It is difficult to be thankful when you suffer. When you experience the loss of a loved one you begin to wonder if you will ever feel happy again. It is hard to be thankful when you are hurting. When you find yourself in a dark place and seriously begin to wonder if it would be better for you and everyone else if you died, it is difficult to be thankful. The Bible is not silent on the issue of suffering. We are told that the foundational cause of suffering is sin and the cure is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are given examples of godly people who have suffered tragedy and the good (John 11) and not so good (Gen 34) responses they had.
Giving thanks to God during times of grief is difficult but not impossible. In fact, it is one of the best means of progressing towards hope while you are grieving. How can you be thankful during times of grief? Remember, Reflect, and Rejoice.
First, remember. Remember all the truths about God you have been taught and believe. Do not doubt in the darkness what you have clearly seen in the light. One of the results of the grieving process is that our minds become absorbed with that one thing. It is vital that you force yourself to remember key foundational truths about God. Remember that He loves you. Remember that He is in control. Remember that He is always working good; even in the bad circumstances. While grieving, you may not want to hear someone quote Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” But, remember that it is true.
Second, reflect. Reflect on your situation, but do not dwell on it. What’s the difference between reflecting and dwelling? Think of it like a house. When you dwell in a house you live in it. Dwelling on the cause of your grief is like going back to the situation and living there as you relive it over and over. When you reflect, you think deeply and carefully about something. Going back to the house illustration, rather than dwelling in the house, you sit outside the house and look in. Reflecting is different because it gives you time to grieve and realize that your life has changed and you have to adjust to the new reality.
There is no set timeframe for you to stop grieving. In one sense, you will never stop grieving until you are given your new body and dwelling with God forever in the new heavens and new earth (Rev 21:4). The goal in grieving well is not to stop grieving but to grieve with hope. James White wrote a helpful book on grieving and he said, “One does not seek to escape grief, but to embrace it, work through it, allow it to heal the hurt, so that we can move on with our lives in full light and recognition of what has happened and how God has changed our lives as a result.”
When we are grieving we are overwhelmed by our emotions. Our emotions are powerful and have great control over us, so we are told in the Bible to take control of them. We do this by guarding our heart. Proverbs 4:23, “Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” Ted Tripp has said, “Usually when we think of the heart we think of our emotions. The heart is the essence of you. It is more than just emotions. It is the command center of your life. It is the seat of motivation.”
We must guard our hearts because, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Also, Proverbs 28:26 says, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will escape.” We must guard our heart as we trust in the Lord. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”
Third, rejoice in the Lord. Before you dismiss this point, please hear me out. In Psalm 118:24, we read: “This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.” The glorious truth found in this verse is that we do not rejoice in what the day may bring, but we rejoice in the One who has brought the day! The fact that God has brought this day to us means that we can rejoice and be glad in it.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. This verse does not teach us that every circumstance is good, but that God is good. Behind this verse is the doctrine of Providence. I have a Believer’s Study Bible edited by W.A Criswell. The commentary notes on this verse capture the essence very well: “The Christian is charged with the giving of thanks because of his confidence in the purpose and the providence of God in any and every circumstance of life.” John Piper defines providence as “the act of purposefully providing for, or sustaining and governing, the world.” What the doctrine of providence teaches is that there is no purposeless evil. God is not the author of sin and evil, but He will not let evil thwart His good purposes and plans. (Example, see Genesis 50:20)
Remember, Reflect, Rejoice!
- Remember all the truths about God you have been taught and believe.
- Reflect and give yourself time to grieve. Guard your heart so that you do not believe lies but trust God.
- Rejoice in the Lord who is powerfully and purposefully at work.
If you are grieving, trust God. Consider the story of Martha from John 11. Martha had just lost her brother and was grieving. When she saw Jesus she said to Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Martha then said something very profound. Martha said, “But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You” (John 11:22). Martha serves as an example of a godly person hurting yet trusting. Trust the Lord and allow Him to help you give thanks in all circumstances.