Recently I read an extraordinarily inspiring post titled: “Give Thanks in Suffering,” in About Christianity @ www.about.com. I thought I would share it here.
The post reminds me of my struggles with an autoimmune disease. I was backed into a corner with two choices. Either I continue to lean on my understanding and die, or trust God and live. I chose the latter.
Giving thanks when you’re suffering seems like an idea so far-fetched nobody could take it seriously, yet that is exactly what God asks us to do.
The apostle Paul, who knew more than his share of sorrow, counseled his young apprentice Timothy to do just that:
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 5:16-18, NIV)
Paul understood the spiritual benefit of giving thanks when you’re hurting. It takes your focus off self and puts it on God. But how, in the middle of our pain, can we possibly give thanks?
Let the Holy Spirit Speak for You
Paul was well aware of what he could do. He knew his missionary work was far beyond his natural strength, so he relied heavily on the power of the Holy Spirit within him.
It’s the same with us. Only when we stop struggling and surrender to God can we allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. When we become a conduit for the Spirit’s power, God helps us do impossible things, like give thanks even when we’re hurting.
Humanly speaking, you may not see anything you can be grateful for now. Your circumstances are miserable, and you’re desperately praying they will change. God hears you. In a very real sense, though, you are focusing on the bigness of your circumstances and not on the bigness of God. God is all-powerful. He may allow your situation to continue, but know this: God is in control, not your circumstances.
I tell you this, not by theory but by my own painful past. When I was unemployed for 18 months, it didn’t seem God was in control. When important relationships fell apart, I couldn’t understand. When my father died in 1995, I felt lost.
I had cancer in 1976. I was 25 years old and could not give thanks. In 2011 when I had cancer again, I was able to give thanks to God, not for cancer, of course, but for his steady, loving hand through it all. The difference was that I was able to look back and see that no matter what happened to me in the past, God was with me, and he brought me through it.
As you give yourself to God, he will help you through this hard time you are in now. One of God’s goals for you is to make you totally dependent on him. The more you depend on him and sense his support, the more you will want to give thanks.
One Thing Satan Hates
If there’s one thing Satan hates, it’s when believers trust God. Satan encourages us to trust our emotions instead. He wants us to put our faith in fear, worry, depression, and doubt.
Jesus Christ encountered this many times in his own disciples. He told them not to be afraid, but to believe. Negative emotions are so strong that they skew our judgment. We forget it is God who is reliable, not our feelings.
That’s why, when you’re hurting, it’s wise to read the Bible. You may not feel like it. It may be the last thing you want to do, and it’s the last thing Satan wants you to do, but again, there’s an important reason to. It brings your focus away from your emotions and back onto God.
There is power in God’s Word to fend off Satan’s attacks and power to remind you of God’s love for you. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus drove him off by quoting Scripture. Our emotions can lie to us. The Bible never does.
When you’re going through trouble, Satan wants you to blame God. In the middle of Job’s worst trials, even his wife said to him, “Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9, NIV) Later, Job showed extraordinary faith when he promised, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him; ” (Job 13:15a, NIV)
Your hope is in God in this life and the next. Never forget that.
Doing What We Don’t Want to Do
Giving thanks when you’re hurting is like one of those tasks we don’t like to do. Perhaps dieting or a trip to the dentist, but it’s immensely more important because it brings you into God’s will for you. Obeying God is not always easy, but it is always worthwhile.
We seldom grow more intimate with God during good times. Pain has a way of drawing us close to him, making God so real we feel we can reach out and touch him.
You don’t have to give thanks for the thing afflicting you, but you can be grateful for God’s faithful presence. When you approach it that way, you’ll find that thanking God when you’re hurting does make perfect sense.
How many times have you heard a family member, a co-worker, a friend, a neighbor, or even an acquaintance complained about how much they hate their jobs and how they cannot wait to find a new job? This is a particularly common occurrence in the work place today. I have even found myself in a similar situation once before. I still regret making the transition.
But, my situation was not half as serious as one of my best friends’. We both worked at the same place and were doing very well; until, for some unknown reason Tim developed an eagerness to jump ship for greener pastures.
Sadly, it was no more than seven months after Tim left his old job for the coveted greener pasture, he got laid off, and that was the beginning of a string of bad luck for the poor guy.
As I reflected on mine and Tim’s poor decision making skills from many years ago, I cannot help thinking about my late grandmother. She mastered the art of idiomatic expressions. She had one for every situation. Her favorite ones were, “A bird in the hand is worth a million in the bushes”. “Don’t be like the greedy dog who let go the bone to catch its shadow”.
Now that I am older and wiser, I understand that the grass is not always greener on the other side. It may look green from afar, but a close up view reveals the faults and blemishes.
That is kind of what Satan, the adversary does to us Christians. He paints a nice and fuzzy picture of the world to trap us back into the old way of living, and if we are not careful we will find ourselves eating among swine like the prodigal son. Thank God, many of us have been there and done that, so we know exactly what it is really like on the dark side–dismal. Nevertheless, some of us still allow the adversary to scam us time and again.
Friends, there is no short term result in the Christian race. That is the reason the apostle Paul who gave up the pleasures of the world to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, advises us to run with endurance the race God has set before us. He even tells us how to do it–by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Paul goes on to say, “Because of the joy awaiting Him (Jesus), He endured the horrible cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in a place of honor beside God’s throne” (Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT). ( Isn’t that wonderful?)
Therefore, brothers and sisters, our reward is not temporary like the glitz and glamour of the world. It is real and lasting, but do not look for it on earth. It is in heaven.
Worrying seems to be part of our lives. We cannot not worry about something or the other. Some of us worry about our kids, and rightly so. Those of us who are employed worry about our jobs. We worry about financial security, health and safety and whatever else we can find to add to the list. Still, worrying never solve anything, so why worry.
Worrying is an addiction for some of us. Often we worry about things over which we have no control. Mind you, there is a difference between worry and concern. Once we zero in on something to worry about, we put up barriers making it difficult for family and friends to convince us to do otherwise. Jesus had His hands full convincing His disciples not to worry, when He told them that His time had come to return to the Father.
“Let not your hearts be troubled”, He said. “If you believed in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1). That, however, was not enough to convince the disciples not to worry. After all, these men had given up everything they owned to follow Jesus. Furthermore, it was only three years in, so they were not about to let Jesus off the hook until He did some more explaining.
Obviously, the disciples had good reasons to worry, but worrying is not a good thing. Worry is a tool of the devil, and when worry gets out of control it can have a devastating effect on health, family and even your Christian life. Jesus warns against worrying (read Matthew 6:32-34). And the beloved apostle Paul, admonish us in the following verses: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Therefore, brothers and sister, the next time you get the urge to worry about something, ask yourself the following questions. “Why do you worry so much?” “Do you not know you are a child of a King?” Then take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.
The new life is not a myth, and it is not like going on a low-fat or low carbs diet. Neither is it like setting a New Year Resolution. If, anything, it is part spiritual and part physical. The spiritual — is completely out of the control of the flesh, but the physical–is like a ball in your court. Therefore, whatever we say and do will say a lot about the life we live.
Naturally, the heavenly father carved out a new life for us when He sent His Son to die. Sadly, though, none of us can embrace this new life until we get rid of the old life. In essence, the old life died with Christ, but many of us continue to hold on to its memories that we find it difficult to embrace the new life.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17, the apostle Paul hinted at the new life when he writes, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new”.
Of course, Paul was speaking from experience. We have read about his dramatic conversion on the Damascus road. The Bible states that Paul then Saul was breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples. He even went to the high priest requesting authorization to go down to Damascus and bound anyone he finds spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, all that furor and hatred would change once Paul experienced the new life. (Read Acts 9:1-19, Acts 22:6-21, Acts 26:12-18).
Therefore, the apostle knew first hand that without the new life we are like the unruly Israelite who could not shake the memories of the meat they ate in Egypt and Lot’s wife who hung on to the memories of Sodom to her death. Still, if anyone doubted Paul’s thesis, then He need not look further than the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3:1-8.
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one can do the signs you are doing, unless God is with him.”
“How can someone be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to the flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Everybody has a thorn in the flesh. One that you desperately want to remove. Ironically, you have asked God to take it away several times, but nothing happens. It seems God did not hear you. So, you begin to wonder whether He is listening to you at all. Before long doubt and fear set in and you find yourself going backward instead of forward.
Let me be clear, a persistent thorn in the flesh is not a sign that your heavenly father does not care about your well-being, neither does it mean that He did not hear your request. However, It could mean that He has already acted upon your request, but you have refused to accept His proposal. It could also mean that the thorn is the execution stake you need to pick up daily to follow Jesus.
The Apostle Paul struggled with a thorn in his flesh too. He had petitioned God to remove the thorn three times, but every time he did, the answer was always the same, “My grace is enough for you”, (Read 2 Corinthians 12:9). Of course, like all of us who suffered from thorns in our flesh, the beloved Apostle, was not happy with the answer God gave him, but after three, tries he realized he was fighting a losing battle.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, as I reflect on the thorn in my flesh, I am reminded with absolute assurance that the closer I get to God is the less concerned I am about a thorn in my flesh. Further, the thorn in my flesh may be one thing that keep me grounded, resolute and steadfast in pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ.