An Eternal Perspective on Hardship and Trials

Colossians 3:17 – And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everythingin the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanksto God the Father through him. 

Whatever we do we do in thanks to God.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

And in every situation we give thanks to God.

While true, right, and prescribed, living out thankfulness in every deed and situation is difficult. Life isn’t always full of thanks-worthy things and circumstances; the hardships, the finances, the unknowns, the diagnosis, the disasters, the decisions, the pain, the shame, the relationships, the brokenness seem to validate our restraint of thanks to God, sovereign and good. We may even say because He withholds blessing or fairness from us, we withhold our thanksgiving to Him. But God says troubles are opportunities for thankfulness:

James 1:2 – Consider it a great joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you experience various trials.

This verse turns our self-protective, self-justifying impulses on their heads. How could this be?

The rest of the chapter continues (go ahead, read the rest of James 1 now): Trials are God’s way of testing, maturing, and perfecting your faith. Joy, a contentment and satisfaction, comes in knowing God’s plan for these trials. Moreover, a joy-filled reaction to trouble isn’t a self-produced feeling it is a sign of sustainment from God. Though the trial is difficult faith turns to God for what is needed and God, being faithful, supplies all we need – namely increased faith, wisdom, and the promise that eternal life! Because God is sovereign and good we have joy in hardship, this joy turns out to the the bedrock of thankfulness.

Look at this promise of eternal life in Hebrews 12:28 – Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful. By it we may serve God acceptable, with reverence and awe.

Believers are gaining an imperishable, unchangeable, undeterred inheritance from the Lord. It is the foundation for thankfulness, not just as a result of hardship but as our orienting perspective heading into hardship. Brothers and sisters, our thankfulness rests on God’s eternality and faithfulness. Our situations may change, but God does not. Our responses may change, but thankfulness is commanded. This is faith in action. Thankfulness is thus two sided, it is our faithful contentment in the Lord who gives trials for good reason AND it is our lived-response of worship unto the Lord during those good trials. 

Stop for a moment and think: practically: if you find yourself in the midst of hardship and are struggling to be thankful unto God (in either perspective or action) then consider if you have lost sight of who God is and His plan for your perfection. If this is the case then adjust your eyes; look to the Lord for what you need. Adjust your expectations; the Lord’s plan is what’s best for you and that might not be what you hoped for. Adjust your goal; hope toward what God is promising and preparing you for – eternal life. Adjust your attitude; repent of thanklessness and ask for wisdom and strength to be thankful and act thankful.

Think to Ruth and Orpah, widowed daughter-in-laws to Naomi. Faced with the death of their husbands and sons, filled with great despair (remember Naomi changes her name to “Bitter”), now family-less, and challenged strongly by their mother-in-law to return to their pagan homeland and family, these two widows respond differently to the hardship. Orpah turns back to Moab believing her hope was better found there. But Ruth clung to Naomi because her hope clung to the Lord, saying “wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” Orpah couldn’t see past the hardship, but Ruth looked to God who was over the hardship. By the end of the story Naomi and Ruth are not broken and hopeless, rather, through God’s plan of redemption, they are blessed, renewed, sustained, and thankful. Our hardship might not end in abundance, satisfaction, and happiness here and now, but God’s good design is to prepare us for our eternal abundance, satisfaction, and happiness in His glory, and that is something to be thankful for.

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