Charles Stanley — Thanksgiving In The Midst Of Adversity
It's one thing to be grateful when everything is going your way, but when everything is not going your way, what is your response? And sometimes we justify our wrong attitude, our ugly attitude, our ungrateful spirit by saying, Well, God shouldn't allow these things to happen to me. Or, if God is who He says He is, He wouldn't allow this to happen. And they may look in the Bible and tell you, Well, there are some parts of the Bible I don't understand. And so, instead of rejoicing and praising God and thanking Him for who He is and what He has done for you, sometimes we let doubts sort of scatter our thoughts of thanksgiving.
But today I want you to listen very carefully, because I want to talk to you about why you should be a very grateful person. What God is doing in your life and the consequences of what He's doing in your life. And I want you to turn if you will to First Thessalonians and Paul in First Thessalonians in this fifth chapter, he's ending up this epistle and he comes to these latter verses and he says a great deal, in verse after verse. But when you come to the sixteenth verse, there's sort of a triad here and he says three things. He says number one, "Rejoice always". Is that easy? No, it's not. Then he says, "Pray without ceasing". Is that easy? Not, not really. Then he says, "In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus".
Is that easy? No, it's not. So, if you'll notice in verse eighteen he says, "In everything give thanks". Now hold it, hold your finger right there. Go back to Ephesians chapter five; Ephesians chapter five, and look what he says in verse twenty. And then I'll talk about the difference. Verse twenty says, "Always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father". Now hold it right there. I'm going back, "In everything give thanks". "Always giving thanks for all things". Now this is where sometimes I think people get confused, and if you're one of those persons who's not a believer, not a Christian, you'd say, See, there's no way I could be a Christian, if I have to give thanks for everything.
So, let me just clarify something. When Paul said in this passage, "Always giving thanks for all things in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ". Watch this. I can't ask God, or give thanks for things that are totally inconsistent with the nature of God. For example, let's say your little boy steps out in front of the car and gets killed. Does God expect you to be happy and to thank Him for that? No. And for example, you go home from church and you have a note there from your husband or your wife and one of them says, Well, I'm just leaving you a note to tell you that I'm leaving you and I'm in love with somebody else and I'm going to get married and so this is the end of our marriage. Does God expect you to be grateful? No.
And so, then when Paul says in this fifth chapter of Thessalonians, he says, "In everything give thanks". That is in every circumstance, I can give thanks for what? That He's my Savior, my Lord, my Master, my God. Lord, I don't understand why You allowed this to happen, but in the midst of this, I'm going to give You thanks because I know that You'll help me to survive. You'll help me to be able to bear the pain; to get through the sorrow and the heartache and the loss and all the adversity I feel in my heart. I'm going to thank You that You'll be with me in it. But I'm not thanking God for what happened. Anything that is inconsistent with who God is. We don't thank Him for that.
That's not what Paul's thinking about. He's thinking about our relationship to Him, and that we can give thanks for whatever God allows in our life because we're giving thanks to Him, listen, because of who Christ is within us. Whatever He allows in our life, He will turn it for good because we read what else Paul said when he said, God causes all things to work together for good, watch this, to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose. Even the most difficult trying heartbreaking things He will turn for our good. Do we always understand that? No. He didn't say I had to understand it. In fact, there's an old gospel hymn, we'll understand it better by and by. By and by, not necessarily now. But now what Paul is referring to, Now in the midst of all of this we can be grateful to God.
So, what I want to do is I want us to think about why should we be grateful to God in everything? Number one, and I'm going to give you a list here. It keeps us continually aware that we are walking in His presence; which contributes to a godly life. By thanking Him in everything, I'm being continually reminded that I'm walking in His presence. I'm not walking alone. So, whatever I may hurt over, whatever I may weep over, whatever I may suffer loss about, I know this. That I'm walking in His presence, that I'm not doing it alone. And if there's one thing we need, when we're going through turmoil and heartache and loss of somebody we love or some situation or circumstances; there is something about being aware of the presence, in His presence, in everything give thanks, even in the midst of it.
And so, one of the reasons I should give thanks is because what does it do? It contributes to a godly life; because if I'm aware of His presence, then I'm thinking about how does God see this? What has God promised me in the midst of this? How is He going to work in this situation, circumstance? And so, I think one of the primary reasons we're to give thanks is it reminds us that we're walking in His presence. And when you begin your day aware that you are walking in His presence; that He's living on the inside of you. That no matter what happens during the day, it'll happen in the presence of an all-loving, omnipotent, omniscient omnipresent, holy God. You're walking in His presence. What could be finer than that?
There's a second reason, and that's this. That being grateful motivates us to look for His purpose in everything that happens. If I'm grateful, I'm going to look for His purpose. God, I don't understand it. And I think all of us could list some things in our life that have happened to us that we'd say, Well, God, what are you up to? He doesn't, watch this, He doesn't expect us to figure that out. In other words, God will sometimes reveal His purpose and sometimes He doesn't, probably at some point in life He will. But oftentimes you and I face circumstances that are a shock to us. Well, God, I didn't expect that. I didn't anticipate that. Does that mean that God has forgotten you? No. Does that mean I'm to be grateful? Yes, I am. Even though I don't understand His purpose, I'm still to be grateful because He says He, watch this, He, "causes all things to work together for good, to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose".
That is, those who are walking in His will, He'll turn it to good. If you're living in sin, or you get disappointed with something God does in your life and you say, Well, if God loved me, He wouldn't let it happen. And you decide to walk away from God, then you can't claim that promise. God, listen, God, who is this God? The only person who can say this is Almighty Sovereign God of the Universe. God causes all things. That's what happened to you; that's what happened to you. He causes all things to work together for good. That is, He'll turn the worst kind of things for good, if I trust Him. And if I'm able to just say, Well, God, I don't understand it. I don't like it. It's painful. I feel the loss. This doesn't fit what I think about You, but I'm going to trust You; because You're a loving God and I'm going to thank you in spite of everything I feel.
You say, Oh, that's not real. You know when you'll find out it's real? When you do it. And sometimes we think, Well, because I don't feel it, it's not true. Listen. God is the same when things are good. He's the same when things are bad. He doesn't change. When He makes a promise, He keeps His promise. There's a third reason for giving thanks. It brings us into submission to His will when we are suffering pain and heartache. In other words, we're going through some very painful thing. It may be emotionally because of your family and so forth. It may be something physical, whatever it might be. And it does something to my pain and my hurt when I'm able to thank Him even in the midst of it.
Thanksgiving, how a thankful heart, a heart of gratitude, listen, you can't be grateful to God and God ignore it. Because when you're grateful to God and you're expressing it, you say, Well, look, I can express gratitude, but I don't feel it. You know how to feel it? Keep thanking Him; and before long you'll think, Praise God! Well, I do feel grateful. Now over here, I didn't feel grateful. I said it and said it and said it, but I was just saying it. Because listen, God understands our emotions. He understands what hurt, pain, sorrow, disappointment, being shut out, being rejected. He knows all about that and He knows that the first time we thank Him, that we're saying it, but deep down inside we haven't gotten there. What I want you to remember is this. God fully understands humanity. He understands you.
You say, but you don't know what I've been through. Well, you don't know what I've been through, either. I do know this, watch this carefully. God doesn't play favorites. He keeps His Word to all of us no matter who we are, and I should certainly give thanks to God knowing that even though I don't understand why, He's working out everything for my good. There's another reason; and that is thanking God reminds us of our continuing dependence upon Him. And I think one thing that displeases God is a sense of independence. I don't need Him. I can do it without Him. Living in a sense of dependence upon God rejoices the heart of God, for the simple reason that what you're saying is, God, I'm trusting You for today.
Now, think about this. Every single day, every moment of our day you and I are dependent upon God. What security do we have? And in this day and time, what will it take to awaken God's people to the realization we have one day at a time; one moment at a time. Everything looks fine at this moment, and, all of a sudden, everything is changing this moment. But one thing has not changed and that's God. And if you're one of his children, your name's in the Lamb's Book of Life. He sealed you forever as a child of God. You're eternally secure no matter what happens without. What has happened within you by trusting Christ as your Savior does not change. You may not always feel it. You may feel hurt and pain and suffering and sorrow and all the rest. He is there to see you through that, no matter what. And a mature child of God is a person who lives in absolute dependence upon God every day because that's the only wise way to live because you are dependent upon Him.
Then of course, I think about it in this light. Thanking Him helps me trust Him when I don't understand why. All of us have been through circumstances that we didn't understand why. He never promises to tell me why. He promises to be with me no matter what; through it to enable us to face it and to walk through it, that's His promise. And one thing about thanksgiving, thanksgiving reminds me and helps me to remember the fact that I don't have to understand it; I just have to be obedient in the process. And then I think one other thing that happens is it's really essential in our rejoicing in the midst of suffering. In other words, if I'm going to rejoice realistically, I've got to thank Him.
Watch this carefully. The pain and hurt and suffering you may be going through may be so deep, so penetrating and so exhausting, that when you tell God you're grateful, you don't feel it. Well, how does God think about that? Here's how God thinks about it. I understand how you feel. I know your hurt; I know your pain; I know your suffering; I know when you tell Me that it's okay; that's only words because that's all you're capable of saying right now. The wonderful thing about a loving God is this. When I can't even express it, He hears it. When I feel so shut out, so rejected, so hurt, so full of pain and maybe it's physical pain. When my physical pain shouts louder than I can speak, one thing I know for sure. God hears me, though nobody else can. I can thank Him. I can thank Him no matter what. Watch this. I can thank Him with my lips, and that counts, until I can thank Him with my heart, my soul, my spirit, my very being. It all counts with Him; because He understands the depth of our hurt. The reason I know why is because He understood what Jesus was feeling when He was stretched out on a cross and crying out, "My God, My God, Why have You forsaken me"?
When I think about that, I think about He understands. Maybe when I don't feel it and I'm not all that sincere about God helping me, He understands. Then I think, when you and I can say, Thank You, God, for difficult times, there's something about our witness, about our testimony that changes. And so, when you can say to someone, You know, I've been there. Or when you can say, I know what it means to walk in your steps and I can tell you I understand why you don't believe. I understand why you're hurting. I understand why you don't want to talk about God; that you don't understand what He's doing. I understand that; because that's where I was. Our hurt, our pain, our suffering, our heartache, our burdens do what? They fling the door open to other people who need to look inside and say, There's somebody who understands me fully. And so, we make a great impact. Then of course, it helps us displace our own anxiety with peace.
In other words, the anxiety's gone and there's this awesome sense of peace. And you know the interesting thing about the Greek word "peace". The Greek word is "Eirene," which means to bind together. And so, when I think about the peace of God, we're bound with Him. When I think about the awesome sense of His presence and power in our life. Bound together. And when we're able to thank Him, something happens on the inside. What happens is the anxiety crumbles within us and the peace of God just fills us up. Watch this carefully. Nothing else may have changed. I may still be physically feeling what I'm feeling. I could be emotionally feeling what I'm feeling when I think about it. But there's an overwhelming sense of indescribable peace that only comes through a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
So, what's the wisest thing? When you go through some trauma, you have to get out the bottle and drink or smoke or chew or have an affair or run away from the circumstances. In other words, what's your response? When you turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, you may not feel it at first. You may not even know how to say it. You may just tell God, I don't even know how to pray. That's okay. He knows your heart. You tell Him. You keep talking to Him before long, you'll be thanking God, surprising yourself, because that's the work of the Holy Spirit. To mellow-up our heart, to give us understanding. To help us to see that He's willing... what did Paul say also in these epistles? Don't be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, Does he mean no anxiety? No, he doesn't mean that because sometimes we're hit with anxiety immediately. But don't stay there. I'm anxious about it now, but Lord, when I start praying and thanking God amidst my anxiety, my anxiety turns to peace.
And sometime when we read the scripture we say that's what it meant. Well, doesn't mean that you won't ever be anxious. But when we are, we turn to Him and the anxiety is replaced by peace. I don't understand it, God, but I want to thank You that You're in control. I want to thank You that You know all about it. I want to thank You that You know my future. I want to thank You that You have a will for my life. I want to thank You that You're going to work all this out. I don't like it. I don't understand it. And Lord, it's hurting me terribly; but I want to thank You, thank You, thank You that You haven't left me to myself. You're going to help me through this. And He will. Thanksgiving is a part of that.
And then this is one of the hardest things to do when you're really hurt, something's going on inside, and that's to focus on Him rather than the circumstances. If I focus on the circumstances, here's what happens. The pain becomes more unbearable. Peace eludes me. Nothing seems to work out right. If I'm focusing on what's happening and focusing on what I think the situation is, the circumstances, if that's my focus, I'm not going to have any peace. If that's my focus, I'm not going to have any thanksgiving. But I'm to focus on what I know is real. Watch this carefully. Whatever you're facing, this is real.
If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, this is real. If you're not, this is not true. If you're a follower of Jesus Christ and you're going through some terrible time in your life, whatever it may be, here's what you know for certain. Number one, you're not alone. Number two, He's with you. Number three, He loves you. Number four, You're eternally secure. Number five, He's going to walk with you through it. Number six, He's going to bring you through it. Number seven, He's going to turn this into something profitable in your life. And I could just go on and on and on of what happens when you and I begin to see it from God's perspective. Because He's that kind of God.
Now if you don't have Jesus, then what? What do you have to hold onto? I can tell you. Without Jesus, you don't have anything to hold onto. And if you've never trusted Jesus as your personal Savior, this is a perfect time to do it. You say, Well, what do I do? Well, first of all, you tell Him that you believe He is. God, I believe that You are. I don't understand it all, but I believe You are. I believe the testimony of scripture that You sent Jesus into the world for the primary purpose of dying on the cross. And somehow, though I don't fully understand it, God, somehow I read in the scriptures that His death made it possible for You to forgive me of my sins, and that's what happened. When He shed His blood, that was His life; He laid it down.
So, when you call upon Him to ask Him to forgive you of your sin, He will do so. You don't have to beg and plead, make promises, you're going to do this, no. You ask Him. He says if we confess our sins, He's faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. And then He says we're forgiven. He writes our name in the Lamb's Book of Life, that's the eternal book. When you die, you're going to heaven, not because you're perfect, but because His perfect Son paid the perfect price for you to be forgiven of your sin. It would be a shame for you to die without Jesus, especially when you've heard the truth. And no matter what you're facing in life, you can be forgiven. He'll change your eternal future if you'll do that sincerely. And that's my prayer for you.
Father, how very, very, very, very grateful we are. And while we could list many things, one is sufficient, Very grateful for Jesus through whom every good thing every blessing comes. I pray that every person who hears this message would be wise enough to receive Christ as their Savior. And every person going through difficulty, hardship and pain and suffering and all kinds of adversity, would be willing, not by feeling, but by choice, willing to start thanking You for what You're doing. Whatever Your reasoning may be, thanking You for Your purpose in their life. In Jesus' name, amen.