Since I will be on vacation for the next two weekends, I am reposting for this week and next week. This week is a repost from November of 2010. While some of the language is specific to that year, the thoughts behind it are still true. I hope that this is a timely encouragement during the season of thanksgiving.
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.” – Lamentations 3:19-24
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
I’m not sure about you, but 2010 has been a rough year. Not as rough for my family as some others I know, but it ranks up there as a lean year in many respects. The surprise for me is that I have never been as thankful as I have been this year. Not a stick-your-head-in-the-sand thankful; that is just avoiding reality with empty platitudes and heartless prayers. Not dutiful gratitude born out of blind obedience to some Christian ethic that says, “There is always something to be thankful for in what you are going through.” That just keeps our eyes off the true focus of our thanksgiving.
The reason I am more thankful this year is a deepening understanding of three words: God never changes. If this doesn’t make sense, think about what has brought you the most comfort in difficult times. I would lay odds that most would say family and friends; those we love anchor us and heal us and hold us when we are going through grief, pain and difficulty. Many of us would also say that sometimes those we love have let us down when we needed them most. This is where God’s unchanging character can step into our lives and fill the gaps to overflowing.
We live in a broken world where tragedy and trial come without warning or consideration. We are broken people with limitations, weaknesses and flaws that severely hamper our ability to truly satisfy the needs of others. Only one can give what is needed for each wound. Only one meets the needs of Jeremiah when he laments, “I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.” The God who never changes. When everything else is falling apart, including ourselves, God remains merciful, kind, compassionate, faithful and loving. He is our hope and comfort. This is at the heart of living in an attitude of thanksgiving.
This isn’t a roadmap to living life without pain and suffering. It is the compass that allows us to keep moving in the right direction in spite of our circumstances, both good and bad. When Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to “give thanks IN all circumstances” (emphasis mine), he means “in” not “for.” God is not thankful for hurt or pain or tragedy and I don’t believe He would require his children to either. Paul is reminding the Thessalonians, and us, that no matter what happens in this broken world, to broken people, God still loves and cares for us, still calls us onward to peace and joy, still holds us in his strong hands.
This Thanksgiving, hold this truth close to your heart and let it guide you to a gratitude that transforms and heals. Ask God to reveal His heart for you in the midst of your circumstances. Let God use you to be His compassion and mercy to those experiencing pain and suffering. Be grateful not for what you have, but for who you belong to, because God never changes.