Gratitude and God’s Gift in our Pain

December 13, 2017 By: Donnie Berry


gratitude prayer Gods gift pray without ceasing why hard times

“I just wish I knew what God’s will for my life was.” Ever had that thought? Trying to figure out God’s will can be frustrating. It can seem mysterious, elusive, unknowable. Except when it’s not. Except when God makes it plain as day, and then you realize maybe not knowing wasn’t so bad. Like when Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 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? 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” (Romans 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 on Our Jesus Glasses

We can tend to go about our days as functional atheists. We believe in God. But functionally, he doesn’t factor in that much when it comes to the nitty, gritty, day-to day circumstances of life. 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 this 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 a different way: “Pray without ceasing.” Which means 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 our college group said, is about putting on our Jesus glasses—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 attended a theology conference in Chicago recently. Andrew Peterson, who is a well-known Christian singer, song-writer, and author, was one of the speakers. Andrew writes a lot about the brokenness and pain of life. But he also writes a lot about hope. At the conference 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 let’s 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.

  • Carl W. Head

    So true!
    The difficult part is walking by “faith, not by sight” in times of duress. Like Tim Keller says, God is on audio (Seems like a fuzzy AM radio) but life is in video! (Like Hi Def 5K!)
    Some things we will never get an answer for until we meet Him, but as you get to know Him, your trust in His love and faithfulness will grow and it is possible to walk in C.C.C. = calm confidence in Christ in the worst of times.
    This has always helped me –

    “I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.” – Dostoevsky

    • What a beautiful quote and response Carl! Thanks so much for sharing it with us. We’ll be sure to pass along your comments to Donnie!