Category Archives: Suffering
“Give Thanks in Everything”
Why this tough but life-giving command can change your entire outlook.
Reading the Bible isn’t always easy.
If you’ve ever thought those words but were embarrassed to speak them, you’re not alone. Sure, there’s plenty within Scripture that we comprehend without much difficulty. But at times we come across a passage that baffles us—or worse, makes us feel angry or annoyed. Sometimes it’s because we simply don’t understand what the Lord is saying through the text. But often the reason for our discomfort is that we don’t like what we’re reading. It’s easier to ignore those verses and move on to more appealing topics than to hash it out with God and do what He says. Reading the Bible is hard because, in the end, it challenges us to change.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 is one of those verses that can really get under your skin: “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” But what about those difficult and painful situations? Being grateful for suffering seems to make no sense.
If I were writing Scripture, I would say, “In most things give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It’s easy to be grateful for the good things in life—a newborn baby, a raise, a new house, or encouraging news from the doctor. But what if you lose your job, discover your child is on drugs, or are told by the doctor that you have only have six months to live? How can God expect you to be grateful then?
I faced this dilemma some time ago when I hurt my shoulder and experienced excruciating pain. I read this verse and told the Lord, “I know You said this, but it’s not reasonable when I’m hurting so badly. I just don’t feel thankful.” But then I noticed that it didn’t say, In everything give thanks when you feel like it. This command has nothing to do with feelings. It’s a choice to do what God says. Whenever He gives us a command in the Bible, it’s for our benefit.
Gratitude impacts every area of our lives.
By giving us the command to always give thanks, God is not rubbing salt in a wound or calling us to set aside reason. He knows that being thankful in all circumstances has a powerful impact on every area of our Christian life. Here are ten lessons I’ve learned:
1. Gratitude keeps us continually aware that the Lord is close by.Even though gratefulness doesn’t come naturally in difficult circumstances, a decision to thank God for walking with us through life makes us more sensitive to His comforting presence.
2. It motivates us to look for His purpose in our circumstance. Knowing that the Lord allows hurt and trouble for His good purposes takes the edge off the pain. Even if we don’t understand why we’re going through suffering, we can thank God because we know that in His time, He’ll work it all for good. In the meantime, we can rest in the knowledge that He’s using every hardship to transform us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:28-29).
3. Thanksgiving helps bring our will into submission to God.When the situation we’re experiencing is the last thing we’d ever want, thanking the Lord is a giant step toward being able to follow Christ’s example and say, “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Gratitude helps us acknowledge that God’s will is best, even if it’s hard; in that way, we are able to release our hold on what we want. Although the circumstances may remain the same, submission changes our heart.
4. It reminds us of our continual dependence upon the Lord. Pride, adequacy, and independence evaporate whenever we’re trapped in a situation that leaves us helpless and hopeless. If there’s no way out, thanking God for His control over all things reminds us that He alone is our strength.
5. Thankfulness is an essential ingredient for joy.There’s no way to “rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16) without giving thanks in everything (v. 18). That’s why ungrateful people are so grumpy. Joy is an inner sense of contentment, which flows from a deep assurance that all God’s purposes are good and He’s in complete control of every situation. With that kind of supernatural joy, it’s easy to be thankful.
6. A grateful attitude strengthens our witness to unbelievers.The world is filled with people who are angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed with the difficulties of life. But a believer with a grateful attitude is like a light shining in a dark place. The people around you will want to know why you don’t grumble and complain the way everyone else does. Then you can tell them about your amazing Savior.
7. Thanking God focuses our attention on Him rather than our circumstances. The key to a grateful heart begins with understanding the Lord’s character because knowing His awesome attributes motivates trust and gratitude. He knows exactly what you’re going through, loves you unconditionally, and understands you perfectly. When you thank Him in tough times, He gets bigger, and the circumstances become smaller.
8. Gratitude gives us eternal perspective. The apostle Paul is an amazing example of a man who suffered extreme hardship yet remained thankful. That’s because he was able to see life from God’s perspective. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, he says our present suffering is “momentary light affliction.” If you’re going through a really hard time, those words may sound ridiculous. Maybe you’ve been dealing with pain your entire life, or a difficult trial has dragged on for decades. It hardly seems momentary or light.
But Paul is comparing our situations here on earth with what’s awaiting us in eternity. For him, a 40-year stretch of pain and hardship was no match for the “eternal weight of glory” awaiting him (2 Cor. 4:17). What an amazing thought—your present pain has the potential to produce incomparable glory for you in heaven. Now that’s a big reason to thank God!
9. When we’re wearied by our circumstances, thanksgiving energizes us. Most of us can handle short trials, but if they continue for a long period of time, the emotional and physical strain is exhausting. Should ongoing illness, unresolved relational problems, or continued financial pressures become more than we can bear, it’s time to start thanking God because He has promised to give strength to the weary (Isaiah 40:29). He’ll release His supernatural energy within us so we can patiently endure the trial and come out victorious on the other side.
10. Gratitude transforms anxiety into peace, which passes all understanding (Phil. 4:6-7). I learned this principle through a very difficult experience. When I was feeling anxious about the situation, I discovered that complaining, getting angry, and arguing with God didn’t change my circumstances. Finally, in desperation, I began thanking Him. Only then did I receive His incomprehensible peace. My situation didn’t change for quite a while, but God’s peace guarded my heart all the way through that trying time.
What will you choose?
The choice isn’t always easy. Most of the time, we’d rather get out of difficulties than thank God through them. But have you ever considered that He may actually want you to stay in a painful situation for a time? I know this may not sound like something a loving God would ever do, but remember, His goal is to do what is best for you, not what’s comfortable, convenient, and enjoyable.
The Lord’s purposes for your life extend beyond your days on earth. He’s working for your eternal good. Begin thanking God today, in whatever circumstance you find yourself. After all, what’s the alternative—bitterness, resentment, and grumbling? God made you for something far better: eternal, sustaining joy. The transformation starts with two simple, small words offered from the heart: thank You.
Say them over and over. And then say them again. Your joy will be radiant—a light shining in a dark and desperate world.
Help for Those Fighting or Grieving a Suicide
by Jon Bloom
Robin Williams’s alleged suicide has sent shock waves through the world. Williams was a man bursting with manic energy, an out-sized personality, prodigious dramatic talent, and a completely unique comic genius. He could make us roll on the floor in laughter and he could move us deeply to tears. Many of us have memories of his performances that stretch back into our childhood. Now, suddenly, at age 63, it appears that he has taken his own life. For this tragedy it is too early for any more words. Let us cover our mouths, weep, and pray for his family.
But for some of us in the household of Jesus, Williams’s death hits hard for very personal reasons. For some, a profound, oppressive darkness is threatening to douse the little light and hope they see. They are fighting for dear life to remember and believe that life is worth living. And Robin Williams’s surrender is sucking the hope that they will be able to keep fighting. If that’s you, I simply want to point you to hope by recommending a few things: Read the book of Ecclesiastes. That may sound strange because some find that book depressing. But I have appreciated this book most in my darkest times. Reading it will remind you that the Bible deals straight up with the bleakness of futility — finding hope in the world apart from God in this age. And it has clear pointers to hope.
Then read the book of John. Here is the Hope. The Light of the world shines with unique brightness in this book and in his light we see light (Psalm 36:9). When despairing of life, we need to spend concentrated time listening to the Life (John 14:6). Look through our list of free resources for help dealing with depression and despair. A while back I wrote about what I learned in one of my dark spiritual storms. It might be helpful to you. You Are Not Alone And one thing you need to remember is that the oppressive darkness and the temptation to despair is common to man. You are not alone. About ¼ of the Psalms are written to help you. And one man’s surrender to the darkness does not at all mean that’s where you’ll end up. This precious promise is for you: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
The Fight for Hope
For others in the household of Jesus, Robin Williams’s death is a reminder of another precious, precious loved life that ended in a similar incomprehensible surrender, and has reopened the wound that will never fully heal in this age. Ineffable love and sorrow and confusion and maybe anger has been stirred up again and they are fighting for hope that suicide may not be the final word on that life and that the God who did not intervene to prevent it is good — or is there at all. If that’s you, I’d like to point you also to a few helpful resources: Suicide is not the unforgivable sin. John Piper shared some very helpful thoughts on an episode of “Ask Pastor John” last May titled, “Suicide and Salvation.” John also has preached a number of funerals for believers who committed suicide. This one from 1988 and this one from 2007 are particularly hopeful and helpful. Our National Conference from 2005 focused entirely on suffering. I recommend every session. But a particularly poignant one might be Mark Talbot’s message, “Seeing God’s Gracious Hand in the Hurts Others Do to Us.” Listen to the Light One thing for you to remember is what C. S. Lewis’s Aslan once said, “I tell no one any story but his own.” Essentially that was what Jesus replied to Peter who wanted to know Jesus’s plans for the Apostle John: “What is that to you? You follow me” (John 21:22). We dare not speculate too much about what we cannot see and cannot know about another’s story. We must rest in the trust that the Judge of all the earth will do what is just (Genesis 18:25). And remember that someday: He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4) For most of us, depression is an indication of what we are believing. Let us not listen to the darkness and it’s seductive, hope-depleting half-truthed lies. It leads to a black hole. Listen to and move toward the Light. Light will dawn for those who trust him (Psalm 112:4). It’s a promise.
Related resources: The Joy Will Come When God Says Wait Worship in the Dark Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith and serves as the President of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched together in 1994. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Pam, their five children, and one naughty dog.
Because we live in a fallen world, going through difficult times is inevitable:
JOB 5:7 – but man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.
JOHN 16:33 – I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
ROMANS 8:18-23 – For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
1 PETER 4:12 – Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
4 Purposes for Suffering
(1) It makes our faith stronger.
1 PETER 1:6-7 – In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
(2) It helps us grow into the kind of person that God wants me to be.
JOB 23:8-10 – Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.
PHILIPPIANS 3:7-8 – But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.
JAMES 1:2-4 – 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.
(3) It causes us to think more about eternity in Heaven.
2 CORINTHIANS 4:16-18 – So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(4) It disciplines us for our sins.
HEBREWS 12:10-13 – For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all disciplines seem painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
PROVERBS 3:11-12 – My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
How Should We Respond To Suffering?
(1) Recognize that God’s grace is sufficient for me.
PSALM 55:22 – Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.
2 CORINTHIANS 12:9 – But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my own weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
(2) Remember that God is sovereign over our adversities.
PSALM 33:13-15 – The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks at the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.
PSALM 71:20-21 – You have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.
ISAIAH 43:1-2 – But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you will not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
(3) Know that God is always there to listen and respond to you.
PSALM 3:4 – I cried aloud to the LORD and he answered me from his holy hill.
PSALM 9:9-10 – The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.
PSALM 31:9-10 – Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted from grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.
PSALM 61:2 – from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
PSALM 86:3 – Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O lOrd, do I lift up my soul.
(4) Use the help God gives you to help others.
2 CORINTHIANS 1:3-4 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
(5) Know that adversity results in God’s reward.
JAMES 1:12 – 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.
1 PETER 5:10 – After you have suffered awhile, the God of all grace, who has called you to eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
Biblical illustrations – Job – whole book; Joseph – Genesis 37-50; Stephen – Acts 7; Paul and Silas – Acts 16.
SOURCE: Adapted from the Quick Reference For Counseling. Grand Rapids, Baker, 2006, 217-219.