Life does that, doesn’t it? When you feel like you’ve been dealt a really bad hand and everything that could possibly go wrong already has, suddenly something else goes wrong and you feel like screaming, or giving up.
Or, at other times, things seem ok for a while and you get comfortable, you feel that at last all is well in your life, those problems you worried about have been sorted – and then suddenly something really bad happens and you’re back in the pit. Life sometimes feels like a game of snakes & ladders, up one minute and down the next, good surprises but also some very nasty ones! [note for US readers: snakes & ladders is the game you know as chutes & ladders. same principle – where you slide down a chute, in the British version it’s a snake. same thing, just a bit more scary…]
For those of us who believe in God – the God of the Bible, the loving God who showed his love for the world by giving his only Son so that all who believe in him should not perish – the Bible encourages us to keep trusting God and, despite what our emotions might be saying to the contrary, it tells us to give thanks!
Give thanks? give thanks when everything is going wrong in your life? give thanks when you’re given a cancer diagnosis, or when you lose a child, or when your spouse gets up and leaves you for someone else after decades of marriage? give thanks when you get falsely accused of something at work and lose your job, and can’t pay the mortgage so you lose your home and end up on the streets? give thanks when people you trusted let you down? give thanks when your house burns down? give thanks when you’re the victim of robbery or rape or torture? give thanks?!!!
But we’re told to give thanks in all circumstances, just like Habakuk:
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
That bit at the end there – that’s a really good clue as to why we should give thanks to God even when everything is going wrong, even when we’ve lost everything, even when we feel like we’re at the bottom of a very dark pit. Because even when we feel like God is far away, even when we feel like he isn’t hearing our cries, he is still the God of our salvation, the one who showed his love for the world by sending his only Son to die so that all who believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
The stuff we’re experiencing here and now – it’s only a short, temporary phase, though when we’re suffering it can feel like it’s going on forever. Compared to eternity, it’s really very short. And God has given me promises for eternity – so yes, even when things go very wrong, I still have reason to give thanks. I can give thanks for the promise, which I know he will fulfil because God is 100% faithful. I can give thanks for the hope that his promises give me, which helps me to carry on when things are tough because I know that this life, the here and now, is not all there is – I know there’s a lot more to come, and that, thanks to Jesus, it will be a lot lot lot better!
This has been on my mind recently as we’ve been looking at the story of Joseph in church – his life story really makes me think of a game of snakes & ladders: Joseph’s mother dies giving birth to his younger brother (snake going down); his father loves him more than all his brothers (ladder going up); his brothers hate him and throw him into a pit and then sell him to slave traders, who take him to a foreign country (down, down, down); he’s bought by a good master, who treats him very very well (up again); but his master’s wife fancies him and when Joseph consistently refuses to sleep with her, she falsely accuses him of trying to rape her and Joseph is put in prison (down again). Eventually there’s another ladder going up, and Joseph ends up as prime minister of Egypt, but his life up to then was very much not plain sailing! And yet the constant refrain as we read this account in Genesis is: and the Lord was with Joseph.
Even when he was literally in the pit, even when he was, later on, in prison for something he hadn’t done, the Bible tells us that God was with Joseph.
And that’s the other thing I hang on to – the promise that God will never leave me. The knowledge that even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I can walk without fear because God is always going to be with me.
I remember thinking about this when, years ago, I got lost when out for a walk in an unfamiliar and slightly scary terrain. I had this conversation with myself, which went something like this:
– Come on, self, don’t be scared, don’t you trust God?
– Well, yes, but what is it that I can trust him for in this situation? I can’t trust that he won’t let me fall and break a leg, for instance – that would be silly, I know he does allow stuff like that to happen, even to people who trust him. (I may or may not have gone on to give myself examples, like, hey, look at Job… and, oh, look at Jesus, and look at all his disciples who were murdered for their faith, and… hey, look at Joseph…)
– That’s true, you can’t trust that nothing bad will happen to you. What you can trust is that he will be with you. He won’t leave you alone.
And for that I give thanks. In all circumstances.