The holidays can be hard for some people. At this time of year, I think about how I can't celebrate the holidays with my dad because he is in heaven now. I feel the pain that I know others might be going through. Some may be going through a very dark season in their life. This past Sunday, the Lord allowed me to preach during our churches Thanksgiving praise service. For those struggling this holiday season, I want to share some of the thoughts from that message.
The Impossible Command
Paul in the book of Ephesians gives us an expectation that most of us would find extremely difficult to obey: Give Thanks always for all things (Ephesians 5:20). As American's we aren't really that used to being grateful for anything as it is. The current social climate believes that the world owes us everything. Developing a habit of thanksgiving seems unnatural and strange. But this command is more than just unnatural and awkward; it is nearly impossible.
Notice that Paul didn't just say "Give Thanks." He continued on to tell us that we are to give thanks always. At all times we are to give God thanks. Its rather easy when we have received good news. When God has blessed us with a great job, when the bills are all paid and there is extra money in the banks, when we are having a new baby, praise can just flow from our lips with ease. But what about when you've lost your job, a close family member just passed away. How about the most extreme of circumstance like a child dying of cancer, a loved one murdered or a girl who has suffered rape? How do we give thanks in those circumstances?
Paul goes on further to tell us we should be giving thanks for all things. This is even harder, not only am I to give thanks during all the hard times, but now I am expected to give thanks for all the hard times. I don't actually think God is expecting us in this verse to say, "God thank you for allowing my child to die of cancer." If God can be grieved by the suffering of his people so can we (Exodus 3:7). The word "for" in English can mean concerning something which is just a slightly different nuance than just "for." In Greek, while the word does normally get translated as "for" in Romans 9:27 it is translated as "concerning." This meaning might be closer to the intention here especially since most other passages use the phrase "in everything" when referring to thanksgiving. I may not say, "Thank you for allowing my child to die," but I can still give God thanks.
What can I thank God for at these darkest of times:
Thankful that He hears my cry and feels my pain 1 Peter 3:12 “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.”
Thankful that God has a plan Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Thankful for God’s grace in every circumstance. 2 Cor 12:9 “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Thankful that justice will be met ultimately in the future if not now- Hebrews 9:27 "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:"
I am going to be honest, I don't feel like giving thanks when I am hurting. It is so hard to see what good there is at our darkest points and most of us do not have it in us to give God praise and thanksgiving at these moments. So where does the strength come from to be able to do this?
The Power We Need
If we take this verse out of context, we will miss out on so much of the meaning that is intended here. Ephesians 5:18 begins the direct context of this verse: "And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit" Contrary to being drunk, Paul commands us to be allowing ourselves to be filled with the Holy Ghost. If we do this, the filling of the Spirit will produce three things according to our text:
Singing praise to God in Psalms, Hymns and spiritual songs
Giving thanks always for all things to God
Submission to one another
Notice our text verse is one of these results of walking in the Spirit. You and I do not have the strength in ourselves to give God thanks at our darkest moments, but God has given us His Spirit. It is His Spirit that produces this heart of gratitude within us.
As an illustration, let me tell you about an event in my life. It was one of the most earth shattering events for my life. It crumbled my self-identity and for months afterward I struggled with the "Why?" of what happened. Many of you know that Katy and I were missionaries in NE India working with the Bhutanese people. We had been there for a total now of almost 8 months and I was planning my first trip into Bhutan to make plans for future work with the Bhutanese people. I was able to go to Bhutan for almost two weeks and it was great. An Amazing experience. On our way back into India, I was stopped at the border and interrogated for 8 hours. At the end of that interrogation, I was told we had 10 days to pack up our belongings and leave India and we couldn't come back. The long drive back from the border of Bhutan to our small town in the Himalayas was the most heart wrenching time of my life. I can't say I dealt with the pain and disappointment very well after reaching the States, but at that moment, there was a strength. The whole way back God gave me a song and a prayer on my lips. I could trust that He knew what He was doing. I was able to thank Him for allowing me the opportunity to at least get my family (originally, they weren't going to let me into the country at all). I have experienced this strength from the Spirit at times I would never have expected to. I know how hard it is to give thanks during seasons like this. I may not have gone through exactly what you have gone through, but I have known the power that God gives. I know He can give you the strength to endure this trial and not just to endure the trial: to be triumphant and praise Him during the trails. Not always for the pain, but for what God is doing in the pain.