Gratitude and God’s Gift in the Pain of 2020

November 24, 2020 By: Donnie Berry

Gratitude and God’s Gift in the Pain of 2020 blog by Pastor Donnie Berry

2020 has been a difficult year by just about anyone’s standards. Gratitude may not be the first response in our hearts when we think about how the year has unfolded. Still, it’s worth reflecting on Paul’s words to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:16–18).

The thing that’s so challenging about these verses is the “always” aspect—“Rejoice always, . . . give thanks in all circumstances.” It makes sense to rejoice and give thanks for the good things. But what about the bad, the difficult, the painful? What about 2020? How do we do that?

Praying without Ceasing as the Oreo Cookie Middle
What if Paul’s middle exhortation—“pray without ceasing”—is the key to the other two? What if it’s like the cream in the Oreo cookie that holds the cookie together?

Here’s what I mean. The Bible says that “God is working all things”—including the really hard things—“for the good of those who love him” (Rom 8:28). That means that in every single situation in our lives, God is at work for our good.

That’s a huge claim! It means there is a gift for us in every moment of every day. Not that everything that happens is good in and of itself—there are lots of really terrible and hard and sad things. And we ought to grieve over them and feel the sadness of life in a fallen world. But God says to us that he is turning every terrible and hard and sad thing for our good. He is giving us a greater gift through it, a gift we wouldn’t have without that hard or sad thing.

If that’s true, wouldn’t that be a reason to “rejoice always”? Wouldn’t that be a reason for “giving thanks in all circumstances”?

And that’s where “praying without ceasing” comes in. To pray without ceasing is God’s invitation to look for him in everything. To look for the gift. “God, you are at work here, in this very situation. What are you doing? What gift do you have for me, or for this other person?”

Putting Our Jesus Glasses On
Sometimes life comes at us hard. It comes at us strong. It gets right up in our face, so that it’s hard to see anything else except me and the thing that’s right before me—this person, this situation, this difficulty. God so easily gets squeezed out of the equation. There’s me. There’s this thing. And I’ve got to figure it out. And so we go into fix mode. Or complain mode. Or despair mode.

But God invites us into something different: “Pray without ceasing.” This looks like turning to him in every situation, reinserting him back into the equation. There’s me. There’s this situation. And standing in the middle of it all is God.

Praying without ceasing,” as someone in a Bible study of college students I was leading once said, is about putting our Jesus glasses on—learning to see everything through him and in light of him. It’s about trusting that our Father cares for us. Our Father is at work. Our Father is sovereign over our lives. He is directing the course of our lives toward a beautiful end. And so whatever the situation, we can look for his hand, and trust it’s there even when we don’t see it. And we can rejoice. We can give thanks.

More Glorious Because of the Pain
I’m a big Andrew Peterson fan, of his songs and his books. He writes a lot about the brokenness and pain of life. And he also writes a lot about hope. At a conference I attended a few years ago, where he was one of the speakers, he said, “God confounds the darkness by taking all the brokenness and making it into something more glorious.” “Christ,” he said, “is the pattern for resurrection, for new creation. And he’s more beautiful because of his scars.”

That’s what God does. He takes all the brokenness and makes it into something more glorious. More beautiful because of the scars. There’s a gift in everything. So this year might be the perfect time to take God up on his invitation to look at life with eyes of faith, to practice turning to him in every moment, looking for his hand in every situation, trusting that he loves us, that he is with us, that he is always at work for our good. That’s what it looks like to “pray without ceasing.” And that’s what enables a life full of rejoicing and thanksgiving—at all times, in every circumstance—even in 2020.