I had the privilege of giving a staff devotional on Wednesday for a wonderful Christian non-profit with which I've been longtime friends. I chose the topic of Thanksgiving (hat tip to my mother-in-law for the idea), and one of my points was that we often think of the Thanksgiving Holiday as a time to appreciate and thank the Lord for all the blessings in our lives. And, by "blessings," we invariably think of the things we think of as "good." Family, fellowship, turkey slathered in gravy.
But what about the "bad" times? The times of suffering?
We are told to give thanks even in those times, too.
Jesus says, "Rejoice and be glad" when people persecute and slander you.
James tells us to "consider it pure joy" when we face trials of many kinds.
Now, we don't necessarily thank God for the suffering itself. We are not called to be masochists. But we are to thank him for what he is doing in us during these times of trouble; teaching us how to walk by faith, not sight, knowing that he works all things for our good and his glory; building in us a persevering character.
I noticed something in my study I've never really seen before, much less heard anyone comment upon. In each of the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) the story of the Last Supper contains a significant detail. In fact, we know that this detail really happened not only because all three synoptics record it, word for word, but because when Paul rehearses the story he includes this detail. He got the tradition directly from the leaders of the Jerusalem church, which, of course, included people who were actually there and heard their Lord say these words.
We are told: "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, 'Take and eat; this is my body.'" And then, taking the cup, we are told that he "gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.'"
Now, ask yourself: what was Jesus giving thanks for?
A nice meal? A good loaf of bread? Good wine? Fellowship with his friends before his arrest and trial?
Sure. Of course. But notice very carefully that he "gave thanks" in the very same act of breaking the loaf of bread and offering the cup, identifying these symbols as representing the crushing of his body and pouring out of his blood.
Jesus was giving thanks for his own bloody sacrifice.
Are you facing times of trouble? Chances are you are not facing arrest, scourging, and bloody crucifixion. This same Jesus, who gave thanks for the privilege of suffering for us, now being raised from the dead gives us his Spirit of Thankfulness whereby we, too, can lift our eyes and give thanks, even for our own sufferings.
Whatever you're going through, Jesus had it worse. If he could be thankful for his sufferings, we should be encouraged in giving thanks for ours.
I hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving yesterday, but I hope that every day will be a day of Thanksgiving for you, good times and bad.