It is easy for me to be filled with joy and be thankful to the Lord when I get a new job, a healing, an unexpected gift or an award for meritorious service. Even in these cases, I may simply offer a quick prayer of thanks and then fall back into daily routines. But what about thankfulness in difficult times? What about situations when I have lost a job, become ill, am grossly insulted or suffer unjust punishment? How can I be thankful in those instances?
Many times, God’s wisdom seems to totally contradict human rational thinking. God tells us to be thankful in those times too. James 1: 2-4 tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Those words are easy to memorize. But believing them in the heart is not simple. It can be a real test of faith.
I recently heard the testimony of an upper-class businessman from El Salvador. He had been actively antagonistic towards God. He had been immersed in running his prosperous business when he was falsely accused of an illicit activity. He was unjustly imprisoned for over two years in a grimy, filthy El Salvadorian jail while the guilty accusers went scot-free, stealing most of his business from him. You can imagine the bitterness, anger and resentment you would think he must have felt.
However, his real reaction was vastly different. In his testimony the businessman told his story and then he said, “I sincerely thank God from the bottom of my heart that all this happened to me. In the midst of the terrible jail I was brought to Christ. I was so arrogant, greedy, materialistic and proud that I would never have found Jesus and accepted him as my Lord and Savior had I not had to go through something of this extreme magnitude. Now I know that nothing else has any importance whatsoever in comparison with my salvation”.
In the midst of the anguish and suffering caused by the pandemic, or when confronting a job loss, illness, bankruptcy, unjust treatment, ridicule, scorn and worse, we can easily let angry human rationality based on temporal existence take over. We can fall into bitterness and resentment towards God instead of giving thanks. In these situations, we may focus on the problems we face instead of on the opportunity for growth, learning, maturity and completeness that James mentions.
We may lose sight of what our priorities really should be in an eternal context. We may ignore that God is always with us and that He loves us boundlessly. We must never forget that Jesus – though completely innocent – suffered far more than we will ever know on the cross in atonement for our sins. Thus, we can have joyful eternal salvation with Him.
When we focus on Jesus, God’s love, and our eternal salvation, we realize that all that happens in life is God’s preparation of us for this priceless gift. Then we can be truly thankful no matter what the surrounding circumstances are, even though we might not fully comprehend why things occur as they do at the time.
The Union Church of Guatemala
Dr. Ralph Porter
Women's Ministry President
Union Kids Director
AM Worship Coordinator