Thanking God when it’s hard

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I love the stories of the patriarchs in Genesis (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph). To me, they are real life redemption stories. Yes, they go through a lot of drama and they make a lot of stupid mistakes (although not that much different from some of the stupid things we do nowadays). But they hang in there with God (more importantly, God hangs in there with them) and we see God’s amazing redemption in each of their lives.

One of the most compelling stories is about Joseph and his brothers (Gen 39-50). You know the story: Joseph brags about his grandiose dreams, the brothers get jealous and sell him into slavery.  Joseph ends up in Egypt and goes through a series of highs and lows. He ends up being Pharaoh’s right hand man, and wisely manages them through a world-wide famine. And finally his brothers come up to Egypt and beg him for food – but they don’t know that he is their brother.

When Joseph tearfully reveals who he is, the brothers tremble in fear. They are afraid that Joseph, the second most powerful man in the known world, will kill them because they betrayed him and sold him into slavery.

But Joseph had a different perspective. He summarized the hardship in which they placed him as this: “You meant it for harm, but God used it for good to accomplish what is now being done: the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20)

It took him a while, but Joseph understood the workings of God through hardship. In many ways, he was thankful for the hard times of the journey; because it was only through them that the greater redemptive plan could take place.

In our discussion on being thankful, we come to that awkward place of our hardships: they may be tragedies or missed opportunities, mistakes or betrayals, besetting sins or being “sinned on.” Sometimes when reflect on these things, James’ words about “considering trials pure joy” or Paul’s comments on how “God works everything together for the good” seem a bit too altruistic or even ludicrous.

But they aren’t. James is not a masochist and Paul is not a wishful thinker. Like Joseph, they understood that God’s grace is just as real as the harsh reality of our trial or trauma. In fact, I would venture to say that the “point of grace” is precisely at the “point of trial.” It is in our moment of deepest desperation and hopelessness that our cry to God is the purest act of faith we can express.

God hears. God responds. God acts.

But not always in the way we want or expect, or when we want it or expect it.

That is why giving thanks to God in the midst of our trials is so important. It helps us to keep perspective. It helps us to sustain faith. It helps us to persevere. And it helps us to “wait on the Lord.”

I have learned through my Christian friends and mentors the importance to give thanks in every circumstance. Some of them have gone through horrendous trials and horrific trauma. Some have lost children, spouses and loved ones. Some have had huge health setbacks and have gone through arduous treatment. Some have been unjustly maligned or betrayed by others. Some have been unemployed for extended periods of time – in spite of constant efforts to find employment.

In their trials, they have held onto their faith in Christ. Actually, they have all grown in the Spirit. And how they shine! Each of them would say that one of the keys to their thriving in hardship is giving thanks to God. Giving thanks is a “lifeline” to God.

We are personally going through several hard situations at this moment. We have loved ones in peril, in hardship, and in darkness. As Letty and I pray for them, we look for ways we can give thanks to God. It’s hard and it’s arduous, but when we find that “wisp of grace” in the midst of all that crud it brings us to our knees in worship. And we begin to understand what Joseph realized:

Darkness meant it for harm, but God is using it for good!

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