For part 1, click here.
Several weeks ago I hurt my back … again. After a disc collapsed two years ago leading to spinal fusion and a difficult recovery, it has been a long uphill climb to get back to a life of any kind of normalcy. And finally I did. Thankfully what happened a few weeks ago wasn’t nearly as severe as two short years ago, and at the same time, it caused a great deal of pain. To manage it, I had an epidural steroid injection, which led to a spinal headache, a spinal patch, being admitted into the hospital, and now it’s been 3 weeks of a solid, constant, sometimes debilitating headache.
It’s been rough. Honestly, I am feeling somewhat discouraged. Frustrated. Annoyed. Frankly, I’m a little tired of physical pain. I feel a bit anxious and maybe even a little angry that I’m having to deal with this … again. Can you relate? Is there something you have dealt with in the past that rears its ugly head and leaves you feeling frustrated and helpless? Maybe it’s a physical issue. Maybe its an issue with a child, spouse, or friend. Maybe it’s financial. Maybe you just feel extremely weary … again.
In Philippians 4:11, Peter says, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am in.” I have to be honest. I’m struggling to be content right now. And this struggle is eerily familiar. Often times it seems that my circumstances are an enormous roadblock to my spiritual freedom. Because when I am discontent with my circumstances, with my life, I feel disconnected, discouraged, and distracted. I tend to forget and have a hard time focusing on who God is and what He has done for me. Instead of experiencing the peace and calm which I so desperately need, I am overwhelmed and anxious. And then I remember …
THERE IS ABSOLUTELY A PROFOUND LINK BETWEEN GRATITUDE AND PEACE.
Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing but in everything in prayer and supplication WITH THANKSGIVING make your requests be made known to God. AND the PEACE of God which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7).
Let’s be honest. It’s hard to rejoice and be thankful in the midst of pain. Whether the pain is physical, emotional, spiritual, or all three. Often times, it comes down to a choice. Choosing to be thankful even when it doesn’t seem there is much for which to be thankful. What does this choosing look like?
Rejoice in the Lord Always. In all circumstances. Good and bad. Sickness and health. For better or worse. At the birth of a child, infertility, a joyous wedding day, a difficult season in marriage, a job promotion, chronic pain, laughter with friends, the loss of a loved one, great success, weariness in motherhood, a weekend away with a spouse or a friend. There are times when rejoicing seems easy. I remember feeling overwhelming joy when I held my first child for the very first time. It was not at all difficult for me to rejoice in the Lord. But then there are other times when rejoicing seems to be an impossibility. So what then? How do I rejoice in the painful circumstances? When it hurts? Physically, emotionally, spiritually?
“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8).
When my mind is set on things above, on the excellent things, on who God is – faithful, loving, true, relentless, gracious, merciful – and what He has done – “He drew me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay. He set my feet on a rock, making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth; a song of praise to my God” (Psalm 40:1-2) – I can choose to worship Him and rejoice regardless of my circumstances.
Let Your Gentle Spirit be Known. In the midst of hardship, it is SO hard to have a gentle spirit. For me, especially when I am in physical pain, it is extraordinarily difficult to be gentle, patient, loving, and kind. And yet, my gentle spirit being known in all circumstances is what I’m called to do. I think in these moments it has to be JESUS THROUGH ME. In my flesh, there is not one part of me that is able to be kind and loving when my circumstances are difficult. And there is this truth to which I can cling – “I can do ALL things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). Even have a gentle spirit.
The Lord is near. I absolutely love this truth. It’s not just that we are told not to be anxious and to be thankful. There is first a promise. “The Lord is near to all who call on Him” (Psalm 145:18). “He is near to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in Spirit” (Psalm 34:18). “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8). There is never one second of one minute of one day when God is not near – right there beside us. Walking with us. Causing us to stand. Upholding us with His righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:1). His presence is a PROMISE. We don’t have to guess whether or not He is going to be with us in the good times and in the bad. “It is the Lord who goes before you. He WILL BE WITH YOU. He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8).
“I have set the Lord continually before me. BECAUSE HE IS AT MY RIGHT HAND, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my whole being rejoices; my flesh (even if in pain) will also dwell securely … In Your presence there is fullness of joy. At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:9,11).
Be anxious for nothing. There is a peace and rest that comes from trusting in the sovereignty of God. But really trusting the sovereignty of God requires an enormous amount of faith. I once read that “the sovereignty of God is only peace-inducing if we learn to rest in its truth. Without faith it can be a scary thing … Because God is infinitely wise, He cannot err. And because He is infinitely righteous He will not do wrong” (from goodmorninggirls.org).
Once I realize that God wills only that which is good, my
heart is made to rejoice. He will do no wrong.
Do I believe that? Do I really believe that in God’s infinite goodness, He can do nothing wrong? That means that every single thing that happens in my life is God’s best for me and is for my good. Even the things in my life that aren’t good — sin, the death of a loved one, chronic illness, betrayal of a friend — God will use for my good and for His glory. As Joseph said in Genesis 50:20, “What man meant for evil, God meant for good.” God is ALWAYS in control and ALWAYS has a plan. Even when there seems to be nothing “good” about what we are experiencing. A faulty understanding of God’s sovereignty will produce fear. But an accurate view of His innate goodness brings peace and joy.
In everything in prayer … with thanksgiving make your requests made known to God. In everything and in prayer be thankful. Sometimes there are moments when a breath of praise and thanksgiving just flows out of my mouth. I have a friend who just got some great news from her doctor when she was preparing for the worst. The first words out of her mouth were, “Praise the Lord! I feel so blessed.” But what about when the call from the doctor reveals a cancer diagnosis or a husband who walks out? Is it really possible to then say, as Job did “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21b)??? When I have faced those times when being thankful seems impossible, I have found it quite helpful to cry out to Jesus and be honest with my feelings.
“Lord, sometimes it is such a struggle to be thankful. I need You. I need you to remind me of the things for which I can be thankful. That You have saved me and You have redeemed me. That you rescued me because You delight in me. Please remind me of who You are. Just because I’m not feeling it doesn’t mean it’s not true. Remind me of the joy that I find in You, in Your presence, and in relationship with you. Lord I believe that You are good and that you are faithful and loving, merciful and kind, and that there are many things for which I can be thankful. Help me now in my unbelief.”
In these moments of my weakness and honesty, I believe that He empowers and enables me offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving.
THEN YOU WILL EXPERIENCE GOD’S PEACE, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. There it is again … the definitive link between thankfulness and peace. And I can personally speak to its truth. There have been times when I have experienced a peace that makes no worldly sense: one that literally washes over me, even when it seemed everything around me was falling part. I have witnessed others walking through life shattering circumstances talk about being held and feeling a peace that exceeds what our human minds can understand. And I love that this kind of peace guards our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. So often, it is my MIND that gets the best of me. I can create all kinds of stories in my head. My anxiety is often fed by scenarios that play out regarding the future or stories from the past. And God’s great promise is that He will fill our minds and our hearts with truth and peace as we turn to Him with hearts of gratitude, prayer, and praise.
So, as we enter into this specific time of year set aside to be thankful, let us choose to offer our thanks to God for WHO HE IS and WHAT HE HAS DONE. Let us fix our eyes on HIM so that regardless of our season in life – good or bad – we can choose to be thankful.
“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You; all whose thoughts are fixed on You” (Isaiah 26:3).
Anchored in Christ,