are a follower of God, your job is to follow faithfully and give thanks knowing that you are EXACTLY where you are supposed to be. This is not a once in awhile or a once a year giving of thanks. This is a lifestyle of thanksgiving where the decision to be thankful is made before, and regardless, of the situation you might find yourself in. The apostle Paul who wrote the words of that verse also wrote:
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. – Philippians 4:11-13
It is our position before God, not our ever-changing environment, that should cause us to live a life of confident thanksgiving. This simple shift in perspective will change the way that you view every circumstance, relationship, difficulty, or blessing and will keep you focused on the work that God wants to do in you and through you.
As I sat alone reading the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:18 I understood that my problem in that moment was not my circumstance or unmet expectations. My problem was that, instead of focusing on God’s plan for that moment, I was focusing on my own. When I finally realized that God had brought me to that place to do a work in me and through me that I could not fully see at that moment, I was able to move forward with confidence knowing that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.