"Yet the real miracle comes when you can look back at even the most painful experiences in your life and find the good that God has brought out of it. Until you can see the work of God in the worst of circumstances you have not yet begun to see your life from the eyes of God. When gratitude does its greatest work within us, we are able to celebrate who we are becoming even when we have passed through experiences we would wish on no one. No tragedy or hardship can rob us the joy that is always before us when our eyes remain on Jesus." ~ Erwin McManus, Uprising, pg. 127
I don't know about you but I am a very ungrateful person. This is especially true when it comes to God. So much of what He has done for me I tend to think are things that I deserve or things that God should do. From salvation to providing me the wisdom for preaching to the food in my kitchen I rarely stop and specifically thank God for what He has done. Sure I throw up those quick prayers that generalize my thankfulness, but I am not good at talking about specifics.
It occurred to me that if I have trouble thanking God for the good gifts of life, then I would have even more trouble being thankful for the hardships of my life. Outside of a couple of occasions I have not thanked God for working in my life through hardships and tragedies.
According to the New Testament writers we should rejoice in our trials. Not because we enjoy suffering, but because of what the suffering represents and the good that will come from it. Isn't that the point James was making when he wrote:
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, ESV)James makes it clear that we should find joy in suffering, not because we enjoy the pain, but because we know that there is a benefit to the pain. Suffering is one of the tools God uses to mold us into the people He created us to be.
Here is the problem I face: I can't see into the future. It is difficult for me to think beyond the here and now, and how can I find joy in what I will be tomorrow when it hurts so much today? Is it possible to develop this sort of long-sightedness?
Let me suggest that it is. The writer of Hebrews wrote:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. (Hebrews 12:1-6; ESV)The Writer tells us that endurance and perseverance comes from keeping our eyes on Jesus. Our Savior, as we well know, endure pain and hardship that is more than what we can imagine. He endure it for us. The point, from this passage in Hebrews, seems to be that by remembering what Jesus endure for us is motivation to endure suffering in that same fight against evil and sin.
Gratitude doesn't come easy. It doesn't come easy because we have a tendency to focus on ourselves. The good things God provides we tell ourselves we deserve, and the suffering God allows we tell ourselves how unfair it is. We will only become grateful when we set our eyes on Jesus and remember what He went through on our behalf. Gratitude, for the good and the bad, is one of the miracles of having faith in Jesus Christ.