"Be joyful always; pray continually; GIVE THANKS in ALL circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." 1 Thess 5:16-18
Being thankful to God comes easily when things are going well: you are offered the job; a check arrives to cover the mortgage payment; the biopsy comes back benign; the marital conflict is resolved. "Thank you, Lord!" you exclaim with a grateful heart.
But what about the other times in life when things don't turn out the way you have been hoping-and praying-for? You get one more rejection letter; you don't know how you're going to pay this month's bills; the test results indicate cancer is present; the wall between you and your spouse grows higher. What then? Giving thanks may not be the first response of your heart and mind.
God's Purpose in Problems
In The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren says that God uses circumstances to help us become more Christ-like. "In fact, he depends more on circumstances to make us like Jesus than he depends on our reading the Bible. The reason is obvious: You face circumstances twenty-four hours a day....Not all [problems] are big, but all are significant in God's growth process for you."
Problems are one of God's most effective tools for showing us the illusion of self-sufficiency. When things are going well, we are tempted to believe that we can handle life on our own. But when we find ourselves in a dark, difficult place we realize that the truth is that we are totally dependent on God.
The Apostle Paul discovered that God is trustworthy and faithful when we are "forced" to trust him in the midst of difficulties: "We felt like we'd been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally-not a bad idea since he's the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he'll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing" (2 Cor. 1:9, The Message).
Nothing that happens to you is a surprise to God, and his purpose is to use challenges, pain and difficult circumstances to mold you, shape you, prune you and mature you into becoming more like Jesus. He is transforming you into becoming the person He created you to be so you will be ready and able to do the things in this world that He has designed and called you to do!
The Power of Praise
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to offer thanks God ineverything-not for everything. God does not ask us to thank Him for unemployment or life-threatening illnesses or any of the myriad dark things that may come our way. So what does He want from you? He wants you to thank Him for who He is and for all He freely gives to you out of His love, grace and mercy.
In the midst of any difficulty, we can thank God for things such as the fact that He is present with us and will not leave us (Matthew 28:20); that He knows our every need (Matthew 6:8); that nothing is more powerful than His love for us (Romans 8:39); and that He is "behind the scenes" working out all things for our good (Romans 8:28). You are not alone, and the Sovereign Lord of the Universe is your Father who cares for you more than you can hope or imagine. When you give thanks to Him despite your circumstances, He will empower you to experience power, transformation and the peace that "transcends all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).
The Rewards of Sacrificial Praise
God understands that giving thanks in the midst of fear-provoking circumstances or heartbreaking events does not come naturally to us. Hebrews 13:15 refers to offering to God a continual "sacrifice of praise." A sacrifice is giving up something valuable in exchange for something that is considered more valuable. Giving thanks in spite of your circumstances is sacrificing your natural responses of fear, anger or worry and choosing instead to offer praise for God's presence in your problems. And what will you gain? Often, very practical provision from the God who sees your needs. But more than that, in God's timing, you will experience the reality of God's supernatural power in your life, equipping you to live the life to which He calls you. As Paul said, "For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!" (2 Cor. 4:17, LB)
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