Monday, July 21, 2014

How Do I Give Thanks?

“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, NASB).

            Today, I have been pondering this short passage that the apostle Paul wrote. Many, many times in my life I have had people use this very passage to tell me that I needed to thank God for the kidnapping or thank God when suffering occurs. Yet, I have never been able to do so. How does one thank God for something incredibly evil? How does one thank God for a terrible sickness? Unfortunately, these well-meaning Christians have taken this passage and applied terrible hermeneutics.

            Paul was not saying thank God for evil; instead, he was reminding the Christians to give thanks “at all times” to Christ Jesus. God wants us to thank Him for the hope we have in Christ and for the truth that God will continue to work in our lives despite present sorrow or difficulties. I am facing the possibilities of yet another health challenge. Last night, as I was sitting in church, I became acutely aware that I was not going to fight anymore. I am tired. I am tired of praying and hoping for word from Christi and Bobby. I am tired of dealing with tiredness, severe pain daily with my eyes, and simply tired of the world. I began to think instead on the hope and promise of heaven. And, as I sat in church, crying (though no one knew since I do not make tears when I cry) my thoughts drifted to those that I have loved and have now died. I thought of my grandfathers, grandmother Kuykendall, Dub Ruchti, my nephew, and my niece. I decided that seeing them soon would bring me joy. I thought of my mother and decided that either God, in His tender mercy, had heard my pleas for her forgiveness and that I would see her again or that at least the pain would no longer be remembered.

            Lastly, I thought of Jesus. I wondered if He would see me hiding in the corner of the throne room and allow me to feel the light of His perfect presence. I wondered if He would at last let me understand the patterns of my life and let me bask in His presence and experience true and everlasting joy? These were my thoughts as I sat in church. I decided that if I received bad news from the doctors, that I was done. Simply done. My strength felt as though it had finally departed from me.

            As we were leaving church, a sweet member said that we were lucky to only have boys and not to have the stress of planning for a daughter’s wedding. I thought that my heart would erupt and split my chest into jagged pieces. I finally managed to say that I had hoped and prayed all these years to plan my daughter’s wedding. I walked away. She came after me and told me to thank God for what He had allowed in my life. Honestly, I wanted to slap her in the face. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit fortified my self-control and I refrained. I simply smiled and nodded and hurt beyond what words are able to convey.

            So today, I have sat and thought on this scripture, “Give thanks in all circumstances: for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I can give thanks to my Lord at all times. I know that God wants me to rejoice in my position as His daughter because of the gift of salvation that Jesus provided to me. I can thank Him. I can praise Him. But, I will never thank God for evil. God is light and in Him is no darkness. Evil is the result of sin. Why would God want me, as a Christian, to thank Him for sin? I do not believe that was the intention of Paul’s words. Sickness and sin are the result of the fall. Crimes are the result of sin. I recognize that I live in a fallen world. But, I hang on to the hope of the future. This world is not my home. I am an alien awaiting a new dwelling place.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,

For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
     We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:28-37, NASB).

            This sorrow and these illnesses that I experience daily in this life are not a result of my Lord’s pleasure. I believe that my Savior stands and weeps with me as He stood and wept with Mary and Martha. Christ is not immune from the misery that has layered itself in my life. He bears it for me. He holds my heart in His hand when I cannot endure the suffering and anguish. That is what I thank Him for – for His abiding with me and the knowledge that no sickness, kidnapping, or evil people can separate me from the love of God, which is in my Lord, Jesus Christ.