Thanking God For Adversity

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, November 26, 2014 0 comments

by Logan Ames

In preparation for this writing, I came across a quote by pastor and author Bruce Larson: “The bottom line for you and me is simply this: Grimness is not a Christian virtue”. He goes on to say, “If God really is the center of one’s life and being, joy is inevitable. If we have no joy, we have missed the heart of the Good News”. I find this very impactful because I know so many believers who walk around with a very defeated or complaining attitude. Maybe that is you. Maybe you are having a difficult time being thankful or finding joy in your life because of the circumstances you have faced, or are facing. As you celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, whether it is because you are truly thankful or because you have to put on a front in order to appease friends and family members who will be with you, I want you to know about the origin of the day itself. You’ll see that adversity does not overcome a thankful heart. In fact, it strengthens it even more.

At the link here, you can find the Thanksgiving Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln from October 3, 1863. This made Thanksgiving Day a national celebration officially, but the idea of intentionally giving thanks began well before that. According to Wikipedia, it was first a tradition of the Native Americans that the Pilgrims recognized in 1621 when they declared a three-day feast to celebrate with the natives and thank God for all he had given them. It was adversity that drove them to recognize their dependence on the Almighty God to carry them forward. They fled religious persecution in England, left for a new and unknown land, and arrived in Massachusetts when they were shooting for the coast of Virginia. This trip took about two months and contained 102 people on one ship in a harsh and stormy sea. When they began to settle the land, they built shelters but were unprepared for the harsh winters. Forty-six of their people died during that first winter due to the extreme cold weather or starvation. After all this adversity, those that were left gave thanks to God as their true Provider, Protector, and Sustainer.

But it didn’t stop there. Two centuries later, a woman by the name of Sarah Josepha Hale, a well-known writer of the day who penned a collection of poems that included “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, wrote letters to five different presidents over a span of forty years urging them to make Thanksgiving a national holiday. That sounds like something right out of The Shawshank Redemption! She persevered until President Lincoln finally listened to her. Then again, she had already dealt with adversity. Her husband died when she was very young and left her alone with the children. She is said to have worn black for the rest of her life, some fifty years plus, in order to mourn for her husband. While she mourned the loss of the love of her life, she remained thankful to God for all that he had provided and sought to have the whole nation follow her example.

So, what made Lincoln finally be the one to listen to her? Well, he certainly didn’t listen to her right away. In those days, George Washington had already instituted Thanksgiving as a holiday for the states that wished to observe it, but most of the southern states did not. For Lincoln to agree to make it national, he would likely upset some of those states. I submit to you that, as you can see if you read his proclamation, Lincoln’s adversity led him to recognize the need to thank God and continue to depend on him as a nation. If you know your history at all, you know that the U.S. Civil War concluded in 1863, just months before the Thanksgiving Proclamation. Try being president of a country torn apart by a Civil War! In addition, Lincoln had as much personal adversity before he even became president as anyone could. He lost a child, was rejected by a woman he loved, failed while running for several different political offices, and had a nervous breakdown, just to name a few struggles. Maybe this was why, by the time he became president, he knew who was really in charge. This is from the proclamation: “No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy”. These words immediately followed Lincoln’s list of many of the blessings God had poured out on the nation over the previous year. Despite it being one of the darkest years in American history, Lincoln still found reason to thank God for his faithfulness and led others to take the same view.

The Apostle Paul learned to take a similar view. Read 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Paul is given a “thorn in my flesh” and calls it a “messenger of Satan to torment me”. We are not told exactly what it was and many scholars have opinions about it, but there is no way to know for sure. What we do know is that Paul “pleaded” with God to have it taken away. But God chose to give an answer different from what Paul wanted or maybe even expected. He said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 9a). Paul allowed God to change his outlook, and from that point forward declared that he would “boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me”. He then declared, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).

Whatever has happened in your life over the past year or longer, I urge you to approach tomorrow and the rest of this holiday season with a firm reliance on God to carry you forward and to completely sustain you. It’s not that we have to be fake and hide the fact that our hardships are no fun. But, there is something valuable about recognizing our own shortcomings and inability to sustain ourselves. When we accept that we can’t do it on our own and must look to a Power greater than ourselves, it’s much easier to see all that we have to be thankful for and much more likely to lead to intentionality regarding giving thanks. Everyone who has ever had a major role in bringing forth this holiday we celebrate as a nation went through a lot of adversity before turning to the Lord. We may not like it, but we often need it to get our focus back where it belongs. The turkey will be great, the football might be mediocre, and the time with family could go a lot of different directions. But the provisions of the Lord during the times when we need him the most have never changed. He has never failed us and he’s not going to start now. Will you choose to be thankful, even for your adversity? Remember, when you are weak, you are strong in Christ.