Everyone experiences hard times and bitter times in life. Even when things are going relatively well, you never know how soon trouble may come again.
Reasons for difficulties
Everyone has their own threshold or tolerance for difficulties. What some people may consider to be a catastrophe, others may just think of as a challenge or an uncomfortable circumstance. But when there is bodily harm, or a life is in danger, everyone takes it seriously. Paul gives us insight into the storms he himself faced (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Yet, despite these, he spoke with confidence that we should be thankful in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Some problems are the result of bad decisions. When things we have done wrong lead to problems, then our complaints are actually directed against ourselves. If we come to realize that we are the actual root of the problem, that is reason to be thankful. Now it is possible for us to humbly seek help. Then change is possible. Times of difficulty through which the hand of God leads us are especially precious. In these times of need, we come to experience God’s grace and love in a special way, and can then be thankful that we better understand God’s way and His leading in our lives.
I still remember a testimony a brother in Christ gave years ago. He said: “I am thankful that God helped us through the war and carried us through the difficult years that followed. I hope that He will also carry us through the good times.” Since he had experienced God’s help in difficult times, he knew he could trust in God and His power for the future.
The knowledge of God leads to thankfulness
A person can easily comfort himself and say, “Things could have been worse,” or “There are others who are even worse off.” We may be able to psychologically calm ourselves down, but that is not true thankfulness.
A thankful person realizes that in their particular case, God’s leading is wise and good. I remember a family with six children in the late 1930’s. The father was put into prison because of his faith, and the mother had to fend for herself and the children. The neighbors asked her how she could believe in a God who treated them so badly. But she answered, “I thank God for His leading, and I am convinced that He has the best for us in mind.” Then the Second World War came. Most husbands and sons had to join the war effort, and only a few came back alive. But after eight years, this brother was released from jail, shortly before the war ended. He was healthy and reunited with his family, while many others had been killed. Even those who previously criticized and doubted had to admit that God’s ways are good.
It is a great blessing to know God and to comprehend His will for us, no matter what the situation. It is only from God’s perspective that we can see matters correctly.
The blessing of being thankful
Being unthankful and dissatisfied weakens a person but a thankful heart makes a person strong. Thankfulness may not change a situation but it changes our attitude. It keeps us from becoming bitter, disappointed, or even displeased with God. Joseph knew for a fact, “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).
The thankful person knows that there is much to learn in adversity. Russian literature details the attitude of Czar Peter the Great who, after continually being defeated by the Swedish army, finally gained the victory after nine years of fighting. After the victory, the Russian generals returned to the tent of Czar Peter to find an unexpected banquet laid out for them. With tears in his eyes, Peter the Great thanked the generals. He told them it was they who had made him a hero. Every previous defeat that he was forced to suffer led to greater strength until he was able to gain the final victory.
A thankful heart makes sure that our relationship with other people is not jeopardized by our own sorrow. It does not blame others for our difficult situation. The thankful person either takes personal responsibility for the situation, or else is confident that God in His wisdom knows why things must be as they are. That is why it is possible to help others who are also suffering. It is possible to weep with those who weep and to comfort them.
With an attitude of thankfulness, you can be a blessing and an example. Everyone goes through times of trials and difficult situations. The problems may or may not be related to health or even to tangible circumstances. Nonetheless, many people can sense how much pain and suffering you may be enduring. Yet when they, by the grace of God, actually get to know someone who is thankful in spite of their circumstances, they are often encouraged to persevere in their own situation.
When we read of the trials of the Apostle Paul, we realize that God had great confidence in this man. He even allowed Paul to be swept about on a stormy sea for two weeks in a primitive ship (Acts 27). We do not see Paul depressed or discouraged. He persevered in this severe crisis, and God was able to use him for further assignments.
Thankfulness gives us inner grace and strengthens our soul. It helps us to persevere in tribulation and be victorious. The thankful heart sees, even through teary eyes, the dawning of the next morning. Dear friend, in your present situation, or in a crisis yet to come, God will be close to you. “Offer to God thanksgiving” (Psalm 50:14), and He will show you how precious your thanks are to Him, especially when that thanksgiving comes in the midst of a valley.