Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. I don’t know how many of our citizens are actually giving thanks to God as originally intended, or who they’re thanking for what, but followers of Christ use this day as an opportunity to remember the source of all things good in our lives.
One popular Bible verse shared around this holiday comes from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians:
In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV
“In everything.” Other versions say, “in all circumstances.”
Everything. All. Neither of those words leave anything out.
Certainly not the good things, because James tells us “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens” (James 1:17 NLT). These are easy to be thankful for. Our list of blessings can run on and on!
But the terrible, no good, rotten bad things are also included in “everything” and “all.” How are we supposed to be thankful for these things?
A few New Testament authors give us some hints.
Thankful for Suffering
We’ll start with Peter, who had quite a bit to say about suffering.
“For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21 NLT).
“Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!” (1 Peter 3:17 NLT).
Wait, God may want me to suffer for doing good?? Well, this may come as a shock to some of us, but our comfort here on this earth is not his top priority.
“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. If you are insulted because you bear the name of Christ, you will be blessed, for the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you. If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name! . . . So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you” (1 Peter 4:12-16, 19 NLT).
We all know that what Christians in the United States endure for their faith is cotton candy compared to the persecution believers face in other parts of the world today. Our “suffering for Jesus” is paltry in comparison. Even so, we may feel ostracized or misunderstood.
In spite of the pain of rejection, we must keep our eyes on Christ. If we are his followers and He walked through suffering, why would we think we get to have it any easier? Instead, as Peter wrote, we can find joy in being identified as one of his own.
Thankful for Trials
James also had a few things to say about difficult circumstances.
“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 ESV).
Paul had much the same idea when he wrote to the believers in Rome: “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Romans 5:3-5 NLT).
Looking ahead to the growth produced by our trials is not our default response while we’re in the middle of the storm. Choosing that perspective takes practice!
Not only will we grow deeper in our faith through trials, but one day we will receive a reward for standing firm.
“Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12 ESV).
Are You Up to the Challenge?
Today, look back over your life and see how God has used times of suffering and trial to deepen your faith or to bring his name glory. Thank him for those times.
Next, consider any trials you are currently facing. Take them to God, thank him for them, and trust his will to be done either in you or in the lives of those watching you go through this difficult season.
Stand on this promise: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28 NLT). Remember — “everything” leaves nothing out!
Stand firm in the fire, friend. There is a great reward waiting for you!