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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

The Hard Thanksgiving

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NASB)

The Australian wildfires. The worldwide onset of COVID-19. The economic downturn. Societal unrest. To say this year has been difficult would be an understatement.

But suffering is not new, and it is not going away. In the university of life, trials are not an elective.

We may not be able to avoid pain and sorrow in this world, but we can decide how we will respond when placed in the crucible of adversity: with grumbling or with gratitude.

Training our perspective to be an eternal one is the key to choosing gratitude. When we set our minds on earth, we will grumble, but setting our minds on the things above (Colossians 3:2) prepares us for the hard thanksgiving in the midst of suffering.

The Temporal Mindset of Grumbling

Grumbling stems from a deficiency mindset when we treasure the temporal over the eternal, focusing on our lack of desired earthly comforts. We assume (often by our actions if not consciously in our thoughts) God does not have our best interests at heart, so we pursue the illusion of autonomy to take what we want for ourselves. We grasp at any measure of apparent independence, rejecting God’s will for our lives—especially when His will involves trials for us.

Suffering strips away the illusion of control. And all too often we respond in anger and grumbling to God, detesting His will for us.

The Eternal Perspective of Gratitude

Unlike grumbling, gratitude is not dependent on our external circumstances. It is more than a feeling. Instead, it is an intentional focus on the goodness of God rather than the lack of earthly goods. It involves a posture of praise, saying to God, “You have been so good to me.”

Saying this in the midst of adversity is the hard thanksgiving.

When we set our minds on the things above, we acknowledge God’s sovereignty and our dependence on Him. No matter how unreasonable or painful our circumstances feel to us, we know God has a plan and a purpose. And His purpose is always for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

Called to Give Thanks

Consider Paul’s attitude in Acts 20. He was on his way to Jerusalem, where he faced likely imprisonment or even death. In human terms, he had every reason to grumble rather than give thanks in his circumstances.

But instead of grumbling, he viewed his temporal hardship in light of eternity:

But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of God's grace. (Acts 20:24 NASB)

Our necessary task is to obey God while doing what He has called us to do, even if it costs us our life. And He has called us to praise Him in every circumstance—especially when it is a hard thanksgiving (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Hope in the Hard Thanksgiving

Every trial or affliction is an opportunity for praising God and witnessing to others through our gratitude. We can only do so because of the hope we have in Christ Jesus.

When Jesus redeemed us, He promised adversity (John 16:33). But God made us coheirs with Him and gave us a spiritual inheritance, reminding us there is more to life than temporal comfort. Even when suffering strips away our material goods, we still have “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3 NASB).

Our hope is not of this world—it is in Christ in the heavenly places. For this reason, “we do not lose heart ... for our momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17 NASB).

Having our hearts fixed on Christ Jesus enables us, even in the midst of darkness, to walk in the glory of obedience, living out the hard thanksgiving.

Copyright © 2020 Ken Boa, used with permission.

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