November 21, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Colossians 1:11-14
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
It may be easy to feel grateful when life is good. But what about when life is hard, when we’re suffering or when we grieve over the injustice in our world? Can we be thankful then? Yes, Scripture encourages us to be thankful even in hard times. We don’t have to deny the pain or pretend that everything is great. But we can pay attention to God’s gifts to us. And we can get help from our sisters and brothers in Christ, whose care and prayers stir up thanksgiving in us.
Today’s devotion is part of the series: Thanksgiving Preseason.
I have known Christians who confuse genuine gratitude to God with denial of life’s challenges and pains. They advocate an “always look on the bright side of life” philosophy that minimizes or ignores the hard things we all experience. They think this sort of denial is required of Christians.
But this approach to life and faith does not fit with what we see in Scripture. The Psalms, for example, are filled with gut-wrenching prayers that honestly and painfully express the suffering and injustice of life (see Psalm 38, for instance). From a biblical point of view, lamentation is appropriate, even necessary, if we’re going to have a genuine, growing, intimate relationship with God.
But can we acknowledge the pains of life and still be grateful? The Apostle Paul would answer “Yes. We can.” Take Colossians 1:11-12, for example. In this passage, Paul prays that the Colossians may be “joyfully giving thanks to the Father.” But notice the surprising context for this prayer. Reading all of verse 11 and the first part of verse 12 we find: “May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from [God’s] glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father” (italics added). Notice that joyful thanksgiving happens as the Colossians are “enduring everything with patience.” From Paul’s letter we do not learn much about what exactly they have to endure. But endurance goes hand in hand with hard things, including suffering. The Colossian believers are struggling either in their present experience or in the near future. Even so, according to Paul, they should be joyfully giving thanks to God.
How is this possible? How can we be thankful, even joyfully thankful, when life is hard? What comes next in Colossians helps to answer these questions. I’ll dig into those verses tomorrow, but, of course, you’re welcome to reflect on them now.
When I am going through difficult times, I am helped to be thankful by my Christian community. When brothers and sisters in Christ lift up my concerns and struggles in prayer, I am comforted and grateful for this care. When they offer thanks for God’s gifts in their lives and in mine, my heart emerges from the dark cave of my own pain. I can rejoice in gratitude along with others even when my own situation feels dire. This does not mean I have to pretend that life is all rosy. Far from it! But sharing life with other believers enables us both to be honest about our afflictions and, at the same time, to give thanks for God’s gifts.
I’m reminded of a passage in Philippians 4 that I memorized some time ago when I was going through a difficult season in my life. This passage reads, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). The opening phrase, “Do not worry about anything,” points to what we might be inclined to do in the face of hard times. But, Paul says, rather than worry, we should pray “with thanksgiving.” Even in the midst of difficult times, even when our natural inclination would be to fret, we should offer thanks to God as we pray. Paul does not promise that we will always get what we want from God, however. But we will receive “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.” We will know that our lives are in the strong, gracious, comforting hands of God, the God who works in all things for our good (Romans 8:28).
Are you able to give thanks when life is hard? If so, why? If not, why not?
What helps you to be thankful even when you’re dealing with grief or suffering?
When you’re going through difficult times, are you able to share your struggles with your brothers and sisters in Christ, so that they might pray for you? What helps you to do this?
If you’re in a small group where you pray together regularly, pay attention to how the group mixes prayers of thanks with prayers for God’s help. If you’re not in a group like this, you may want to consider joining or starting one.
Gracious God, you are the giver of all good gifts. For these we give thanks. There are times, as you know, when it’s hard for us to attend to your gifts. When we face difficulties in life, when our hearts are heavy with grief, when we experience suffering in our lives or in the lives of those we love, gratitude doesn’t come easily. So we ask for your help. Help us, Lord, to be genuinely and even joyfully grateful. May we delight in your good gifts even as we struggle.
Thank you, Lord, for the gift of Christian community. Thank you for those who can bring our needs to you. Thank you for the chance to share in their gratitude even when we are hurting. Amen.
Banner image by Joice Kelly on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Grateful for Community.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.