12 Things To Thank God For In The Midst Of Affliction

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One of the most important things we must do when we suffer is to give thanks.  I don’t say this lightly and I know many believers who have endured unimaginable pain and tragedy.  Giving thanks in the midst of agony and affliction is certainly not easy to do. 

Yet Ephesians 5:20 tells us we should give thanks “always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” and 1 Thess 5:18 says to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Giving thanks helps us focus on God in our affliction, steers us away from complaining, strengthens our faith and brings glory to Jesus.

There are many things we can give thanks for when we suffer, but here are 12 that I try to remember:

1) That God is sovereign and in complete control of the intensity and the duration of your affliction.

I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose Is 46:9-10

2) That God’s love and mercies never cease

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness. LA 3:22-23

3) That Jesus will never leave nor forsake you.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” HEB 13:5

4) That God is with you in your affliction

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. IS 43:2

5) That God hears your every prayer

The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous
and his ears toward their cry. Ps 34:15

When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears
and delivers them out of all their troubles. PS 34:17

6) That God is using this affliction to make you like Christ.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28-29)

7) That this affliction is momentary and light compared to the eternal reward it is producing

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison… 2 CO 4:17

8) That Jesus is your sympathetic High Priest who intercedes for you constantly

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. HEB 4:15

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. HEB 7:25

9) That God is near you in your pain

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit. PS 34:18

10) That Jesus is your refuge, strength, and strong tower you can run to.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1, ESV)

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. PR 18:10

11) That God has saved you, washed away your sins, and adopted you as his own child.

Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. RO 4:7

12) That someday Jesus will wipe away every tear from your eyes and you will see his glorious face.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. REV 21:4

How To Make Your Doctor’s Day

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Or at least make her smile.

A couple weeks ago, I went to see my family doctor. He’s been treating me for years. Our visits are usually pretty low key. He asks me questions while squinting at my chart, listens to my lungs, asks me what I’m doing for Christmas or vacation, makes a couple corny jokes, answers any questions I have, writes my prescription and says see you next time. I’ll ask him what he’s doing for Christmas or vacation, ask a question or two like is it really necessary to have a colonoscopy again so soon, thank him, and say see you next time. But this last visit, I gave him pause. And I think I made him smile. At least I hope so.

At the end of my visit, just before he left, I said, “Hey Doctor, could you wait just one more minute? I have something I’d like to say to you.” He immediately sat down with a concerned look on his face. Was I going to tell him I was in excruciating pain? Was I going to blast him? I’d never said I had something else to say to him.

I said, “I don’t know if you get a lot of thanks or not,” I said. “But I would like to seriously thank you Doctor. You have done me a lot of good over the years. You have taken care of me, I have experienced healing numerous pains and sicknesses because you have prescribed medicine for me. And I have been thinking about this lately. Two years ago you saved my life when you had me get a stress test when I was having burning in my chest. They found I had a 95% blockage in an artery and gave me a stent. I could have had a heart attack. So you saved my life. So I just want to thank you.

I couldn’t tell through his thick glasses if his eyes were getting moist. But he seemed affected. I went on. “Doctor, I don’t know if you think about this, but you are doing a lot of good to a lot of people. You are bringing healing and relief of pain and comfort to hundreds of people. And you’ve been doing it for years. I hope you know how much good you are doing.

He thanked me and mentioned another man he’d just scheduled for a stress test. Then we shook hands and went on to the next patient. I hope I made his day.

I want to grow in thankfulness. By appreciating my doctor I was also appreciating how God blesses me through him. That’s the next thing I hope to tell him. That what he does represents God in his desire to heal and save lives and bless. Hopefully a visit in the future.

Jesus’ followers should be the most grateful people on the face of the earth. This Christmas, let’s think back over God’s goodness to us this past year and forget not all his benefits.

I Wouldn’t Forget If My Neighbor’s House Were Filled With Frogs…Or Would I?

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.  Psalm 103:2

“And when the LORD your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you-with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant-and when you eat and are full, then take care lest you forget the LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  Deuteronomy 6:10-12

I forget stuff all the time.  

I forget to buy dog food (how could I when I have so much affection for those two filthy curs – I mean, sweet little bundles of love).  I forget to exercise (on purpose).  Last week I forgot to take the trash out on the appointed day.  Nothing like keeping your stinking garbage an extra week.  Sometimes I forget to take medicine I’m supposed to take – good thing I’m such a paragon of health and vitality.

How easy it is to forget God’s benefits. God warned Israel that when they were enjoying the blessings of the promised land to take care lest they forget how he delivered them from Egypt.  Really? How could they forget all the plagues, a pillar of fire and looking at the walls of water on either side of them as they sallied forth on dry land right through the middle of the Red Sea?  If Pittsburgh were overrun by frogs, and even the Steelers had frogs in their bedrooms, I don’t think I’d forget that.  But God knows our tendency to forget, so he warned Israel about forgetting his mighty deliverance.  And you know what?  They forgot.

We should try to develop the habit of regularly thanking God for his blessings. In everything give thanks. Give thanks continually. We should be the most grateful people on the face of the earth.  Paul prayed for his converts to abound in thanksgiving.

A few suggestions:

When you pray begin with thanks. Enter his gates with thanksgiving.  Before bringing all our requests to God, thank him for a few minutes.  Thank him for the blessings of the previous day.  For helping you on that exam.  For protecting your child.  For a great time in church.

Keep a prayer journal – write down things you are thankful for.  Two or three times a week, before I begin my requests, I take a few minutes to write out my thanks.  A few simple sentences.  Nothing profound.  But it helps me focus and remember to give thanks.

Thank God for all he did to redeem you.  For Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension.  For all Jesus endured to bring you to God.

Thank God for your spouse and children if you have them.  For their lives and health and all God’s mercies to them.

Thank God for spiritual blessings. That he pardons all your sins, joins you to Christ, and adopted you as his child.  For the Holy Spirit and power.  For spiritual gifts. For transforming you into the likeness of his Son.  

Thank God for his word and hundreds of promises.  For promising to hear your prayers, and to be with you when you pass through flood and fire.  For his promises to counsel you and give you wisdom.  For his promises to bless our children.  For his promise to complete the good work he began in you.

Thank God for your church.  Your friends, your home group leader, Your children’s ministry teachers your pastors.

Thank God for material blessings.  For your health and strength.  For your job and apartment or home.  For your car and gas for it.  For your computer and phone and all kinds of other luxuries and conveniences.

Thank God for how he treats you.  For his patience and long-suffering, faithfulness, compassion and sympathy, and his steadfast love.

Thank God for as many mercies as you can discern in every affliction.  For any relief and help.  For somehow working your pain and sadness for your good and God’s glory.  For humbling you through it.  For   his sympathy and compassion toward you.

Thank God for future blessings.  That you will see Jesus face to face and worship and enjoy him forever.  That God has prepared great rewards in heaven for you.  That you will see loved ones again in heaven.  That you will have a resurrection body.  That Jesus will wipe every tear from you eye. 

You get the idea.  

Lord Jesus, thank you, thank you, thank you for all your benefits.  Help us to abound in thankfulness.

Really? ALL THINGS Without Grumbling? Really?

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, Php 2:14-15

Are you kidding? All things? All things without grumbling?

You don’t know my boss. You don’t know the ridiculous burdens he straps on our backs every day. All things? You don’t know what a slob my husband is and how I have to constantly pick up after him.  You don’t have to work in a cubicle next to Mr. “I’m wearing cologne you can smell in 3 states.”

All things without grumbling? Did Paul have a two-year-old? I don’t think so. Paul wouldn’t survive one morning at my house with my kids. He’d be revising Philippians by 10:30 a.m.  Do all things without grumbling? I don’t think Paul had to pay the kind of taxes I have to pay. He didn’t have to jump through the hoops and forms I have to jump through and fill out. 

The “all things” Paul tells us to do without grumbling aren’t the fun things.  Nobody grumbles about having to do something fun or pleasant.  It’s the miserable things.  The hard tasks.  The unreasonable assignments.  The ridiculous chore that you’ll just have to do again tomorrow anyway.  The unexpected tasks.  The interruptions.  The things you’d rather not do.  Cleaning up after that person.  Serving that ungrateful customer.

Paul – actually, God – tells us we’re to do ALL things without grumbling or disputing. We may think this is impossible given where we work, our boss, our coworkers.  As I wrote this I thought about Christians suffering for their faith in North Korean labor camps. Even there God requires his servants to do all things without grumbling or disputing. Wow.  What grace that would take.  We have it easy, yet how quickly we slide into complaining.

Why does God give us this command? Isn’t it enough to be morally pure? Isn’t it enough not to curse and punch holes in the wall when required to do something unpleasant? What’s so bad about complaining or grumbling a little bit? Everybody does it.

That’s just it – everybody does it.

We complain about everything. We complain about the weather and the traffic and the government. We complain about being stuck working inside when the weather’s nice. We bellyache about our boss. About our co-workers. About the customers. We grumble about our teens and our toddlers.  It’s our way of life.

That’s why God wants us to be different. He wants us to stand out against the dark backdrop of the world as his witnesses.

When we go about that ridiculous assignment cheerfully, we stand out as “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation”.  The world is watching us. The world wants to assure itself that Christians aren’t any different from them.  If we act just like them, then our faith hasn’t done anything for us. It hasn’t changed us.  Why should they cry out to a Savior if it doesn’t matter? Why should they repent and turn from sin?

Most unbelievers don’t commit adultery. Most don’t steal. Most are decent, upright citizens. But everyone complains. Everybody grumbles. So Paul says that when we do all things without grumbling we stand out.  It demonstrates the reality of our faith. There’s nothing to accuse us of – we’re blameless and innocent not only in God’s eyes but in the world’s eyes.  We “shine as lights in the world” –  we’re blazing beacons in a dark world. We’re powerful witnesses for Jesus.

How do we get there? The best way is by practicing thankfulness. Thank God for anything and everything.  Thank him for your unreasonable boss. Thank him for that unpleasant assignment. For your co-worker and that cologne he wears that makes you gag.

Oh, by the way, don’t thank him for your co-worker’s cologne in the next cubicle out loud.

The Antidote To Self-Pity

“Self-pity is a vacuum into which gratitude cannot enter. In fact, self-pity and thanksgiving cannot coexist. They are mutually exclusive. Although thanksgiving is the antidote to this poison, few bound by self-pity will take the foray into expressing thanks for all the blessings they do have.” – William P Farley, “The Poison of Self-Pity”

Thanksgiving is the antidote to self-pity.

Self-pity is a weed that grows in the garden of expectations. I expect an easy life. I won’t have to suffer. Things should always go my way.

Self-pity says things like: I can’t believe this is happening to me. I don’t deserve this. How could a loving God do this to me? You’ve got to be kidding me. Why does this have to happen now?

Self-pity forgets all God’s benefits. It fails to give thanks. Instead it focuses on what it doesn’t have. What it thinks it should have but doesn’t.

That’s why its antidote is giving thanks. So if you’re entrenched in self-pity, or have recently been slipping into it, you can turn it around.

Start thanking God for anything and everything you can. Thank him for saving you and forgiving your sins. For giving you eternal life. For giving you his Holy Spirit. For adopting you into his family. For his steadfast love that never ceases.

Thank him for his mercies. For NOT giving you what you DO deserve – his condemnation and wrath. For being your refuge and strength. For being a sympathetic high priest who knows what you’re going through and cares about you in it. For any respite or relief from your pain, for the gift of sleep, for friends who pray for you and care about you.

Thanksgiving is a fight. Especially when you don’t feel like it. It’s a fight against self-pity. It’s a fight of faith.

Thanksgiving is the antidote to self- pity.

Write that down. Read the above quote again. Get a journal and record all God’s benefits. Thank God for as many things as you can each day – your food, your sight, hearing, taste and touch. For whatever provision God supplies.

Thank God that he is using your suffering to make you like Christ, to produce perseverance, character and hope. And thank Jesus that someday he’ll wipe away every tear from your eyes.

So if you catch yourself asking why is this happening to me, grab yourself, shake yourself and start to offer up a sacrifice of thanksgiving. You’ll find joy will begin to trickle back into your soul.

An Open Letter From Satan

Hey folks,

I hope you’re recovering quickly from your turkey induced comas, and your green bean casserole hangovers. But as much as I care about your health, there’s an even more important issue I want to talk about: thankfulness. Yesterday was rough, I know. With all the Facebook posts, Tweets, parades, family, killer pumpkin pie, Cool Whip, and football, it was hard not to be grateful. I don’t fault you. I didn’t like it, but I don’t fault you.

But today is a new day, and a new day brings new opportunities. Now that Thanksgiving is past, it’s time to get back to what comes most naturally: ungratefulness. Now, I realize what you’re thinking. How can I recover my ungratefulness mojo? Don’t worry. That’s why I’m here to help. By doing one simple thing you can get right back into your grumbling groove. What is that one simple thing?

FORGET.

It’s that easy! Simply forget.

First and foremost, forget about that ridiculous “rugged cross” (or however that atrocious hymn goes). I’ve noticed that people who linger at the cross tend to be filled with gratefulness. Gratefulness spills out of them, like grease from a filthy pan. We don’t want that. So stay away from that cross! Don’t let your mind be cluttered with ideas of forgiveness, ransom, and great burdens rolling off backs. If anything, I would suggest you turn your attention to all the things you must do for God. Yes, yes, that’s a much better course of action.

Second, be wary of recalling the past. If you think too much about the past, there’s a good chance that you’ll accidentally remember God’s faithfulness, blessings, and steadfast love. Wouldn’t that be a mistake! Stay firmly rooted in the problems of the here and now. Keep your mind fixed on your tight budget, rather than on the ways God has provided in the past. Keep your mind fixed on the delicious sins that keep tripping you up, rather than on God’s past faithfulness to help you overcome sin. If I had the ability to do a memory wipe on you, I would. Because you really need to forget about the past.

Finally, and this really is important, forget about all the blessings that are currently heaped around you. Family? Forget about it. Health? Meh, let it go. The fact that you can go to school? Big whoop. All that food you ate yesterday? Fuggeddaboutit. All the books, Bibles, clothes, friends, clean water, beds without malaria nets, and furniture. Not important. Instead of remembering your blessings, put your laser focus on all that you don’t have.

If you follow this one simple step, you can be back to your old, grumbling, ungrateful, moody, mostly miserable self. Stay forgetful my friends, stay forgetful.

Sincerely,

Satan

+photo by kevinzim

How To Give Thanks When You Don’t Seem To Have Anything To Give Thanks For

Photo by Audrey Grace

I’ve been thinking about the issue of giving thanks to God recently. There’s a phrase in Colossians 2:7 that’s lodged in my mind: “abounding in thanksgiving.” Wouldn’t you like that to be a description of your life? “He was always giving thanks to God.” “She always seemed so thankful to God.” Too often – in fact, I would say it’s the majority of the time in my life – I lack a grateful heart for sinful reasons. They’re easy to name, hard to root out: I’m self-focused. I make “needs” out of things I was never meant to need. I lose sight of how desperate my state should be apart from Christ.

But there’s another reason it’s hard to abound in thanksgiving. Sometimes there are days when things genuinely go wrong. Our present world is not a finely-tuned engine running perfectly; things are horribly out of alignment. Death, sickness, others’ sins against us all exist because this world is not the way it is supposed to be. Sin has ravaged the very fabric of our world, and none of us escape that reality.

So what are we to do? Can we abound in thanksgiving when a family member is diagnosed with terminal cancer, when we lose the job that keeps food on the table for a growing family, when we see friends we dearly love stubbornly close their hearts to the gospel that we know is their only hope? Can we be truly grateful while living in the midst of a broken world?

The answer is yes, but not perhaps in the way we often think. Often our counsel to people experiencing genuine brokenness, and our response when we’re in those circumstances, is too trite and deeply unbiblical. If we boil it down, the essence is, “It could be worse, okay? Just find something to be grateful for and quit whining.” But Scripture never glosses over the ugliness that is this our fallen world. To attempt to be thankful in a superficial or shallow way when confronted with genuine brokenness is to fight against the echoes of Eden in our soul which shout, “This is not the way it was meant it be!” How then do we maintain grateful hearts while living in a broken world?

The answer is this: we must remember we are only temporary residents in this broken world. To be a Christian is to be a pilgrim in this world but a citizen in the next. On days and in seasons (perhaps very lengthy seasons) where our lives are profoundly affected by the brokenness of this world, we can give thanks for a coming day when all shall be well. Things now are disturbingly, sometimes crushingly, out of order. God does not call us to pretend that such trials are anything but heartbreaking and agonizing. Instead He weeps with us while promising that one day His own hand will wipe away the last tear our eyes will ever shed. That future hope is the source our present gratitude. We do not belong here! And in this vale of tears, the vision of that eternal city with God is what sustains our weary yet grateful hearts.

Philippians 3:20-21: But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,  21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

The Most Exquisite Pleasure I Have Ever Had

Would you like to increase your joy in the Lord?  (Talk about a loaded question.  No Mark, I want less joy.  Tell me how I can decrease it).

One of the ways God produces joy in my life is giving thanks.

Giving thanks – as much and as often as we can for as many things as we can – is one of the most important spiritual habits we can cultivate.

David MacIntyre, in his book, The Hidden Life of Prayer, tells us:

Fraser of Brea, at one time a prisoner for Christ’s sake on the Bass Rock, resolved that he would search out and record the loving-kindnesses of God. He did so with a very happy effect upon his own spirit. He says, “The calling to mind and seriously meditating on the Lord’s dealings with me as to soul and body, His manifold mercies, has done me very much good, cleared my case, confirmed my soul of God’s love and my interest in Him, and made me love Him. Oh,…what wells of water have mine eyes been opened to see, which before were hid. Scarce anything hath done me more good than this.”

Recently two things have inspired me to try to be grateful for small blessings.

I recently asked a friend who is suffering from cancer what he was going to do that evening.  He said, “I’m just going to stay in and stay warm.  I used to make all kinds of plans to do this and do that, but now I’m just grateful to be able to relax in a warm house.”

How many blessings I take for granted.  I should thank Jesus every day for a warm home, a hot shower, a cup of coffee in the morning.

I was also inspired by this quote from the The Hidden Life of Prayer:

“I have experienced today the most exquisite pleasure that I have ever had in my life,” said a young invalid; “I was able to breathe freely for about five minutes.”

Wow.  How often do we thank God we can breathe?  That we can see and hear?  And walk?  And read, and think clearly, and laugh?

Let’s thank God today for every small blessing – every “exquisite pleasure” – we can think of.  Make a list.  Write your blessings on post-it notes.  Write them on a white board or in a prayer journal.

What are some small blessings you are grateful for?

A Cup of Coffee Would Save my Life

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – Psalm 103:2

Thanksgiving is a day to remember all God’s benefits and blessings. In Christ believers receive innumerable spiritual blessings and benefits. Who can calculate all God’s kindnesses and mercies to us in Jesus? Forgiveness, justification, fellowship with God, joy inexpressible and full of glory, the hope of seeing Christ’s face are but a few of his incredible blessings.

Thanksgiving is also a day we can thank God for his “common grace”. Common grace is the kindness God shows to all men, saved and unsaved. “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt. 5:45).

I recently read a story of God’s mercy in the Mexican war in 1846. It is recounted in the book Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides.

General Stephen Watts Kearny led a force of 100 dragoons to fight against a few hundred Mexican caballeros led by Capt. Andres Pico in the Battle of San Pasqual. The dragoons were confident their guns would decimate the Mexicans who were armed primarily with lances, but discovered in the heat of battle that their ammunition had gotten damp during the night, and their guns wouldn’t fire. The Mexican lances shredded the Americans. The Americans who escaped camped on a hill called Mule Hill surrounded by the enemy, awaiting reinforcements.

Sides says that many were wounded and “had developed gangrene or horrible infections in the deep punctures left by the lances.” Then he tells this story which displays God’s mercy to a dying soldier.

One member of the party, a French trapper named Robideaux who had lost a great amount of blood was hovering near death. The men had more or less written off the poor fellow, who in his death agonies kept hallucinating that he smelled coffee—a luxury no one traveling with Kearny had seen or tasted in months. “Don’t you smell it?” Robideaux beseeched them. “A cup of coffee would save my life!”

Everyone knew that the mountain men were all inveterate coffee addicts—especially the French—so Lieutenant Emory believed that the doomed man was simply exercising a final Gallic nostalgia before passing on to his reward. “I supposed a dream had carried him back to the cafes of St. Louis and New Orleans,” Emory said.

But he was soon shocked to find that Robideaux was right—somewhere in the camp a cook was indeed heating up a cup of coffee over a sagebrush fire. Emory went over and persuaded him to give it up to the dying Frenchman. Says Emory: “One of the most agreeable little offices performed in my life, and I believe in the cook’s , was to pour this precious draught into the waning body of our friend Robideaux. His warmth returned, and with it hopes of life.” Robideaux soon recovered and swore for the rest of his days that he owed his life to coffee.

I love this story. In his mercy, God gave a dying French trapper a cup of coffee and many more days of life.

As you’re enjoying your Thanksgiving feast today thank God for his kindness in saving you through the blood of Jesus, and thank him for his common grace and goodness in giving us blessings like food and drink. I know that after I finish my turkey, I’ll cry out to my wife Kristi, “A cup of coffee would save my life!”

Originally published 11/22/07

photo by feverblue

To The Bestest Readers In The World-Wide Blogosphere

It’s Thanksgiving week and one of the things that Stephen and I are particularly grateful for is all of you who read our blog.

We want to say thank you for reading our blog, thank you for all your encouraging comments and emails. Thanks for your comments even when you’ve disagreed with us! Thank you even if you only “lurk around” as one person told me, and don’t leave any comments. Thank you for sharing our posts on Facebook and Twitter.  And thank you for assuring me time and again how cool yet age-appropriate I dress.

We’d love to hear any thoughts you have on how we could improve our blog, or topics you might like to see us address.  However, please don’t ask me to address any topics that have to deal with politics, nuclear physics, or gardening, as I’m woefully ignorant on those topics, though the one summer I had a garden I did manage to grow a softball-sized pumpkin on the end of a 200-foot vine that took up half my back yard.

Again, thanks for being the bestest readers in the whole world-wide blogosphere interweb!

photo by Cathdew