It’s easy to be thankful for the things we enjoy – good health, great friends, a roof over our head, clean water, a tasty meal, [insert the thing you love here].
But, what about the other stuff? The stuff we’re not particularly happy about? The things we don’t like to think about and, when we do, we ask God to remove them – the bad doctor’s report, the hole in the roof, the lingering anxiety and fear.
At first glance it may seem smart, even right, to shift our eyes away from the bad, but is it right to shift our gratitude away from it too?
In All Things
First Thessalonians 5:18 charges us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (Here’s where we like to say, “Buuuut, You don’t understand….” Buuuuut, He does understand and he commands us to be thankful in all things for a good purpose, our good purpose. And where He commands He provides the power to do it.)
Why Be Grateful for the Hard Stuff?
1. It’s From The Father, Too
Who can talk about hard times without using the example of Job? So here it is: He lost everything that the world considers anything. He lost his property, his children, the respect of his family and peers, his health, even questionably his mind. But, when he “tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped…. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.’ In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:20-22)
He was right in saying that this came from the Father, even though Satan was the attacker. God is sovereign and what Satan intends for harm, God uses for good. (Genesis 50:20)
2. It’s Used For The Building of Our Faith & Character
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
Just like the carpenter uses the rough grinding of the sandpaper (and many cuts of the saw blade) to shape a downed tree into a beautiful piece of furniture, so is the LORD using the rough trials and circumstances of life to shape us into the beautiful, perfected beings He’s created us to be. As that tree would not become a lasting heirloom without the hard work of the carpenter, but would end up rotting where it lays, we too will not become lasting and perfected without the rough trials from our Carpenter that file away our imperfections and keeps us from rotting where we lie.
We need not resent the burdens and trials that bombard us; they’re the tools used to perfect us, not define us. Let go of that false identity derived from circumstance and claim the true identity that God is completing in you. Who you are lies beneath the the rough exterior and the tools of various trials – you are not a mess, you are not an addict. Who God has made you to be is coming out of the mess and addiction. You may have a mess; you may have an addiction, but you are not those things. You are a beloved child of God and He’s using these trials to make you perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
3. It’s A Witness To The World
When we let go of the false logic that our trials are us, or even ours to own, and start thanking Him for using them in our lives, it’s a great witness to the unbelievers and an encouragement to fellow believers around us. When we can look square in the face of cancer and say, “Thank you for being the tool in God’s hand, shaping me into His imagine, perfecting me, making me complete, so I can be lacking in nothing”, we’re showing the world that though we are in it and feel it’s pains, we are not of it.
Granted, it takes the power not of this world to do this. But that, my friends, is what’s shining through in your gratitude change.
How To Be Grateful For The Hard Stuff
OK, now we know some reasons why we should be thankful for the hard stuff, now let’s figure out a few ways how to live it out.
1. Shift Our Focus From The Circumstance To The Purpose
Knowing that these trials are but tools and not eternal or part of our identity, we can remind ourselves of such; meditating on the truths of why we should be grateful. To think of the tough circumstances as they really are, diminishes their (false) power over us – it puts them in their rightful place as subordinates, not dictators. We are over-comers and the One that lives in us is greater than he that lives in the world (1 John 4:4).
2. “Simply” Say Thank You
Even when you don’t “feel” the gratitude, say thank you anyway. Our emotions shouldn’t be our control center, just the indicators of our heart’s current status. Confess to God that you’re not grateful for the trials He’s using in your life and ask Him to complete the change He’s making within you, letting Him know you want to be thankful in all things . Ask that He change your heart from discontented to grateful. It’s not wrong by any means to ask that the trials be ended quickly, but it is wrong to believe that we know what’s truly best for us. By asking Him to change our hearts we will begin to see life through His eyes and “naturally” (more like supernaturally) become grateful.
3. Surround Yourself With Grateful People
We can’t always control who we spend our time with. (Corporate policy doesn’t change because you share a cubicle with a Negative Nelly.) But we can set up proper, loving boundaries and should seek to spend quality time with grateful, Godly people.
Those closest to you should be of like mind and an encouragement to your growth, as you are to theirs. I’ve heard it said you become like the five closest people to you. So, choose your friends wisely. (Author Jim Rohn said that)
The Bible says something similar (and more reliable):
Proverbs 13:20 – “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
1 Corinthians 15:33 – “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.'”
and Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
So those you admire, that reflect well the love and gratitude of Christ, spend time with them. Let’s let the Love of Christ rub off on each other.
(This is not saying we’re only to be around people that think just like us all the time, that’s missing the bigger picture. See previous point 3 – A Witness to the World. We’re to go make disciples. And if you’re only surrounded by disciples of Christ you’re not making disciples of Christ.)
So, in this season of Thanksgiving, as we’re thanking God for all the wonderful thing’s He’s done, let’s not forget to be thankful for the “bad” stuff too; because in the end it’s all good.
For some of us it’s not hard to pick out the “tools” God is using right now to refine us. Are you in a place where you can thank Him for them? Whether you are or no, would you thank Him today and ask Him to change your heart of discontent to a heart of gratitude?
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