This year has been a tough one for me. My chronic illness reared its head after many years of lying dormant in my body. From being flat on my back with a 24/7 fever for several months at a time to long-term inflammation attacking parts of my body requiring removal of said parts, there hasn’t been much opportunity to catch my breath. The light at the end of the tunnel appeared at different times this year and I thought, “Finally! I’m at the end of this crazy roller coaster!”, only to be struck down again with symptoms of my chronic illness and reversing the few, small steps of progress that had been made in the past year. The chronic illness that I have is managed, not cured. It is dangerous and deadly and if not addressed can be fatal.
I’ve lived with this illness since I was 16 years old and, in my experience, I only have flare-ups like this once every four or five years. This is not to say I don’t deal with symptoms on a daily basis or that the disease is not active in non-flare up times; I still manage the effects of a chronic illness taking its toll on various parts of my body day after day, month after month and year after year. This pattern I live with – where I come face to face with the suped-up version of the chronic illness – is one I’m grateful for as I know of others who live with a more frequent, longer pattern. I’m grateful, as painful as it can be – physically, emotionally, and spiritually -for the season of a flare-up because God always, always uses this time for rest and refining in my life.
Grateful. A word that seems so out of place when describing trying circumstances. Yet, we are commanded to a posture of gratitude in all circumstances in 1 Thessalonians…
…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thess. 5:18
How do we do this? I can think of many circumstances where thanksgiving isn’t my natural response, especially in living with a chronic, debilitating illness. But that’s just the point, isn’t it? It is not my natural proclivity to give thanks “in all circumstances” yet this is God’s will for me so I must set aside my feelings and my personal inclinations and obey. After all, the Greek word for “all” means “all” no matter how fine a point I want to put on it. So, how do we maintain a posture of thanksgiving -not just now but all year long – when life’s circumstances may be full of disease, discouragement and difficulty?
Four thoughts for you to consider as we strive to be thankful all year long:
- Know that the heart posture of thanksgiving is not based on our circumstantial and temporary feelings.
Romans 8:9 tells us that if we are in Christ, we are controlled by the Spirit and not by the flesh, so our feelings should not be the force that is driving the boat when it comes to heart posturing. Don’t “feel” like giving thanks? So what! Do it, anyway. When we practice obedience, our feelings tend to fall in line and follow suit so that our actions and feelings become unified.
In the Upper Room, Jesus sets for us an example of giving thanks even though he knew of the horrific death he faced. Yet, he gave thanks and taught the disciples how to give thanks for his body, that would be broken and his blood that would be shed.
Luke 22:19 says, “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
Do this in remembrance of me. Our faith, Our God calls us to remember repeatedly and give thanks. When we remember and give thanks for that moment of remembering, we trust a little more and give ourselves over a little more to the One we give thanks to so that the circumstances do not matter any longer. It has what has been done that does.
James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all (or Consider it all) joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Trials of any kind are genuinely not responded to with joy, anticipated with joy or have any resemblance of joy to them. Yet, again, we are called to adjust our response. This joy, excitement from our trials is for the future results we will see come forth if we submit in obedience. If we submit to the testing of our faith, perseverance develops, and from there, perseverance produces maturity in our faith. So, we must count our troubles and trials joyfully, with thanksgiving, knowing they will refine our faith and we will reap the benefit of that refinement in the future.
We, once again, see this in Jesus’ example.
Hebrews 12:2 tells us, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
For the joy set before Him. He must endure the horrific death and brunt of the sin of all mankind on the cross not for immediate joy but for a future joy; the joy of atonement and reconciliation of all mankind…for a reborn life where death is defeated.
We, too, must give thanks as Jesus did in the Upper Room, knowing the coming circumstances were awful, but persevering anyway for the joy set before Him… the joy that comes from what His death accomplished on the cross.
- Recognize it’s not about me.
Ultimately, we must recognize giving “thanks in all circumstances” isn’t about me. Sure, do we reap a benefit? Yes as we develop the discipline of obedience and a heart and mind that thinks in terms of thankfulness all year round.
Yet, we are giving thanks to Him, for Him and because of Him. It is nothing we have done or didn’t do. It is nothing we have caused or contributed. What we remember and what we give thanks for has nothing to do with us.. and only to do with Him.
“I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the LORD Most High.” – Psalm 7:17
Notice we give thanks because of HIS righteousness. Not my own. Not my abilities or anything that derives from me.
All of my thankfulness is about Him, to Him and for Him. His abilities. His provisions. His will. His goodness. His love. His mercy. His grace.
It is not about me. If left up to me, I lead myself down the road to grumbling, bitterness and death. In my flesh, I am dead. In Christ, I am alive and made new.
So, when we are in a season of pain or in circumstances that are trying and difficult, we must override our natural desire to complain and grumble and put one foot in front of the other, no matter how wobbly the step, toward walking in obedience to give thanks.
Let us think on the joy set before us, the promises made by a good Father and give thanks in all circumstances, knowing those circumstances are refining us and knowing He is with us and, simultaneously, has prepared a place for us to live with Him forever.