Living Fully, Living Gratefully: Giving Thanks in Hard Times

By Mark D. Roberts

March 12, 2020

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.

Colossians 1:11-14 (NRSV)


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 do justice to what we see in Scripture. 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.” Notice that joyful thanks 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. Either in their present experience or in the near future, the Colossian believers will have to struggle. Even so, 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. As we saw in yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we are to be thankful for the big things, for major expressions of God’s grace. In Colossians 1:11-14 these include heavenly inheritance, rescue from darkness, citizenship in Christ’s kingdom, redemption from bondage, and forgiveness of sins. The more we focus on these gifts of God to us, the more we’ll be able to give thanks, even with joy, when life is hard.

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. When they offer thanks for God’s gifts, 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 (see 2 Corinthians 1:8-11).

In next Monday’s devotion I want to reflect a bit more on how hard things can actually enrich our experience of gratitude. For now, let me encourage you to consider the following questions.

Something to Think About:

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?

Something to Do:

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 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.

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Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

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,...

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