At Thanksgiving our family shares the usual list of what we are thankful for—good health, family, the delicious food, and so on. Our list, while accurate, is often deficient. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Paul admonishes the believers—those who are “in Christ” by virtue of their personal faith—“In everything give thanks for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” “Everything” must include triumph as well as tribulation, for they had “received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). Christians called to gratitude even in groaning seems masochistic, or at least naïve, but it is not.
For the mandate to become meaningful we must first realize that tribulation is promised to all who are “in Christ.” Jesus told His disciples, “…In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). We are called to, “take up our cross daily” (Luke 9:23) where “cross” is a metaphor for suffering. Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and His followers should expect no less (John 15:20).
Secondly, we are thankful for that which is painful only if it is profitable. I’m thankful for the sore muscles that result in a firmer core. Consider two ways that suffering profits God’s people.
First of all, suffering enables us to gain and give Christ’s comfort. Because Christ suffered injustice, physical abuse, and rejection, He sympathizes with His followers, understands the language of sorrow and pain, and provides His comfort (2 Corinthians 1:5). As those who have gained Christ’s comfort in our suffering, we are then able to give it to others (2 Corinthians 1:6). A friend of mine who was comforted in his pain by Christ’s suffering shares that comfort with others.
Secondly, our suffering enables us to grow deeper in communion with God. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The Bible offers us a person, not a complete explanation. Jesus Christ, the only perfect human being, was not exempt from pain. He models trust in and obedience to a loving Father even when He permitted pain. Pain is never pointless with God.
Suffering reveals our inability to control our lives. The storms of life are often God’s reminder that we are utterly dependent upon His grace. When trials come, will they draw us closer to or drive us further from God? God’s heart is near the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18).
God never uses trials to punish His children, but to perfect them. God’s love for us is unquestionably seen at the cross. Happy Thanksgiving.