I love the smell of crushed leaves underfoot, and air which is just cool enough to require a light jacket; plus there is just something about this time of year that makes it optimal for sitting down with a novel and your favorite steaming beverage. Enjoying pumpkin patches, apple orchards, and wandering through corn mazes with family are some of the things that come to mind when I think of Fall. These are just a few of the reasons I am glad that Thanksgiving takes place during this time of year because it tends to be when I am most aware of God’s blessings.
Thanksgiving itself is a day with many fond memories of enjoying a meal with family and friends, watching football together, and ending the evening playing board games and laughing until it hurts. Even when my wife and I didn’t have family nearby to enjoy the day with, we have always had friends who graciously opened their homes to us and allowed us to be part of their own families. Regardless of where we were, Thanksgiving has always been for me a day to really stop and consider all of the things I love and appreciate about how God has blessed me and my family.
When We Don’t Feel Thankful
But, it is not as if this time of year magically erases the fact that we live in a sinful and fallen world. Many of us are experiencing some very difficult trials right now and frankly the idea of being ‘thankful’ just grates on us. If we were being honest, we may even be angry with God and questioning His character and purpose because of what we are currently going through. There are usually two different ways people react in this situation; one is to simply put on a facade and pretend like everything is fine, and the other is to retreat and become bitter against God and everyone else. What God wants though, is not for us to pretend the trials don’t exist, or for us to become bitter against Him. Instead, He wants us to shift our focus toward the purpose He has for our trials.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
– James 1:2-4
This verse and ones like it tend to cause strong reactions in people for a variety of reasons. Perhaps it is just our own human nature and struggling to reconcile the idea that a trial could be a blessing. Or we may have a reaction against even citing a verse like this because we have seen it used as a means to put up a fake Christian facade which almost denies the existence of trials. Whatever your initial reaction may be, we need to honestly check our hearts and let God’s Word examine us rather than being merely blown about by our emotions.
Perspective Is Important
When James encourages his fellow believers to consider it a joy when they face trials, it does not mean they should pretend the trials do not exist. In the original context, James was writing to people who were being actively persecuted and sometimes killed for the fact they were followers of Jesus. He is not minimizing the fact that the trials they are experiencing are very real. Instead, he is directing his readers to not focus simply on the trials themselves but to focus on the purpose God has for allowing the trials into their lives.
The purpose that is given is that God uses the means of trials to produce something in His people that grows and matures them. When God regenerates a person through faith in Christ, they are fully justified and washed clean of their sin and credited with Jesus’ own righteousness. They are adopted as His children, and positionally cannot be more or less of His child than they already are. But, as His children, God desires for them to grow in obedience to Him and reflect His own holy nature out of a love for Him. This process of repenting of sin and growing in holiness is called sanctification, which is the process in which a child of God grows and matures to reflect the character of their Father.
Thankful For God’s Sovereignty
I admit, there have been times during a difficult season that I could be fully aware of the promise of God’s sovereignty and His desire to produce something in me, and yet be frustrated with Him that I was going through a trial. It’s usually in those moments that I don’t want to be reminded of this verse, I think because I sinfully just want to remain bitter against God for not following my plan. What I have come to realize though is that my feelings in that moment do not negate the fact that this is part of God’s Word and I need to live in light of what it says. Sometimes the verse I don’t want to hear, is the one I need most because it is what God will use to change my heart in that moment.
So while I hope you can enjoy some of God’s common graces this Thanksgiving and become more aware of all of His good provisions, I also hope you can be challenged as I have been to find rest in the sovereignty of God in all things. Because as His people we know that even during the difficult times He is not only in control, but has a purpose behind what we are experiencing even when we often do not understand it at the time.