Giving thanks in difficult times

We have just come through the holiday season of “thanksgiving” and so I would like for us to think about giving thanks to God this morning. And specifically, giving thanks when we are suffering. We all know various ones who are going through hard times and perhaps we ourselves are. My goal today is to encourage us to give thanks to God, even in our difficult times.

Too often, I believe, our thanksgiving is based on our circumstances and our feelings about those circumstances. And so, if things are good we are thankful; but if things are bad, we are quiet, or worse – we complain or curse. This ought not be so sisters and brothers. For –

Scripture teaches us to give thanks in all circumstances

As Paul the apostle says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” And David said in Psalm 34:1 – “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”

And we have many –

Scriptural examples of giving thanks in hard times

Let’s look at three this morning. The first is Habakkuk in Habakkuk 3.

What are his circumstances? Well, God has brought judgment on the nation of Judah. The Babylonians have come and have wreaked havoc and destruction. And they have carried off the rest of the people into exile. God had sent them to judge Judah, but they had gone way beyond what was necessary.

As the prophet surveys all that has happened, amazingly, he still rejoices in the Lord. v 17-18 – “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

His rejoicing is definitely not based on his circumstances or his feelings.

Then we have the example of David in Psalm 57. 

What are his circumstances? His life is in danger. The superscription to the Psalm says that it is about when David fled and was hiding from king Saul in the cave.

Listen to his prayer in vs. 1-2 – “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.”

vs. 4, 6 – poetically describe his trouble -“My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts – the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. . .. They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my way . . ..”

But even with his dire situation, he gives thanks to God. In both vs. 5, 11 he says, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!”

And finally we have the example of Paul in Philippians 1.

What are his circumstances? He is in jail for preaching the gospel. And even in jail some of his adversaries are trying to take advantage of his this to promote their influence at Paul’s expense.

But Paul rejoices. v. 18 – “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

His rejoicing comes in spite of his circumstances and his feelings.

What about us this morning? Can we be like Paul, David and Habakkuk?  Let’s look at –

Why we can give thanks in all circumstances

We can give thanks 1. Because of who God is. Apart from anything that God does, God is worthy of praise. God is glorious and awesome. God’s character and power are beyond anything we know. And so we should praise him for who he is.

Psalm 106:1 praises God’s character, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”

Whether things are good for us, or not – whatever our circumstances – God is still God, and is worthy of our praise.

We can give thanks 2. Because of what God has done. Even in times of trial, we can count our blessings and see what God has done.

James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father . . ..” We should give thanks for life and breath itself, for all the gifts that God has given us, for family – and on and on. Whatever good thing you are or have is from God.

And so despite whatever else may be going on, we can give thanks for God’s blessing to us.

We can give thanks 3. Because in God we have hope and a future. God allows us to go through hard times. Sometime really, really hard times. This is a fact. But whatever happens to us in this life, we have a hope for something better. This life is not all that there is. In fact, we are to live for the life that is to come, not this one.

In 1 Peter 1:6 Peter tells his readers that “now for a little while . . . you have been grieved by various trials.” Just before this he said, “in this you rejoice.” Why do they rejoice in their trials? It’s because of what he had just mentioned in vs. 4-5. They have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven . . . a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

This hope puts things in perspective for us as Christians. Yes, we will go through difficult times. But we will be blessed in the world to come.

We can give thanks 4. Because God can use difficulties to bless us. God is able to bring good out of pain, suffering and tears. This doesn’t mean that God causes the pain, only that God is greater than whatever harm befalls us.

Paul makes this point in Romans 8:28. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God is able to work in and through all that happens to us to bring some good to us. God cares for us in this way in the midst of our difficulties.

We can give thanks 5. Because God gives us the strength to do so. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” and so when we suffer we easily give in to despair and want to give up. But as Jesus goes on to say, “the Spirit is willing” (Mark 14:38). The Spirit can strengthen us to give thanks in our difficult times.

In Habakkuk 3:19, after rejoicing in difficulties, the prophet says, “God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” It is the Lord who enables us to rejoice in hard times.

So for all of these reasons –

We can give thanks this morning as a congregation

1. Because God is awesome

2. Because God has blessed this congregation is so many ways

3. Because in God we each have hope and a future no matter what we go through

4. Because God can use these hard times to work good in our lives

5. Because God gives us the strength to do so

May he strengthen us even this week.

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