Thankfulness in difficult circumstances

At church, we’ve just finished a series on thankfulness. Our theme verse has been: give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

The Christian life involves suffering, Jesus says – in this world you will have trouble (John 16:33). For many, the suffering can be particularly severe. Some of us may be asking: “I’m experiencing chronic illness, severe pain, anxiety, grief, etc., how can I be thankful in the midst of real pain?”

Everyone’s situation is different, and not everyone will find the same things helpful, but below are some suggestions of things we can thank God for as Christians even in the midst of very real pain and suffering.

1. Thank God that Christians have the power to be thankful by the Spirit. God says: be filled with [or by] the Spirit… always giving thanks to God the Father for everything. (Ephesians 5:18,20). If you are a genuine Christian who is trusting in Jesus to save you from your sin, you have received the gift of God’s Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Holy Spirit enables us to do what we can’t do by ourselves – thank God even in the midst of difficult circumstances.

2. Thank God that the gospel of Jesus gives us power to be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.(Colossians 3:16). The power for Christians to have ‘gratitude in your hearts’ to God, and even sing to him comes as we consider and grow in our grasp of the amazing news about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

3. Thank God that in Jesus we have a great high priest who can understand our suffering. Everyone’s experience of suffering is different. While many others have suffered, no one can fully understand all of your thoughts, feelings and pain. However, Jesus does know and understand our pain. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are —yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

4. Thank God that through Jesus we are forgiven for our sin, and are now free to obey him: Heidelberg Catechism Q 1: What is your only comfort in life and death?  A: That I am not my own, but belong–body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.  He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil.  He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven:  in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

5. Thank God for the great spiritual blessings that are yours in Christ.Thank God that in Jesus you can say: “I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Saviour is my brother; every Christian is my brother [or sister] too” (JI Packer).

6. Thank God that the helplessness of suffering, graciously forces you to trust Jesus.Joni Erickson Tada, who became a quadriplegic through a diving accident says: Maybe this wheelchair felt like a horrible tragedy in the beginning, but I give God thanks in my wheelchair…I’m grateful for my quadriplegia. It’s a bruising of a blessing. A gift wrapped in black. It’s the shadowy companion that walks with me daily, pulling and pushing me into the arms of the Saviour. And that’s where the joy is.

7. Thank God that he has not left you alone in your suffering. Jesus promises to be with you always (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5-6). He also gives us fellow Christians – brothers and sisters in Christ to encourage you, and pray with and for you.  

8. Thank God that by his grace your suffering can produce perseverance, character, hope Not only so, but we  also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4).

9. Thank God for the spiritual good he can achieve through your suffering: Sickness, like any other weakness and trouble, can force us to stop and face ourselves, to stop and find the Lord. I may find sins I’ve been too busy to notice: neglectfulness, irritability, indifference, self-indulgence, unbelief, joylessness, worries, complaining, drivenness in work, trust in my own health and ability …I may develop fruit of the Spirit that can develop no other way than by suffering well: endurance of faith, hope and joy that transcend circumstances …living for God not my self-absorbed pleasures; the humility of weakness, the ability to help other people who suffer (David Powlison).

10. Thank God for his gift of thankfulness which can free you from bitterness and discontent A grateful man or woman will be a breath of fresh air in a world contaminated by bitterness and discontentment. And …will showcase the heart of the gospel in a way that is winsome and compelling  (Nancy  Leigh De Moss).

11. Thank God for the certain hope we have through Jesus of an ultimate end to all pain. God…will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4)

12. Thank God that in Jesus, even the most severe difficulties cannot separate you from God’s love. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? …  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.(Romans 8:31-32, 38-39)

Related Posts:
 Trusting God in suffering 
Songs that bring comfort and hope in suffering 

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