Friday, November 6, 2015

The Challenge: Being Thankful in All Things

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus,” 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

Do you find some scriptures a little challenging? Like, “… in all circumstances give thanks to God.” The problem, which presents its self to me is the phrase “in ALL circumstances.” It seems when life is splendid, thankfulness, joyousness, and praise become easy. But when ugly comes knocking at our door, it’s a different game.

What does it really mean to “give thanks in all circumstances?”

When, for example, loss of:
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  • job
  • child
  • parent(s)
  • grandchild
  • home
  • dearly loved pet
  • spouse (death/divorce)
Or have:
  • debt we can’t pay
  • family member murdered
  • a family/friend in a coma
  • friend or family member commits suicide
  • prognosis from the doctor saying you have six months to live

 Just how would that thankful prayer go? We'll visit that in a moment.

In all honesty, I find it mystifying that God, who knows our human nature, would require a “joyful” and “thankful" attitude in all circumstances. Do you wonder how that's possible?

The above life events cause us grief. We have immense sorrow, worry and anxiety, and maybe anger. All these reactions are normal human responses. But yet an attitude of joy and thanksgiving are to flow from us. I don't know about you, but I’m no Apostle Paul!

When my baby daughter, Alicia, died in 1981, God gave His unspeakable, unasked for grace to bear the pain in those first few weeks. His invisible arms carried me through the heartbreak. Then reality set in. And ouch . . . it hurt beyond belief. I didn't have a thankful heart. Grief filled every inch of me.

God is a Restoring God

Are we to give thanks for the actual event—no matter how horrific? Or should we be thankful for the potential outcome, as we put our trust in a God who restores? Hope in The God who does the impossible.

A scripture comes to mind that God will restore “What the locust have eaten,” (See Joel 2:25). And Job who lost his entire family and livestock (except for his wife), lived to see God redeem the tragedy by replacing all he had lost and then some. Yet, if I remember correctly, Job was sorrowful for the loss of his family.

When a servant told him of the demise of his adult children, Job, “ . . . got up and tore his robe and shaved his head.” However in his sorrow he did not blame God, rather he worshiped him. Was this a “worship” in which he trusted his God to turn ugly into beauty? (See Job 1:20).

Tearing one’s robe and shaving one’s head, when hearing bad news, does not seem like a thankful celebration.

 Bad Things Happen to Good People

People wonder why bad things happen to good people but the reality is bad happens to us all. The saint and the sinner . . . the rain falls and the sun shines on us both. (See Ecclesiastes 9:2).

Maybe our gratefulness is not placed in the circumstances of our tragedy, as in “I’m so glad this happened to me,” but in the Life Giver. The one who holds the Universe in His hands. The One who brought salvation to a decaying and dying world, and the thankfulness is knowing we belong to the Resurrected Christ and are sealed by His Spirit for the day of redemption.

Maybe our thankfulness is in our “can do” God. Again, the God of the impossible. The one who can move mountains and part the seas.
The God who can heal and restore. The God who says His love abounds to the heavens and will provide for all of our needs. (See Philippians 4:19).

To move toward and remember God’s goodness, is a process of our thoughts and emotions.

Should we literally embrace the idea of being thankful for all bad in our life? Was I thankful my baby died? No! Yet God did use her death to bring salvation in the life of another. I then felt her death was not in vain.

Our perspective of God's character—takes self-evaluation of our faith, what we’ve believed before the tragedy hit our lives.

Springs of Tears, God our Strength
How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion! Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring; The early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength . . .,” Psalm. 84: 5-7.
Our circumstances are like passing through the valley of Baca. Baca means “weeping.” There is no indication here of “gratefulness.” They were distraught. Yet in the journey their weeping caused springs to bubble, I suggest it's by their prayers and tears.
Let me elaborate on the above scripture: How blessed—made holy, consecrated—is the man [or woman/me/you] whose strength (might: noun, great and impressive power) in is God, in whose heart (mind, will, soul) are highways to Zion (Zion means a parched place). It’s in the passing through the valley of weeping, where we make it a spring—a well.

A well indicates joy, pleasure, and delight. “The early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength” (might, efficiency before God because God is their strength).

How do we make springs out of the weeping over our misfortune and the uncertainty of it?

Do you recall this verse? "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God," 2 Corinthians 1: 3-4.
Could it be the springs we leave, in our weeping, are there so that we can refresh and comfort others out of our afflictions? I think so.

This is a shift in our perspective. Even though the road to Zion is a parched place—like figuring out our “why this happened,” develops a dreary place. A place where we might feel lost, abandoned, or rejected. We're told; though, our God brings the early rain as a blessing along the way. This can give us hope to face each day. Although, the waiting can be unbearable.

My prayer for us would be that our Lord would enlighten the eyes of our heart to remind us . . . He sees. He knows. He continues to have a plan and purpose for us. We might think our gifts, dreams, and hopes are now nullified, when tragedy strikes, because we feel damaged, assaulted, and weak.

In that faulty thinking, we need a paradigm shift . . . to have faith, courage, and strength to see our pain or trouble not as an infraction of who we are but a detour. And only with God's help will we find the road again, where we can distinguish between who we are and our pain.

An Authentic Prayer of Thankfulness 

An honest prayer of thankfulness in our valley of weeping might be:

Dear Lord,
Today my husband left me. I do not understand why. I can’t pay the rent or my bills. I
want to be thankful like you ask but it’s hard. You ask I be joyful, I can’t. I hurt. Yet, I know you are the God who is close to the broken hearted. You will turn my mourning into joy as I trust you to do so. This is what I will be thankful for.
I can’t understand any of this but I know you hold my life in your hands. My thoughts are not yours and you always have your mind on what is good for me. This is what I am thankful for. I will wait patiently, the best I can, for you to help me make sense of my brokenness and my loss.
This to me is a prayer of thankfulness. One that is honest with how we feel and asking the “why” when life throws us face down in the mud.

The word for thankful is eucharisteō, which means to be grateful, to feel thankful. Can I be thankful in life’s yuck? Certainly!

Yes, as long as we focus on The God who is Sovereign over all things in heaven and earth, and in our life. Yes, as we work through the pain and know, at some point, we can use our circumstance to help another.
Once we journey through our healing and travel through our valley of Bacca—thankfulness will come, as God does His work in us, and we begin to see evidence of His hand working on our behalf. We then can become more optimistic that this will not last forever. When we are in the throes of it; however, it's hard to hear, this won't last forever because it feels it will last an eternity. Also we know healing is on the mend when we can think of our situation without tears. We can give thanks for that.

God can Take What is Dead in Us and Bring it Back to Life

Quoting from Shattered Dreams—using Naomi as an example, Larry Crabb said, “By refusing to deaden her [Naomi] pain, she kept alive, even in the midst of her depression, her capacity to desire something more” [Italics mine for emphasis].

Also Larry writes, “I would urge them to accept wherever they are on the journey, whether happy or miserable, as the place where God will meet them, where He loves them, where He will continue to work in them” [Italics mine for emphasis].

So the goal is to find God in a new way through our pain. As well to know God in a more meaningful way. To know God’s desire, for our shattered dreams, is to give us hope. He says in Jeremiah 29:11," . . . For I know the plans that I have for you . . .."  This is a process, which begins with accepting where we are emotionally and spiritually.

Also, in the fire of our situation, our opportunity is to find hidden aspects of our self, the authentic self, which tends to hide. To see the characteristics of our faith that might be flawed. To rip out the weeds of unbelief. To look at our situation not through the lens of our eyes, but God’s. This is found through prayer, no matter how small and His Word.

I found that even though I didn't pick up my Bible for two years, through my most traumatic heartbreak of divorce, snippets of scripture would appear on Facebook or Twitter, which spoke to me. In this, small flames ignited my faith within. Of course, the Holy Spirit kept nudging my heart.

Getting in touch with our authentic self does not happen over night. God even says, “ . . . weeping may endure for a night. But joy comes in the morning,” Psalms 30:5B. Only God knows how long our night will be. However, it's invaluable to give ourselves permission to accept where we are.

We need to find strength to place our confusion, regarding our circumstances—into His hands, every time it crosses our mind. This might be the hardest of our journey to learn, when thankfulness is not an emotional option we easily think of.

How do we mourn as well be thankful? How do we tell ourselves we will be okay, God's got our back?

We must understand, if any guilt afflicts us for not displaying a thankful heart—IT IS OKAY, this allows our authentic self to grow. The good new is, God is a patient Father. Our tribulation in our valley has hope for the early rain of blessings, which will lead us to a place of thankfulness as we begin to see or feel a change within us—the jewels God creates from our tears. I discovered this when I begin to feel my fading faith rise with wings, even when it was a short flight of faith to trust God. I know, He is glad we when make a step toward Him.

This happens as we allow God to change our perception of Him along the way. Perhaps our anger became misplaced or directed toward Him for not intervening. God will show the truth and answer or questions, though for reasons we don't understand, some questions might be left unanswered. We have to accept that.

Reviving a heart of joy and thankfulness, as we see and trust Him for who He is—a God with resurrection power, is possible. To take what has died in us and bring it back to life, even when we can't wrap our mind around the full tribulation we experienced or are experiencing. 

God does not want to make our lives miserable or unhappy. This is a lie from the enemy of our soul.

We can Start by Being Thankful For the Little Things

I’ve given this great thought as I’ve looked back on my journey of pain and loss. This takes a dose of considering the little things in our life.

  • Family
  • Friendships
  • Watching my cats play (I know silly, but it gives me a smile)
  • The simple things in life we take for granted (a shower, clean clothes . . .)
  • A flower, nature in general
  • Resources to help
  • The courage to make hard decisions
  • Waking up each day
  • The home provided for me
  • This is a journey that will not last forever
  • I am in Christ
Those are a few ideas, which can arise a thankful heart when one is not present in us. However, to do so, we must replace the negative with the positive in our mind. This takes effort and practice on our part.

Thank you for reading to the end. I do hope something I’ve written has inspired or encouraged you, or at least given you some food for thought. Just know we are not alone, God is gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love (See Pslam103:8). And it’s okay if our attitude is thankful or not, because God knows how we are made; therefore, He understands what's in our heart and He knows our longings. (Read Psalm 100: 1-5).

May you be well . . . and muster thankfulness and joy in the little things in life in the midst of your hardship.

Have a comment or want to add to the list, I’d be glad to hear from you. Happy Thanksgiving!

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