Gratitude: An Act of Faith in Harsh Seasons

By Pastor Gavin & Andrea Carrier

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

This passage in 1 Thessalonians is easy to read but difficult to practice and probably is even more crucial to obey in a difficult season.  To flesh it out, we can go back to the people of Israel as they are near the beginning of their desert or wilderness wanderings immediately after God rescued them from “bitter” slavery that threatened the lives of their children and caused them to “cry out” to God for help.  

Exodus 16 sets up a summary scene of how the people reacted to the desert, to God’s leadership, and God’s response.  The people of Israel struggled with the desert conditions, and they grumbled and complained.  Moses and Aaron also complained about the people’s complaining!  However, there is a contrast between the grumblings.  Moses and Aaron grumbled TO God and asked for His help on a problem.  The people of Israel complained ABOUT God’s leadership because it wasn’t leading them where they thought they wanted to go.  We can tell their complaint is more rebellious because they say they want to go back to Egypt and they actually mention how “good” things used to be!  The amazing thing about this passage is that God provides for them anyway, despite their attitudes; manna in the morning and meat in the evening.  But isn’t it also amazing how hard circumstances can make God’s provision suspect and make slavery look like relief?!

The people of Israel will do almost anything for some bread and relief. WE are just like the people of Israel at times when we are placed into difficult circumstances.  The temptation of the desert time is to distrust God’s leadership and go our own way which always leads back to slavery.  We are simply looking for a feel good in a feel bad, and the desire for comfort makes slavery an attractive alternative!  So we grumble against our situation and against God’s leadership.  We run to self-medicate in a desire to control our circumstances with things or attitudes which ultimately end up controlling us: bitterness, alcohol, pornography, food, busyness, obsessive anxiety, etc..  The sad part is that our commitment to a certain outcome blinds us to God’s provision in harsh times.  We miss God’s provision, and we become ungrateful.  Ingratitude causes us to miss God’s good leadership.  

BUT God has such a desire for a different outcome for you and I:

You shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:2-3

God has allowed the desert time to be a revealing time. We are taken away from our normal and being given the opportunity to really know what is in our hearts and what we are holding on to so desperately.  God knows us well enough that many of us have a “God +” faith.  Which means, I believe in you God AND I need things to go my way.  God, IF your leadership leads me where I want to go, then I will follow you.  And yet God wants to grow us into an “Even-If” faith.  A faith that is NOT committed to a certain set of circumstances in my life or certain outcomes in my relationships.  Rather, God desires to grow our trust in His leadership so that we can acknowledge and deal with what is, rather than what we believe things should be.  God desires to grow us beyond our demanding spirit and in this way He “humbles” us so we can face what is our current reality and see His provision.

I (Andrea) can tell you specifically of a time the Lord was teaching me this lesson in gratitude.  Last year our son Samuel was having some issues which required a great deal of medical testing and a lot of unknowns.  I teach 6th grade at a local Christian school and I regularly had my students write in gratitude journals.  One morning during this season of medical testing, I opened the day by encouraging my students to think of a hard time in their lives and try to give thanks even in those circumstances.  Minutes later, I received a phone call that our son failed another medical test and would require an MRI to check for a brain tumor. If he didn’t have a tumor, he would still require daily injections until adulthood.  I wasn’t expecting this news, so I left my classroom to cry and try to get myself together.  Immediately, I felt God nudging me and asking, “how can you see ME in this?”  “What can you be grateful for in this situation?”  I was overcome and knew that God had prepared the way by giving Samuel a dad who, too, has to give himself injections on a regular basis (Type 1 Diabetes).  Samuel’s condition and treatment would not be permanent like his father’s.  God also paved the way for us to quickly get into one of the best doctors in the Houston area for his condition.  Being able to see these provisions moments after falling apart changed my perspective entirely although Samuel’s situation did not.

To exercise the skill of gratitude is an act of faith, and it is well beyond some psychological notion about the power of positive thinking.  It is to believe that every season of blessing is a gift, and in harsher times we can be grateful for God’s provision, presence, and leadership despite the circumstances.  

When we choose to be grateful for His provision, we can endure great seasons of hardship.  Gratefulness propels us to make it through the desert in much healthier ways, and it helps us from being overwhelmed by our desert conditions.  It leads to true freedom, because we are free to follow God rather than tempted to escape into a behavior or habit that will only lead to more slavery.  You see, the slavery is not back in Egypt, the slavery is with us.  It is inside of us, and God is actively trying to free us to “not live on bread alone” (even though he even provides bread!), but on every word that comes out of God’s mouth. This is the verse that Jesus quoted to the devil in his own 40 day period in the desert.  Desert times are times where God is hoping to build your trust in His leadership, but we need to see the manna!  We need to exercise our faith to express gratitude as 1 Thessalonians tells us, “in everything”.  

Can you see the Manna?  Do you see God’s provision in the middle of your rough moments?  You will often have to work harder to see it. Don’t be thankful FOR the desert (He doesn’t ask you to like it), but instead express gratitude for God’s provision IN the desert.  Look closely, it is there.  Dependency on God’s leadership leads to freedom, there is in fact a promised land on the other side of that desert.  Gratitude will help you endure and get you there:  gratitude always, because He is always there.  

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