Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
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Thank God for All that is Bad in My Life
By Dr. Richard P. Bucher
November is here, and that means that Thanksgiving Day is just around the corner. So what are you thankful for this year?
Hopefully many of God’s good gifts and blessings come to mind. Jesus. Forgiveness. Life Eternal. Family. Home. Health. Friends. Job. Possessions. Church. Talents. How bountifully God has been in showering good gifts upon us.
God wants us to thank him for all the good in our lives. Every Christian knows this. Did you know, however, that God expects us to thank him also for the bad?
Near the end of his first letter to Thessalonians, Paul writes, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Th 5:18). And in the fifth chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle exhorts, “Give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5:20).
Note carefully these words. Christians are to “give thanks in all circumstances (the Greek text can also be translated “in every situation”). They are to “give thanks always and for everything to God.” These passages turn the conventional understanding of thanksgiving on its head. They tell us that our thanks to God is not to be limited to what we consider good. We are to thank him in every situation and for everything, including what we consider to be bad. God expects us to thank him all that is bad in our lives, as well as the good.
But what does St. Paul know about such things? Did he actually practice what he preached? He most certainly did.
There is a wonderful account in Acts 16 that illustrates this. In the midst of his second missionary journey, while touring the city of Philippi, Paul and Silas were wrongly arrested, stripped naked, savagely beaten with rods, and thrown into inner prison, their feet fastened in stocks. This was a very bad situation for them to be in. In the ancient world one could not count on justice being done. In all probability, death awaited them, or at least a long imprisonment.
So what, according to Scripture, did they do? They thanked God. “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). Remarkable. They were doubtless in great pain from their beating, as they lay in their dark cell. For all they knew, they would be dead the next morning. And yet, there they are, singing hymns of praise to God. There they are, giving thanks to God in the midst of a very bad situation.
So what happened to them? In dramatic fashion, Paul and Silas’s very bad situation was transformed into a very good one. God caused an earthquake to strike the prison, opening all the cells; the jailor, who only hours before had been their tormentor, received Christ and was baptized, he and his family; and the very town officials who had thrown them into jail, apologized and let them go.
As he lay there in the prison cell, Paul had every reason to complain and sulk and become very bitter toward God. But instead he chose to thank God for the situation that faced him, no matter who bad it seemed. And God delivered him in a miraculous way.
I do not mean to imply that those who thank God for the bad in their lives will always have their bad situation instantly changed for the better. It can happen this way, as it did to Paul. More often, the change that occurs is a change inside us.
So what bad circumstances do you face as you prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving 2005. Bad health? I can relate as I recently ruptured my spleen. Have you experienced loss? I think of the thousands of Christians who have lost everything because of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, or Wilma. Have you failed in something? Are you stuck in a bad marriage or a bad job? Are you unable to be with the one you love? Are you being persecuted for your faith? Are you lonely? Have you been rejected? Whatever bad situation you are in, God wants you to thank him for it.
Why should you do such a crazy thing as this? Because to do so is a powerful statement of faith that tells us God that, no matter how horrible or hopeless the situation you face seems, you trust him. It is a statement of faith that tells God, “Lord, I hate this situation I’m in. I see nothing good about it. It is depressing and frustrating and seems hopeless. But I believe that you are still in control of my life for good. And I believe that you will turn this situation around for good, in your way and in your time. For you have promised to do so (Romans 8:28). I do not feel thankful, but nonetheless, I do and will thank you for this situation and my life exactly the way it is.” By such trust in the midst of suffering, God is greatly pleased.
Does such thanking God for the bad actually change anything? Yes, it does. Sometimes it changes the bad situation into good in remarkable and obvious ways. Other times the change takes much longer and is more subtle. Usually the change that occurs is inside of us. When we thank God even for the bad in our lives, our feelings change. We are given peace instead of stress; calm instead of anger; hope instead of hopelessness, joy instead of self-pity.
For whatever reason, God’s power is released in the lives of those who trust him enough to thank him even for the bad.
Of course, none of us will ever succeed in thanking God the way we should. The devil, world, and our sinful natures constantly fill us with complaining and envy, self-pity and discontent. There is nothing quite like striving to thank God in all circumstances to show us our sinfulness and how much we need the forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross. It is truly good news that Jesus died to atone for our failure to thank and praise God!
As God’s forgiven people, let us strive anew to thank God for the bad as well as the good. There is nothing quite like it to show God that you trust in his goodness. A blessed Thanksgiving to all.
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