“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” —Philippians 4:11-12
As Thanksgiving approaches each year, it can be hard to feel thankful if we don’t have an abundance of positive things occurring in our life. Fortunately, all is not lost if that is where we find ourselves. For while negative circumstances can make it hard to be thankful, it is possible to be thankful anyway. That is because in Romans, Paul says God “works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
That doesn’t mean we have to pretend everything is good when we are experiencing negative things. It just means we must be willing to believe God is telling the truth when He says He will bring about good for us despite the negative things that can swirl around us in life.
That is because God loves us. And God is greater than any evil that can come at us in life. The problem with being thankful for that (and finding things to be thankful for when we are suffering) probably flows from the fact that while sometimes God delivers us from suffering quickly, at other times He seems to delay in “working for the good.” And when that happens, we can find it hard to even focus on the positives in our lives, no less feel thankful for them.
Being thankful is a choice
But being thankful isn’t just an emotion. It is also a choice. It is a choice to believe that God is a being of love. It is a choice to trust that our loving God will deliver us. It is a choice to act on that trust, to thank our loving God for the good things He is already doing for us, because there are always positive things in our lives if we are willing to see them. Finally, it is a choice to always praise God, even when deliverance from suffering has not yet arrived.
We see this most powerfully in Job. After he lost possessions, his children and even his own health, he chose to not let negative emotions guide his actions. Instead, he relied on his faith in God. As a result, he declared “the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of the Lord!”
That is because Job believed that God is indeed good, even when He lets suffering come upon us. He trusted that God loves us and walks with us, even in the midst of the pain and sorrow of this life, and that God is always working “for the good of those who love him.” So, he chose—and indeed, learned—to be “content in any and every situation long before the Apostle Paul penned those words in his letter to the Philippians.
Learn to be content, even thankful, in any and every situation
I recently experienced the need to make the choice to embrace the secret to thankfulness myself. I had a health issue develop that sent me to the hospital emergency room. The next morning, I looked out of a window hoping to see the brightness of the morning sun. But that joyous view was overpowered by the darkness of my current suffering being projected back at me in the reflection of the glass. Within a few minutes, however, that scenario began to change as the sun grew brighter, and the reflection began to disappear.
As we move toward Thanksgiving this year, let us all therefore seek to not be weighed down by the sufferings that come upon us in this fallen and sinful world, but instead, say like Job, “My Redeemer lives.” And because of that blessed assurance, let us choose, like Paul, to learn to be content, even thankful, in any and every situation.
*The Rev. Lloyd Speer is the pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Fairless Hills, Pa. He also co-chairs the Eastern PA Conference’s Congregational Development Team.