It’s easy to be thankful for the blessings and joys of life, but when you’re going through times of challenge and difficulty, it’s harder to see the good. As Dr. Don Whitney said in a sermon I listened to recently, “God allows suffering but decrees glory.” The “light and momentary” troubles may not seem so light and momentary, but through the difficult experiences of life, God works for the good of His children, ultimately to make us like Jesus.
So this week, I wanted to take a few moments and talk about challenging moments.
Please understand: these may seem utterly insignificant to you. Maybe you’ve gone through real hardship, so even calling these things “hard” seems insulting. Please know that I realize how easy, how privileged, how blessed my life has been overall. This isn’t a “let’s compare who’s suffered worst” contest, because I know I’d lose.
What I’m getting at here, and what I hope you’ll consider doing, is to think about the times in my life where I’ve been disappointed and frustrated, and recognize how God was at work behind the scenes:
- I’m thankful for losing that job. I was a high-school teacher for 4 months before I was asked to resign during Finals Week. It was crushing to my pride. But I needed that lesson in humility. I needed to recognize that submitting to authority includes those authorities that are frustrating, mercurial, or unjust. Plus, those 4 months in a classroom setting reminded me that I liked teaching the Bible. Without that job, I may not have ever become a Sunday School teacher.
- I’m thankful for that painful break-up. I dated a girl in college whom I was convinced I would marry. However, neither of us had the maturity to even consider such a thing. I was utterly selfish and needy, and I made that poor girl into an idol in my life. So after a year-plus of dating, we broke up (about a month after I lost that job, actually), and I was devastated. But God was graciously prying my fingers open, so that I’d let go of that idol and turn back to Him.
- I’m thankful for that bad evaluation. I’ve been at my current position for more than a decade. In the last several years, there was a clear decline in my work ethic and productivity. My heart wasn’t in it. When it comes right down to it, I was sinning against God, against my employer, and against my team, by not giving it my all. And a year ago, I received the worst work evaluation I’ve ever gotten (if you don’t count getting fired from the teaching gig). It was a punch in the nose. I was indignant. I was furious. I was…ashamed. And guilty. I had to look my wife in the eye and tell her what I had done. It took me a little while to admit that I deserved it–if not at that time, then definitely as a result of the last few years. That moment challenged me to stop and evaluate how I use my time at work. It made me consider how my work ethic (or lack thereof) affected others. And it gave me an opportunity to improve. By God’s grace, I have. My evaluation this year was markedly better (though there’s still room to improve). And I’m now more committed than ever to do my best and bless others in my workplace, even if it’s not my dream job or preferred position.
In I Thessalonians 5:16-18, God commands us to give thanks: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (emphasis mine). This is something God has been crushing me about, lately. I don’t do these 3 things enough, or consistently.
This text can’t be clearer. No matter what happens in your life, Christian, God’s will for you is that you rejoice, you pray, and you give thanks.
“But Dave, you don’t know what I’m going through!” No, I don’t, friend. But God does. He sees. He knows. He declares the end from the beginning. And what does He say?
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7 ESV)
Even as I’m typing this right now, I’m listening to Todd Friel on Wretched Radio, as he talks about this great article by Rick Thomas on suffering well. (It’s worth your time and attention.)
God was intimately involved my break-up, my job loss, my bad evaluation, and a host of other “negative” events. He sovereignly orchestrated all of them for my good, for His glory.
And for that, I can be thankful.
Your Turn: Can you look back at something “negative” in your life that God has used to shape you and mature you? If you’re willing, please share that in the comments below.