Forthright Magazine

Thanksgiving amidst suffering

Suffering creates divergent paths. A less travelled road would be prayers of thanksgiving. Such a response is not only possible, it’s commanded and beneficial.

How can thanksgiving amidst duress even be possible? Paul’s letter to the Philippian church laid the groundwork.

The groundwork enabling thanksgiving

The church at Philippi suffered persecution from without and internal conflict from within (Philippians 1:28-30; 2:14; 4:2). Instead of the self-absorbed responses of licking one’s wounds, being consumed with injustices suffered or pursuing one’s own agenda, Paul directed this beleaguered church’s focus toward a profound understanding of love (Phil. 1:9-11).

If this church would embrace a profound love soaring above the circumstances of suffering, their lives would produce the fruit of righteousness and shine like lights in a dark world. Self-absorbed motives endemic to conflict would be turned inside out (Phil. 2:3-5; 3:18-19). Why? Because being motived by an informed love involves seeking the best for others, even when life is rough. At the top of seeking another’s wellbeing is the difference Christ makes in someone’s life.

Thus, although Paul was in prison he could rejoice that the gospel was being preached – even if some were motivated to hurt him (Phil. 1:17-18). While it was better for Paul to die and be with the Lord, yet loving the Philippians caused him to desire to serve them, even if it meant he’d be poured out like an offering (Phil. 1:23-24; 2:17). Similarly, Christ’s mindset looked to the interests of others, rather than just to his own. Thus he emptied himself and became obedient to death on a cross.

Is there any encouragement in Christ? Of course! Does love provide comfort? Certainly! Is fellowship in the Spirit worthwhile? Absolutely!  And here’s the thing. Suffering does not alter what is true about Christ, love or the Spirit. These and so many other truths about God, Christ, the gospel and Christian service are neither destroyed nor diminished by adversity, pain or duress.

Philippians commands rejoicing where the natural responses would be bitterness, anger, sulking or retaliation. Stop the complaining and grumbling! (Phil. 2:14)

Prayer and thanksgiving

To a church besieged with opposition and stress, Paul commanded: “Let everyone see your gentleness.  The Lord is near!” (Phil. 4:5). Gentleness, not retaliation nor arguing, should shine. What empowers such a response? Echoing Hebrews 13:5-6, Paul wrote, “The Lord is near.” Christians are not alone – reason to rejoice! Duress does not alter this truth.

Paul continued, “Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6). Whatever the situation, take it to God with prayers, petitions and thanksgiving.

Cries for relief were to be laid side by side with thanksgiving! God still loves. Christ still redeems. The list goes on. God’s people have reasons to be thankful even when suffering. For those who will pray and be thankful, “The peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds  in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).

The question is, how will we respond when life gets ugly?


Barry Newton
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