I’d been talking about “rejoicing always” (Philip.4:4) –both in battles and in blessings.
Afterwards, we were praying about various trials some of us are going through – sickness, weariness, that sort of thing – when suddenly one of our elders began to thank God for them.
“Thank you that my wife has been ill with this bug for weeks and that even though we prayed for her tonight there’s no sign of improvement. Thank you for the migraine that my sister has. Thank you for the fact my head’s been all over the place today.” And so on.
The household was neatly divided into two.
There were those who caught on and started enthusiastically to thank God for other difficulties. “Thank you that that promising young disciple is in a real mess at the moment, getting tangled up with drugs.” “Thank you that my work partner is often in such a bad mood.” “Thank you for my anxieties”...
The other half were obviously rather bewildered. Surely this wasn’t right? Surely we should be asking God to intervene in such circumstances, to change them. Not thanking God for things which weren’t – well – right!
After a little while I stopped things, and commented with a chuckle how odd we find it to do what the New Testament actually tells us to do:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2)
“Rejoice in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3a)
We can easily read such verses and give them lip-service; but when you think about it – considering trials “pure joy” is not generally our mindset at all! The reason that James and Paul give is identical:
“...because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:3)
“...because we know that suffering produces perseverance” (Romans 5:3b)
We should rejoice in trials and hardships – yes, even thank God for them – because they develop our character, cause us to grow and mature (as James puts it, to “mature and complete, not lacking anything”).
The more you think about it, the more it seems that such an approach is all over the New Testament. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation”, “All things work together for good for those who love God”, “Through many trials we enter the kingdom”, “In everything give thanks”...
Not that there isn’t also plenty about asking God to change things, to intervene, to heal, to deliver, to turn things around. But we should thank God and rejoice all the way through, however He “answers”.
This morning, I got an email from a sister in the household. I think it sums things up quite well:
“I really enjoyed last night thanking God for trials. I think I had not done it very much lately but it is such a powerful thing to do because it confuses the devil no end and it encourages us. It helps us to rely on God more again. God said all things work together for good for those who love him but we find it quite hard to believe that, don't we? Anyway, bless you for bringing that word. Don't give up on teaching us to rejoice. We will get better at it and it will become more normal for us.”