Because of our new sermon series in Philippians, much of my thought life is dedicated to considering how to live the Christian life in difficult circumstances. So naturally, the week of Thanksgiving prompts me to consider the biblical admonition to be thankful not only in all things, but also for all things: Give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ… (Eph 5:20).
If we are to be thankful for everything, that would have to include our trials. But why would we be thankful for the difficult times in our lives? Here are just a few reasons:
1. Our trials cause us to grow.
Romans 5:3-4 reads, …we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope… God doesn’t waste our trials and they don’t represent divine, purposeless hazing. He uses them as tools to make us more like Jesus. And that should cause us to be thankful…imagine how much better we would handle difficult circumstances if we were just like Jesus!
2. Our trials cause us to rely on God.
Paul the apostle was no stranger to suffering. We might even say that he suffered more for the kingdom than anyone but Jesus Himself. Of his own suffering he wrote, For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead (2Cor 1:8-9).
Suffering pulls us out of our false notions of self-sufficiency to see that we cannot survive without moment-by-moment infusions of God’s grace. They teach us to trust in God because we have in order to endure. This is why it is so often the case that our devotional life is at its strongest when we encounter trials. They bring us closer to the Lord and for that we should be thankful.
3. Our trials make us more effective tools in other people’s lives.
Last Sunday we noted this element at work in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. His experience with suffering and constant opposition not only conformed him to the image of Christ, but also allowed him to provide an example to those around him. Without his own trials, he never would have been able to write, Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us (Phil 3:17).
When a young couple has a miscarriage, who is best able to offer words of comfort and hope? Others who have endured the same thing. When a marriage is devastated by adultery, who is best able to walk alongside that couple to help navigate the journey of pain and reconciliation? Others who have walked that road. Having been through it before, they know what to say and what not to say, what to do and what not to do. What a blessing that is to those currently suffering.
Typically, when we are suffering we struggle to think about anyone but ourselves, but the mature believer will consider how his or her present struggles will provide equipping to help others in the future. That is something to be thankful for.
4. Our trials make us value what matters most – the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
How many beatings, shipwrecks, false accusations, and years in prison does it take to cause a servant of Christ to look forward to his or her eternal reward? Not many, I would think. Paul had seen it all even as he was writing his letter to the Philippians. I dare say his attention was not captured by meaningless, temporal things the way so many of us are. Years of suffering for the cause of Christ, years of growing in dependence upon and affection for Christ brought Paul to the realization that the real prize of this life is the upward call to the next (Phil 3:14).
I’ve yet to have a season of difficult in my own life that did not prepare me to gladly leave this world in order to gain eternal joy in the presence of Jesus. With each struggle, my emotional ties to this life are weakened and my desire to depart and be with the Lord is strengthened. Suffering now will make reunion with Him all the sweeter. That kind of thing is a blessing and it is something for which we should thank the Lord.
May the Lord lead us to be truly thankful during this season, not merely in all things, but for all things. For He causes good things to come from the difficult seasons of life, as He is the giver of all good and perfect gifts.