As we look toward another Thanksgiving Day celebration a few days from now, we can usually think of things for which we can be thankful: A car that runs, if we have one. A roof over our heads, especially if it doesn’t leak. A selection of clothes to wear, hanging in our closets. A job that enables us to pay the bills. Loved ones and close friends that mean so much to us. But what about things we can’t feel thankful for?
This presents a bit of a problem for those of us who follow Jesus Christ, because three consecutive verses in the Bible seem to assert that when it comes to thankfulness and gratitude, there should be no exclusions, no exceptions.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, we’re told, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” The words “always,” “without ceasing,” and “everything” seem all-encompassing. That’s because they are. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy to implement. Nor does it mean they should be.
I think of a book I helped my friend, Mike Landry, to get published, called Advancing Through Adversity. In it he recounted a series of trials he and his family endured over an 18-month period some years ago. The hardships they faced were difficult – and unwarranted. They suffered through many sleepless nights. Answers to their “why” questions weren’t forthcoming.
Ultimately, the problems were resolved and they could look back at the circumstances and realize how God’s presence had never left them alone in their circumstances, even when they seemed most dire. Through this time, when they had no choice but to turn to Him and trust that He would work things out according to His perfect purposes, they found Him unflinchingly faithful.
If we had the option, we probably have something (or things) we’d like to eliminate from our lives: Serious financial pressures. Severe health problems that have lingered and appear without remedy. A difficult marriage. Struggles a family member is going through that are beyond our capacity for bringing any relief. Grieving over the loss of a loved one. The day-to-day realities of aging. The list could go on. Does the Bible really mean we’re to be thankful for these?
I’ve mentioned him before, but my friend, Albert, is no stranger to adversities. He lived through the horrors of World War II. From childhood he has wrestled with health problems. And he’s survived major business setbacks. And yet, he’s been steadfast in trusting God and remaining grateful for the life He has given him. Albert even wrote a booklet about his life called “Saying ‘Thank You’ Even When You Don’t Feel Thankful.”
The overriding lesson he has learned – and has helped many who know him to grasp as well – is that regardless of the challenges we face in life, we can still embrace hope. We can define hope as earnest, confident assurance that God will use even our worst circumstances to carry out His plans. In the process, He will refine us, transforming us into the people He desires for us to become.
That’s why, in Romans 5:3-5, the apostle Paul could write, “…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
The apostle James seemed to second the motion when he wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).