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We all know the story of the first Thanksgiving. After enduring such hardships, hunger, and death, the Pilgrims had an abundant harvest and stopped to thank God for His provision. Not taking anything away from that incredible day, but I’ve found it’s easy to praise God during the harvest. It’s easy to celebrate His goodness in times of plenty, but what about in times of hardship? How thankful were they when they were rationed a couple of kernels a day to survive on? How thankful are we in our hardships?
I’ve found that thankfulness and joy come from the heart and not from my circumstances. No matter how hard life gets, how dark our days are, how desolate we feel, we can still find a reason to have joy. It’s so important that we find that reason too. Nehemiah 8:10 reminds us that the joy of the Lord is our strength in times when we don’t have the strength to face the day. Joy gives hope and reminds us that God is still on His throne no matter what comes against us.
Habakkuk painted a picture of dark times in chapter 3:17-18. He wrote, “Even though the fig trees have no fruit and no grapes grow on the vines, even though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no grain, even though the sheep all die and the cattle stalls are empty, I will still be joyful and glad, because the Lord God is my savior” (GNT). He was saying even though the seeds planted didn’t yield a harvest, he’d still be joyful. Even through failure, there is a reason to be glad. Even if your savings are wiped out and there’s no food on your table, you can give thanks.
Don’t let the enemy use circumstances to steal your joy. Don’t let the thief come in and take your focus off of your provider. No matter how bad life gets, we must purpose in our hearts to find joy so we keep our perspective right. We can say, “Even so, it is well with my soul.” We can say, “I will still be joyful and glad,” because God is still on His throne and our circumstances will never change that. We can find joy in the pain. We can find hope in desperation because the Lord God is our savior. It won’t change our circumstances, but it will change our perspective. It will give us strength to endure anything. Find your joy in the Lord, not in your circumstances.
The guest preacher at our church shared his story of hardship and how God used his brokenness to rebuild him. He shared how everything was going wrong and no one was giving him any hope. It was then that the Lord spoke to him some powerful words that I believe God has been trying to tell us since the beginning of time. The Lord told him, “I am not the author of your crisis, but I am the orchestrator of the outcome.”
As I read through the Bible, I see the same story repeated over and over. People fail to trust God, they fall away from him, crisis happens, they call out to God for forgiveness, and He orchestrates redemption. As I sit and read the Bible, it’s hard to grasp the timelines of how long these things happen and go on for. What takes minutes to read, could have taken years to happen. In those minutes, it’s easy to wonder how they could quit trusting God.
However, when we are in similar crises that drag on for days, weeks, months, and years, it can seem like it will never end. It’s hard to see a light at the end of a tunnel when you’re surrounded by darkness. It’s difficult to trust God in those times. In fact, we often blame Him for our troubles and ask why He brought it on us. If we aren’t careful, the unexplained, never ending storms in our lives can cause us to grow bitter against God because we falsely believe He is the author of them.
Jesus knew we would forget that the bad things in our life don’t come from God. So He reminded us in John 10:10, “The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness” (GNT). If your life is under attack, that is not from God. While none of us are exempt from bad things happening, all of us can have the author of life orchestrate something good from those bad things.
God can take the broken pieces of your life to rebuild you stronger and better. We must keep perspective of who He is in our storm. You can’t fall for the lie that God is the one who destroyed your life. You must remember that He is the one who restores, renews, and redeems. Your storm will come to an end. God is already working this out for your good even though you can’t see it now. Trust in the author of life to do what He does best in your own life. He sees you in the storm and He’s orchestrating the outcome.
1. And so, Lord, where do I put my hope? My only hope is in you. (Psalms 39:7 NLT)
2. Yet hope returns when I remember this one thing: The Lord ‘s unfailing love and mercy still continue, Fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all I have, and so I put my hope in him. (Lamentations 3:21-24 GNB)
3. For I know the thoughts and plans that I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome. (Jeremiah 29:11 AMP)
4. Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess, because we can trust God to keep his promise. (Hebrews 10:23 GNB)
5. And so faith, hope, love abide [faith–conviction and belief respecting man’s relation to God and divine things; hope–joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation; love–true affection for God and man, growing out of God’s love for and in us], these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 AMP)
6. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. (Romans 5:3-5 NLT)
7. You will live secure and full of hope; God will protect you and give you rest. (Job 11:18 GNB)
8. For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. (Psalm 71:5 ESV)
9. There is hope for your future; your children will come back home. I, the Lord, have spoken. (Jeremiah 31:17 GNB)
10. May the God of your hope so fill you with all joy and peace in believing [through the experience of your faith] that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound and be overflowing (bubbling over) with hope. (Romans 15:13 AMP)
As things in my life went downhill over ten years ago, my brother helped me to keep things in perspective. Over the course of a few months an employee of mine died in a crash with her husband and one of their children, I got pulled into the legal fight for the remaining child, my now ex-wife had an affair while I was distracted by the legal battle, she then left me for another man, my business went under and I filed bankruptcy. While I was having a pity party one day, my brother looked me in the eye and said, “Believe it or not, someone else has it worse than you do. You can be thankful you’re not them.”
No sooner than his words hit my ear, they pierced my heart. I had been feeling like my life was worse than what Job had experienced and the truth was that my life wasn’t as bad as it could have been. When my thoughts of pity changed, my perspective changed. I quit trying to find others to feel sorry for me and started to find reasons to be thankful. When I started doing that, my situation didn’t change. In fact, it continued to get worse. What did change was how I saw myself in the storm and the purpose of the storm.
Instead of asking, “Why me, God”, I began to ask, “What am I to learn from this?” Being thankful changed me from being a victim to a student. Even in my darkest hour, God had something to show me. It turns out He was desperately trying to get my attention. I had been stubbornly ignoring His call and not living how He wanted me to. I had ignored His gentle warnings and signs to change and now He was getting louder and louder in His attempts to get my attention. God wasn’t content to let me live my life my way. He wanted me to live it His way. I’m thankful now that He didn’t leave me in the life I was living.
The theologian Albert Barnes said, “We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.” In my life I’ve always remembered that someone always has it worse than anything I will ever face. I can always be thankful for that. When times are tough and life isn’t going the way I think it should or I feel I’ve been dealt a bad hand, I no longer pretend I’m the victim. I now know that even when things appear bad or that they can’t get worse, God is there in the storm with me. He hasn’t left me or forsaken me. He’s there enduring it with me and wants to use the experience for His glory.
If you’re in the middle of a storm in your life where you feel like things can’t get worse, I challenge you to find something to be thankful for. Are you still breathing? Then you have something to be thankful for. Your life isn’t over and God can rebuild your life from the ruins of where you are now. Lose the victim mentality and become a student of what God wants to show you. To change your perspective, you have to change your mindset. A changed mindset begins with a thankful heart. Things may not get better right away, but being thankful will give you a purpose in hard times. That purpose, combined with a thankful heart, will pull you through.