Early on my salvation, I learned to not complain about the difficulties I needed to live with which the illness that stole my health and career brought. As I began to read and study the Word of God with the light and guidance of the Holy Spirit, I learned hard lessons that I needed for the journey, the journey the Lord had set before me whether I liked it or not. I was about to embark on a new and uncharted territory. It was totally scary. But the Lord was teaching me to exercise my faith muscles so that they would become strong as we walked together down that new road.
I would like to think how my journey of faith was very similar to that of the Israelites when God delivered them from the bondage of Pharaoh by the hand of Moses. The people didn’t know any other kind of life. God wanted to manifest Himself to them, to be in their midst, to guide them closely, be their God, the very center of their life. He wanted to be a “hands-on” God and had programmed their journey from Egypt to Canaan, the Promised Land. Even their diet was a part of His program. And of course, the giving of the laws by which the people should walk therein. That was God’s heart for them. But the people’s hearts weren’t ready for this kind of life.
They complained. They grumbled. They dishonored God by their endless murmuring instead of thanksgiving. They didn’t sanctify God who was in the midst of them. They longed for their former life though it was a life of bondage. (They got wearied of the daily dose of manna and there souls longed for the flavors of Egypt). In the process, they spurned the life God wanted for them.
Complaining was the ruin of most of them. They did not make it to the Promised Land but their carcasses were scattered in the wilderness.
Their fate terrified me. So I learned to avoid mouthing off complaints in the midst of my suffering. But learning not to complain and to give thanks in its stead are two different challenges. But by God’s grace (which is a constant in my faith journey), I learned to embrace gratefulness, not only in the place of complaints, but as a way of life.
To choose to be thankful in the presence of illness and suffering is quite a hard task. You do it not because it is what is required, but because it is what’s in your heart. Ultimately, it is all the work of God in us.
The Lord wanted to wean me of the things and pleasures of this world and to enrich my life with His presence and His Word.
This was what He purposed for the Israelites journeying from Egypt to Canaan. But most of them “missed” it, for they lusted for other things that were outside of God’s program. Because they refused to see what God was doing in their midst, they couldn’t appreciate His works. And so, they couldn’t praise and thank Him for them. God called them stiff-necked people. In Jesus’ time and even in our modern times, we call it hard-heartedness. “Because of the hardness of your hearts” (see Mat. 19:8), the Lord Jesus said.
I thank the Lord that, through His Holy Spirit, I can see the works He’s doing in my life. Though I don’t understand most of them, He’s making me learn through them. Lessons that make me know Him more intimately; trust Him steadfastly. Lessons that have eternal consequences.
One of the wonderful fruits of learning the ways of the Kingdom is living a life of thankfulness.
Thankfulness is a part of our worship. We can never worship God fully if our hearts are full of complaints and discontent.
We can channel our soul’s bitter complaints [our deep laments due maybe to sickness and suffering, persecutions, hardships, etc.] through agonized prayers. God will receive them. But to complain incessantly of His ways and provision in our lives would be to spurn Him. This brings Him utter displeasure.
But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. Nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. (1 Cor. 10: 5, 6, 9, 10, 11)
On the other hand, thankfulness will take us from the place of discontent to a place of satisfaction and joy and enduring hope. I have learned this first-hand.
Many times in my life of illness and suffering, I am plunged into “the valley of the shadow of death” literally. My body goes through almost unbearable beating (I call it a gauntlet). In those times, I have no other option but to lie still and endure and wait out for relief. At the end of such excruciatingly difficult episode, my soul could either rant in utter bitterness or my spirit could maintain a humble stance [a gentle and quiet spirit] and let thanksgiving to God overflow. For yet another deliverance.
I always choose the latter. I thank the Lord for not leaving me alone in my suffering, for helping me and bringing me relief (though I never want nor understand those terrifying episodes). I thank Him for the breath of life
Humility with thankfulness, which is a way of honoring God no matter how hard our circumstances are, has always helped me overcome, both the urge to rise up and rebel and the strong pull of spiralling down in discouragement and hopelessness.
If we want to maintain strength in our life, we should bring God joy. Being thankful in everything will do the job, besides praise and worship and our complete obedience.
If you’re in a hard place (trials of different proportion and intensity), thanksgiving may not flow easily. In my life, I have learned to shift my gaze from my physical suffering to the other things where the light of Jesus shines upon and His blessings poured out. This could be the love and joys of family, of reading, writing, watercolor painting; God’s protection of our loved ones, etc.
“In everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18), the apostle Paul reminds us. In the midst of difficult circumstances, we can still see glimpses of blessings when we change our perspective [a mental view or outlook].
When my husband spent hours running errands for our family’s needs (that is, outside of his office work and with a few hours of sleep the night before), I called his cellphone for it was already getting late. I asked what’s taking him so long. Instead of explaining, he grumbled. I messaged him with this: “I hope that your being tired will not be a reason to complain. Still give thanks for the strength you have.”
As the year comes to a close, may we not forget to give thanks to God for a year’s worth of His love and mercy, light, faithfulness, goodness, blessings, answered prayers, joys, and lessons hard and beautiful. Intentionally give thanks, for the easy and the hard, for the big things and the small. This will dramatically transform our lives.
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Journey with Jesus,