The Bible commands that we live in an attitude of thanksgiving (Eph. 5:20). But what does it mean to be thankful in all things? Is that a realistic expectation or hyperbole? How can one live in such a way in our present world?
For one, Paul did not ignore the realities of sin and hardships. Certainly, Jesus didn’t either. It cannot mean to ignore bad things or pretend that they are not there (We have all met dogged optimists who do this and they annoy us all). Christian theology certainly doesn’t do that. It means then that, despite the current state of things, Christians, acknowledging all of the problems in the world, have something to be thankful for, so much so that they live their entire life in thanksgiving.
In this wicked world, what is to be so pervasively worthy of thanksgiving? I think we see it many times in Paul. In Ephesians 1, Paul starts his letter with it. It is our salvation and adoption. In Eph. 1:17-18, he prays that other Christians will have the eyes to see this hope. In Rom. 8:28ff, he sees an unshakeable hope, to which our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared (v.18). In Philippians 4 (v.13), Paul says that in all things (goodness and trials) he can do all things in perspective of the hope of Christ.
This is the content of our thanksgiving. If it is in temporary hope, we will be disappointed. Therefore, when the Bible commands us to live in thanksgiving, this is the perspective we must have. And, as Paul found that prayer was necessary to attain this, we should humbly see that as a step in the right direction.