3 Reasons for Gratitude During a Season of Difficulty

“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).

If you’ve ever looked up into the sky and pondered the age old question, “What is God’s will for my life?” then these verses are good news for you. No, they don’t tell you what job to take, or who to marry, or what town to live in, but nevertheless this passage does, with pristine clarity, tell each of us what God’s will is for our lives. And it’s not that complicated. God desires for us to be a joyful people. To be a prayerful people. And to be a people marked by a sense of gratitude.

And that gratitude should not wax and wane according to our circumstances.

Now we should be a little careful here to notice that Paul does not exhort us to be thankful for all things, but to be thankful in all things. Those are two different postures, especially relevant during a season of difficulty. Paul is not saying that we should thank God for the disease or for the pain or for the job loss or for the heartache. What he is saying, though, is that even during those times of great difficulty, there is always, always, always cause for gratitude. So what might that be? At a minimum, here are three reasons the Christian can be thankful during a season of difficulty:

1. Difficulty is an opportunity for God’s work in us.

Here is another passage from the apostle that leads to this first point:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (Rom. 5:1-5).

When we find ourselves in a season of suffering, we also find that we are launched into an accelerated process of faith development, and Paul gives us the chain of events. Suffering leads to perseverance; perseverance helps develop character; and our character development sharpens our sense of hope. Surely all of us can look back over the course of our lives and see how this progression has happened. It wasn’t something we asked for, and not something we enjoyed, and probably not even something we knew was happening. And yet the work of God does on in us, and the fact that God can use these seasons of pain in a redemptive way is a lasting testimony to it. These seasons change us. They sharpen us. They refine us. And that is cause for gratitude.

2. Difficulty is an opportunity for God’s work through us.

Here’s another passage from Paul in this regard:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

It’s another chain of events set in motion by these difficult times. We experience events of pain, and as we do, we are comforted by the enduring presence, love, and grace of Jesus. Here, too, we can surely look back during these times in our lives and bear witness to the fact that we have experienced an increased measure of the presence of God that has given us comfort. But that comfort is not meant to stop with us. We are meant to be conduits of that grace and compassion to others who are experiencing something similar.

Through seasons of difficulty, then, God is not only working in us; he is preparing to work through us for the good and comfort of others. This, too, is a reason for gratitude.

3. Difficulty is an opportunity for us to look to the future.

One more passage here from Paul:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (Rom. 1:18-19).

When everything seems right, when there’s plenty of money in the bank account, when everyone around us is healthy and prosperous, it is cause for gratitude. We should be thankful for such times. But all the same, we should always be wary of the truth that comfort breeds complacency. The more comfortable we are, the easier it is to forget that this world is terribly, terribly broken and is not our home. But seasons of difficulty change all that.

When our circumstances are daunting, we are forced to reckon with just how broken this world is. That things are not as they should be. That they are not as they will be. So seasons like that, as painful as they are, also refocus our eyes on the future to a day when Jesus will fix it all. For this, we can be thankful.

And so we come back to Paul’s exhortation, that even though we aren’t to be grateful for all things, we can be grateful in all things.

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