When It’s Hard to Give Thanks

Originally published on April 7, 2014.

Joy is the particular province of the broken-hearted. It sounds contradictory, but it is one more paradox of the Kingdom of God, in which He turns everything we are accustomed to upside-down…or maybe it is Right-side-up, after all.

Jesus said it to the crowds gathered on the hillsides: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” (Matthew 5:3-4, The Message) This is a joy that comes in the face of loss, when you go looking for Something More than this world, and find God’s presence. It is completely counter-intuitive (and utterly true) that those who suffer the most can find the deepest joy, because their very loss is an unexpected opportunity to discover the riches of God’s provision.

Joy shines brightest in people who are struggling to survive in one way or another, who face silence and uncertainty and grief, and realize that there is still Someone close who whispers words of comfort to the soul and does not sleep, and He is Enough, after all. It is the secret the itinerant Church-planter Paul learned, amid the dangers of traveling over ten thousand miles through the ancient civilized world in the course of his adult life — often bone-weary, in constant danger, harried and pursued, driven out of town and stoned and threatened. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13) When all my supply runs out and I am entirely dependent on God’s, then I am coming to the heart of what it means to have a relationship with The Almighty. “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand  and satisfy the desires of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:15-16) 

It is easy to celebrate and give thanks when things are going well for us, and of course God delights in hearing our enjoyment of His blessings. But if we wait until we feel happy to count our blessings then aren’t we only putting a label on our response to the circumstances? Anyone can look at the sun and say it is a good thing it is shining; may as well look at a cloudy day and observe that we don’t like the rain. When the needy and the grieving look at their world and choose hard to praise God, to give thanks for His grace and kindness to them regardless of painful circumstances, they are bowing to His rule, giving a sacrifice that costs something. God holds that gift precious, and joy kindles and endures in the offering. This is beyond response to circumstances; this is the obedience and surrender and trust of a genuine Christ-follower.

In the face of any grief there is always a new morning, and the world all around, shelter and food and friends, and the small kindnesses of others– unaccountable blessings un-looked for, and unceasing. “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.” (Psalm 3:5) Accepting those small things with the simplicity of a child, choosing to give thanks (because even they are grace undeserved) gives Him our undivided attention– opens the door to God’s loving presence in all the seasons of life. The Giver is always worthy of our praise, and we can keep on counting all the evidence of His love.

God doesn’t avoid or ignore pain. He sings a louder song over it. And He invites His hurting people to sing with Him.

Aubrey Sampson, THe Louder Song

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“Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to His name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.” (Hebrews 13:15-16)

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