What are You Thankful For?

adversity+

 

 

At this time of year, when we focus on gratitude and gift giving, I have been pondering what I am thankful for. Several years ago, at a conference on giving, I was asked, “What is the greatest gift, besides Christ, you’ve ever been given?” As I scanned my mind, thinking about the various gifts people had given me, I blurted out “suffering.” While it may have sounded profound, I had no idea why I responded that way or even what my words meant.

But in the ensuing years, I have thought about my answer many times. Was suffering truly one of God’s greatest gifts? It has never felt like a gift, or at least not at the time. It usually has felt more like a punishment, or at times even like a sentence of death.

But in retrospect, I realize that suffering has been more of a gift than I imagined. It has deepened my faith and made God breathtakingly real. Through affliction, I have learned to cry out to God for help and comfort. I have become more prayerful and dependent on God’s Word. Adversity has truly done deep work in my life. Much deeper work than pleasures or success ever have.

While my later life has been marked by suffering, my late teens and twenties were marked by fun and achievement. My career dominated my life after college as I was constantly pursuing the next promotion. I got my MBA from the business school of my dreams where I met and married a classmate. We both had fulfilling jobs and life seemed wonderful.

In the meantime, God, while still important to me, took a backseat. I justified my on-the-go quiet times saying I needed grace in my temporary season of busyness. I justified my selfish spending saying that I was enjoying God’s blessing for my hard work. I justified reading the Wall Street Journal before I opened my Bible saying I needed to stay on top of the news for my job. And I saw nothing wrong with my choices.

Though I felt little need for God and found myself drifting away from him, I wasn’t worried – I just assumed he was blessing me. But more and more, the Christian life felt like rules. It seemed shallow. At the same time, I rarely felt satisfied with anything. Somehow, I always wanted a little more.

But entering my thirties, after several miscarriages and struggles in my marriage, I cried out to God from a very different place. This was the beginning of a more intimate walk with God. A faith with substance. A genuine desire to know God and not just check him off my to-do list. God used my adversity to forge a richer, more life-giving faith.

As I read about the life of Solomon, I see the truth of this principle underscored. Solomon was given everything anyone could want: wisdom, wealth, love, peace, power and prosperity. He “was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart. (1 Kings 10:23-24).  He extolled the beauty of committed love in Song of Solomon. He didn’t have to fight any battles and there was peace in the land throughout his prosperous reign.

Solomon had everything anyone could want.  Yet Solomon himself said, “whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure… And behold all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:10-11). Solomon could not find satisfaction anywhere. One woman wasn’t enough for Solomon. He had at least a thousand, and that was still not enough. And ultimately these women turned Solomon’s heart away from God.

So why wasn’t Solomon satisfied? What more could Solomon have been given? Although Scripture doesn’t say this explicitly, I believe that the one gift Solomon was not given was adversity. In Kings 5:4 Solomon says, “But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side. There is neither adversary nor misfortune.”

Very few of us can say that we have not had adversary or misfortune. Yet the Bible records no adversity in Solomon’s life until after he turned his heart from God. No battles. No illnesses. No struggles. No fears. It may have seemed to be a blessing, but ultimately Solomon didn’t cling to God in love. He clung to his wives who led his heart astray (1 Kings 11:2-3).

Solomon’s turning from God was not because the Lord had failed to deliver on his promises. Not because the king’s life was so hard. Not because he found God to be wanting. Quite the opposite, Solomon appears to have fallen away from God because he didn’t see his need for God. He already had everything. All Solomon had to do was pursue pleasure.

Adversity does profound work within us. Jesus learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). Peter says that trials test our faith and will result in praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Christ (1 Peter 1:6-8). David declared, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). Paul states that affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). James says that trials produce steadfastness, which make us perfect and complete (James 1:2-4).

As I look at my life, I am grateful for suffering and even for the things in my life that I wish were different. Those are the things that keep me praying. Those are the things that keep me in the Word. Those are the things that have taught me obedience. Those are the things that keep me close to God.

Looking over your life, what events have drawn you closest to God? What keeps you on your knees? What makes you dependent on Jesus?

When have you been most distant from God? When have you been too busy to spend time with the Lord? When has the Christian life seemed full of emptiness and duty?

And now, as you look at your list, how does it change what you are thankful for?

 

  • November 10, 2017 - 8:02 am

    CATHLEEN G rafalko - Thank you for reminding me that adversity does a profound work in me♡ I love and admire your walk with our gracious merciful sovereign God. Thank you for sharing your gifts and talents with us. I love you sister in christ ♡ xoReplyCancel

  • November 10, 2017 - 9:29 am

    Kate - 3
    Your beautiful post reminded me of this beautiful poem.

    The Thorn
    by Martha Snell Nicholson

    I stood a mendicant of God before His royal throne
    And begged him for one priceless gift, which I could call my own.
    I took the gift from out His hand, but as I would depart
    I cried, “But Lord this is a thorn and it has pierced my heart.
    This is a strange, a hurtful gift, which Thou hast given me.”
    He said, “My child, I give good gifts and gave My best to thee.”
    I took it home and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore,
    As long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more.
    I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace,
    He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face.ReplyCancel

    • November 10, 2017 - 3:46 pm

      Vaneetha - Love this:”I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace, He takes the thorn to pin aside the veil which hides His face.” Thank you for sharing this poem!ReplyCancel

  • November 10, 2017 - 1:35 pm

    Diane - Thank you for this post, Vaneetha. Suffering has been an most unwanted gift in my life at times. As I was reflecting on what you wrote, I thought of some of the most painful losses or experiences I’ve been through. There are some that felt, in no way like a gift as I was going through them. They were terrifying and excrutiatingly painful. But the ways God continues to use those things, even years later, are amazing gifts. I am truly thankful to have had experienced them.

    Sometimes as I think about suffering in the Christian life I imagine trials that may lie ahead for me. Perhaps a trial like my breast cancer returning, or losing my husband who suffers from the rare condition he has. I know God is in control, that He loves me, and all things are being worked out for my good. But late at night, sometimes fear of the future grips tight me as I lie in bed. What if there isn’t a sense of being thankful for the gifts of suffering on the other end of the trial because the trial is never escaped this side of eternity? I become afraid of the thought that the suffering will be so intense I will lose my faith. That. That is my greatest fear of all because I know I’m weak.

    But then I suddenly realized, that we have a promise that He will hold us fast to the end. And the very instant that we leave this earth we will be in the presence of the Lord. How glorious!! There will be the most profound sense of thanksgiving when we see Him! And it will have been worth any and every bit of suffering we go through here! Fears of the future are so tempered by the thoughts of eternity with Jesus. I am so, so thankful for that truth this morning.ReplyCancel

    • November 10, 2017 - 5:55 pm

      Diane - Sorry for sharing so much. I’ve spent too much time alone this week. 🙂ReplyCancel

      • November 11, 2017 - 11:02 am

        Kelly Hicks - Diane, thanks for sharing your heart. I think if we are all honest, that most of us share this same fear. It is so comforting to know that no matter what the struggle, God will be right there with us thru it all.ReplyCancel

      • November 11, 2017 - 2:44 pm

        Vaneetha - Oh you didn’t share too much, Diane. I think we all struggle with wondering if our suffering will overpower our faith. I am thankful that it is not about our faithfulness, but his. He knows our frailty. I’m so glad that Jesus will never let go of his own. One of my favorite David Crowder songs is “Never Let Go”- even when clouds veil sun and disaster comes, Jesus will never let go of me. Thanks so much for writing, and for being transparent, Diane.ReplyCancel

  • November 11, 2017 - 6:05 am

    Lisa - This was so beautiful. I don’t remember how I stumbled across your blog, but I am always happy when I see a new emailed devotion and they always make me think. Thank you for sharing your life honestly with us. It is a great encouragement.ReplyCancel

    • November 11, 2017 - 2:45 pm

      Vaneetha - So glad this is encouraging, Lisa. Thanks for writing!ReplyCancel

  • November 11, 2017 - 9:45 pm

    Karen - Vaneetha, Beautiful post AND so true. The Lord blesses us with His weight of presence in our deepest pain. Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome were my gifts for about 15 years. Through that pain and depression, He ministered to me and prepared me for the next adventure that He had planned for me. Never give up. The Lord has equipped you to do great things from before the foundation of the world. Thank you for your ministry. May the Lord be with you and show you His glory. KarenReplyCancel

  • November 14, 2017 - 1:48 am

    Marissa - Hi Vaneetha,

    This is my first time visiting your blog. I’ve read several of your articles on Desiring God. I’m glad I came to your page and read this blog post. I often struggle to see the grace of God during my suffering. But when the suffering is over for a season and life is going smoothly, I notice a substantial change in my spiritual life. I fail to turn to God as often as I should. Sometimes when I feel myself drifting away from God, I plead with Him to bring me back to Him, even if it means putting me through more suffering than I think I’m capable of handling.

    On another note, I read that you lost your son due to a heart condition. My son is 7 months old, and he was born with transposition of the great arteries, a heart defect that required surgery when he was one week old. He is doing well today, despire minor complications of his condition, and has regular visits with his cardiologist. I often wonder why my son was so lucky when others weren’t. It doesn’t make sense to us now but I am so grateful to know that you’ll see your son again in a place full of joy. What an amazing gift from God to have that kind of hope.

    Sincerely,
    MarissaReplyCancel

    • November 14, 2017 - 3:13 pm

      Vaneetha - It’s funny how we don’t see God’s grace in the midst of our suffering, but afterwards we see how much God has changed us. At least that’s how I am. So thankful that your son is doing well. The Lord has different plans for each of our children – I’m so glad to know that he is in control so I don’t need to worry. Thanks for writing, Marissa!ReplyCancel

  • November 15, 2017 - 7:27 am

    Kathy Vaughan - I have so often seen God use suffering in my life to bring me into a sweeter and more real relationship with him. When my pastor husband left me for another woman, I could hardly bear the pain, but I pleaded with God not to waste it. He lovingly healed me from pain and bitterness. Later, He brought me to Uganda where I shared God’s love and healing with the hurting children in my orphanage, many of whom had been betrayed by the very ones who were supposed to love and care for them (and some of whose own parents had tried to kill them). God very gently told me, “Don’t you see, how could you have known the truth of how My love heals and restores even the deepest heartache and betrayal, if you had not experienced it yourself?” Even today he uses what I learned in my suffering as I work with abandoned wives and fatherless children. His plan is always good!ReplyCancel

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