There are many challenging teachings in our Christian faith. Learning to love our enemies and learning to forgive someone 77 times are two of those challenges. Another equally difficult Christian principle is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 which states, “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” It is easy to thank God for our many blessings. Are we also supposed to thank God for the trials and pains in our life? Let’s take a closer look…
First let me make a very important distinction. The verse from 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to give thanks IN all things, not FOR all things. There is a huge difference between giving thanks to God for suffering and pain and giving thanks to God while in the midst of suffering and pain.
Having an attitude of gratitude allows us to experience a closeness with God and to experience His love more fully. Being thankful to God is a fundamental aspect of our Christian faith. The Bible is filled with passages about thankfulness.
1 Chronicles 16:34 says, “Give thanks to the LORD, who is good, whose love endures forever.” St. Teresa of Avila once said, “In all created things discern the providence and wisdom of God, and in all things give Him thanks.” Two vital points are made here. First, God’s love is always with us, even in life’s most difficult circumstances. Second, God’s providence and will need to be discerned. It is hard to understand suffering and pain. God doesn’t make bad things happen, but He can work through them to bring about good in us.
We must strive to be thankful in life’s most difficult situations. As we journey through grief, loneliness, pain, abuse, heartache, recurring sinfulness and even addictions, we can still give thanks. Allow me to give you some examples from my own life.
I remember lying in the hospital in 2014 after suddenly losing my sight. To my surprise, in the darkness of no sight, I seemed to see God more clearly. Life’s distractions were removed. I felt so close to God that at that moment, I prayed, “Lord please don’t ever give me my sight back.” I felt like the apostles at the Transfiguration. I wanted to symbolically build my tent there. I wanted to remain in that state of closeness to God. I will remain forever grateful for the days and weeks of my blindness. I am a better person because of that experience.
My permanently damaged vision makes it unsafe to drive. I am grateful to the many people, especially my wife, who selflessly give their time to drive me around. Pride is something I struggle with. Having to always ask for a ride to get somewhere is teaching me the virtue of humility. My inability to drive is a gift to be thankful for.
Many of you know from my writings that I was sexually abused when I was a young boy. As I look back, I can now say that I am thankful that through that experience, as bad as it was, I was formed into a better person today. That incident strengthened my faith. Without that event, I would likely not have this ministry and I would not have the compassion and understanding to help the many hurting people I encounter through it.
I once had the opportunity to speak at a meeting for Christians desiring to live according to God’s commands while also striving to cope with their same sex attraction. By no fault of their own, these men and woman have homosexual desires. Like all people, they desire to act on their sexual feelings. Every day is a trial as they strive to forgo their fleshly desires, overcome their sexual temptations, and live according to God’s will. Those gathered were learning to be grateful for who they are as homosexuals, while at the same time striving to live a chaste, celibate Christian life.
Most people have recurring sins in their life. Do you? Struggling to overcome sin can be daunting. Do you thank God for these struggles? You should. They keep us on our knees. They keep us going back to God for mercy and forgiveness. It is in our sin that we experience the mercy of God. We don’t thank God for our sins, we thank Him that through them we draw closer to Him.
Psalm 119:71 states, “It was good for me to be afflicted, in order to learn your statutes.” Romans 5:3-5 gives us this, “Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
If we seek God and give thanks to Him in the face of our trials, we will come to know Him better. We need to always give thanks because every life experience helps to build our character. Even when we can’t see it, God is working through the issues in our lives. Romans 8:28 assures us with these words, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” As Christians, we are not promised and easy life. Every circumstance in life, good or bad, can work to shape us into the likeness of Christ, for that we must be thankful.
Allow me to close with a few Scripture passages.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-10
“The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ [Jesus] will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little”. 1 Peter 5:10
Truly in all things we are called to give thanks! My youngest son recently shared this Chris Tomlin song with me. Take a couple minutes, click this link and listen to Thank You Lord. It ties in well with today’s message. Download it from your favorite music source and listen to it often.
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