Continuing our series on suffering, in this post we’ll look at the lies told about you when you suffer and the potent medicine God prescribes for our suffering.
A Man-Eating Lion
I was watching National Geographic one evening and they were telling the story of a man-eating lion. This lion had killed a villager which instilled terror in the hearts of the people in the area. So what they did was form a large group, and they left their village, and they walked out into the bush, banging on drums and whatever else they could find. Their goal was to drive the man-eater out into the open where they could kill it. And I was struck by how confident the people were as they walked through the jungle, the very jungle where that man-eater was lurking. As long as they stayed together, and as long as they continued to bang on their drums, the lion would stay away.
There’s a powerful weapon God gives us to use against the lion who stalks you, the one Jesus said, “…was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)
When we suffer that dark lion comes to us telling lies. He says, “You’re worthless. Nobody wants you. Nobody really loves you. Some might pity you maybe, but love? No way.” And he says, “Did God really say that which you find in the Bible? You know what’s in there isn’t really fair. You won’t find your answers here. He gave you a raw deal you know. If He really loved you, then why did He let this happen?” And he says, “You have no future you know. You have only those people who are against you, those other people who let you down, and your broken heart. You have only your pain and your suffering. That’s it. You have nothing to look forward to. Nothing.” (Genesis 3:1)
Yes, that dark lion does come sometimes, and he brings those lies with him. However like the people from the village, there’s something we can do to drive our enemy away. But first let’s clear up the misconceptions found in those three lies.
1) You’re worthless.
This lie is perhaps the easiest of all to dispel. Because if you’re worthless then why did the Father run to meet the prodigal with open arms? And why did God pay the enormous price He did for your soul? God thinks you are worth so much, that He sacrificed His only Son, so you won’t die in your sins. He did that so He can have you live with Him, in eternity. So do you see? God wants you. God loves you. You’re worth a great deal: to God. (Luke 15:11-32, John 3:16)
2) Did God really say that?
What a great day it is for that dark lion when someone discards God’s words, and works out a world view on their own. One that avoids anything that would embarrass them too much with their peers. One that fits in pretty well with their culture. One that doesn’t mess too much with the comfortable life path they’re currently walking on. Maybe there’s even a little taken from the Bible to placate those friends and family who strive to follow Jesus Christ.
But Jesus would answer that question, “Did God really say that?” with a resounding, “Yes.” All you have to do is read the gospels and it’s plain as can be that Jesus quoted scripture as an authoritative source. And he also spoke of several miracles recorded in the Bible as accurately reported historical events. It’s obvious that he knew God’s scriptures, he loved God’s scriptures, he saw them as authoritative, and he viewed them as accurate. So for me, I’m going with God’s Son’s take on the Bible, rather than what’s said by that dark lion.
3) You Have No Future
Nothing could be further from the truth because your future in Christ is spectacular! On this earth you get to spend time with Him, in God’s word, and in prayer, and in community with your brothers and sisters in Christ, and at His table, and when you pour out your heart to Him in song. And that’s just an appetizer. After this life, there’s heaven, for heaven’s sake. Jesus said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:1-2)
So you do have a future, and Jesus is preparing it for you.
Thanksgiving vs. Suffering
So when pain and suffering come in any form, those three lies often come soon after. And we’ve seen the truth about them, and recognizing the truth is always helpful. But even more powerful against the crushed spirit that comes with pain and suffering is the effect of thanksgiving and gratitude.
The Bible is full of scriptures admonishing us to give thanks: “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting.” “He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me…” I’m just scratching the surface here. Direction to give thanks and have gratitude toward God is given over and over in the scriptures. Why would He do that? (1 Thessalonians 5:18, Psalm 136:1, Psalm 50:23)
In the context of suffering, I think the biggest reason God wants us to give thanks is because of how much it helps us. He loves us and knows that one thing that will help us dramatically is giving thanks. Earlier today I found this clinical psychology review paper on a Cal Berkeley website that just blew my mind. The whole thing is about thanksgiving and gratitude and the difference in outlook that regular thanksgiving makes is just amazing. In that study the authors concluded that taking inventory on the positive (rather than the negative as I’m so often prone to do) has a dramatic effect on your outlook. They wrote, “Theoretically, a life orientation towards noticing and appreciating the positive in life may be expected to be strongly related to wellbeing, and may be contrasted with the Beckian view of depression, which views the disorder as involving a life orientation towards perceiving the negative in the self, world, and future.” (Beck, 1976).
And they also reported that, “…gratitude is associated with a wide variety of adaptive personality traits, characterized by habitual positive well-being and the traits conducive to the development and maintenance of positive relationships.”
In their paper the authors conclude that not only attitude and relationships are affected by thanksgiving, but worrying and even physical health are positively affected. In short, thanksgiving is strong medicine for our pain and suffering. Not only do we see that in scriptures like Philippians 4:6-7, but thousands of years later secular psychology has discovered the same.
Like those people who were driving away the man-eating lion by beating their drums, we can drive away the dark lion who attacks us by expressing thanksgiving and gratitude to God. So at this point you might be asking, How does that work anyway? How do we express our thanks and gratitude so that it drives away our enemy?
Pray. We’re told in Philippians 4:6-7 to, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
You know, honestly, there have been times in my life when I was bringing everything to God in prayer, but God’s peace eluded me. And thinking back, I see now that the reason was I forgot to implement the part that says, “…with thanksgiving…” The thanks I gave in those prayers (if I gave any at all) was token. My focus was on my problems to the exclusion of what I had to be thankful for. True peace from God has come to me during those times I made it a point to give thanks in everything as God told me to when He said in His word, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
So pray with a strong emphasis on thanksgiving, and see what happens to the anxiety and depression in your heart.
Speak With Thanksgiving
…and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (Ephesians 5:4)
You know, it’s so easy sometimes to find my conversation to be critical, or blaming, or bitter, or cynical. But if I’m thanking someone for what they’ve done for me, or even if I’m just sharing how thankful I am for something in my life, it’s really tough for my speech to descend into the negative. (Piper)
So seasoning your speech with thanksgiving will not only help you in your relationships and attitude, but it’s also a help for speaking in a way that pleases and glorifies our God. So find ways to work thanksgiving into your conversation.
Give Thanks As Often As You Can
So in everything give thanks, as often as you can. Start every day with thanksgiving. Start your conversations with thanksgiving. Start every prayer with thanksgiving. You might still be left with your problems, but the effect on your heart will be uplifting and rejuvenating and enlivening. Giving thanks is hugely important. Thanksgiving is easily one of the most important and effective ways of dealing with pain and suffering shared in this series.
Live your life…
Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; (Ephesians 5:20)
References and Resources:
John Piper, Guard Yourself With Gratitude
Wood, A. M., et al., Gratitude and well-being: A review and theoretical integration, Clinical Psychology Review (2010)
Image via coloneljohnbritt – Creative Commons