“Yet the real miracle comes when you can look back at even the most painful experiences in your life and find the good that God has brought out of it. Until you can see the work of God in the worst of circumstances you have not yet begun to see your life from the eyes of God. When gratitude does its greatest work within us, we are able to celebrate who we are becoming even when we have passed through experiences we would wish on no one. No tragedy or hardship can rob us the joy that is always before us when our eyes remain on Jesus.”
Erwin McManus, Uprising, p. 127
I have a confession to make: I am ungrateful. This has nothing to do with a failure of parenting, because my parents raised me to say, “thank you” to people who bless me in some way. I am not really sure what it is, but I have a hard time thanking people for doing good things for me. If it wasn’t for Jenny, I would not do it as often as I do.
This ungratefulness can really be seen in my relationship with God. There are numerous ways that God has blessed my life, but too often I don’t think Him for these blessings. I will ask God for help, to intervene in my life in some way, and when He does it, I don’t even pause to say thank you. I act as if I deserved the blessing, rather than it being a generous gift.
It occurred to me that if I have trouble thanking God for the good gifts of life, then I would have even more trouble being thankful for the hardships of my life. Outside of a couple of occasions I have not thanked God for working in my life through hardships and tragedies.
According to the New Testament writers we should rejoice in our trials. We rejoice, not because we enjoy suffering, but because suffering means we have faith in Jesus, and because God uses suffering to mature our faith. I think this is the point James made when he wrote:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4, ESV)
James made it clear that we should find joy in suffering, not because we enjoy the pain, but because we know that there is a benefit in the pain. Suffering is one of the tools God uses to mold us into the people He created us to be.
Here is the problem I face: I can’t see into the future. It is difficult for me to think beyond the here and now. That reality makes it difficult to find joy, when I have so much pain today. Is there a way for me to move past this shortsightedness and catch a glimpse of the bigger picture?
Let me suggest there is a way. The writer of Hebrews wrote:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. (Hebrews 12:1-6; ESV)
The writer of Hebrews tells us that endurance and perseverance that we need comes from keeping our eyes on Jesus. Our Savior, as we well know, endured pain and hardship that was greater than what we can imagine. He endured it for us. The point, from this passage in Hebrews, seems to be that by remembering what Jesus endured for us provides us with the motivation to endure suffering that we suffer in the fight against sin and evil.
Gratitude doesn’t come easy. It doesn’t come easy because we have a tendency to focus on ourselves. We tell ourselves that we deserve these gifts from God, and we convince ourselves that the suffering God allows in our lives is totally unfair.
We will only become grateful, even in the midst of suffering, when we set our eyes on Jesus, and remember what He went through on our behalf. Gratitude, for the good and the bad, is one of the miracles of having faith in Jesus Christ.