This is the command we find in Col 3:15b. Given the difficult circumstances in which we may find ourselves and the brokenness that permeates this world, hearing this command all on its own can make it sound cold and untenable. How can I give thanks when things are so messed up? How can I give thanks when I don’t feel thankful?
Thankfully, the commands to “be thankful” and to “give thanks” are always accompanied by further instruction on how we can obey. Col 3:15b is preceded by several chapters in which Paul beautifully describes all that God has done for us in Christ, through whom he created the world and is now reconciling all things to himself. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (1:13-14).
Then we arrive at 3:15-17: And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
So how do we give thanks when we don’t feel thankful? We meditate upon the truth about who God is, who we are, and all that he is doing in this world. This is what it means to let the word of Christ dwell richly in us such that the peace of Christ may rule in our hearts. It is by setting “your minds on things above” (3:2) that you can then expect to find “thankfulness in your hearts to God”.
So let us lift our voices with the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God, saying: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign” (Rev 11:17).