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Gratitude and God’s Gift in our Pain

“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.

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