When I think about being thankful in 2020, my mind immediately runs to making a list of the positive things that have come out of negative circumstances. For instance, although we’ve had to stay at home, we’ve spent more quality time with family. Because so many events have been canceled, we’ve been able to slow down and practice self-care. Since March, people have found creative ways to “look on the bright side,” and searching for positivity is a worthy endeavor.
However, as I thought about the events in my personal life and my walk with God over the past eight months, I realized external challenges often brought about spiritual renewal within my soul. As “normal” life slipped further out of reach, God used a shifting season to teach me important truths about Himself and to give me an honest look at the contents of my heart. For this, I am deeply grateful.
GRATEFUL FOR REFINING TRIALS
A wise friend recently told me that gratitude happens only in a posture of humility, and we, as humans, are often humbled through hardship.
When calendars and bank accounts are full, it’s easy to gloss over unhealthy habits, to shove sin in the closet on your way out the door and promise you’ll deal with it another day. On the outside we look like we’re thriving, but the untended, small seeds of sin take root and spread in our hearts.
But when the world turns upside down, and when the everyday routines we relied on are suddenly gone, we are forced to face the reality of where our treasure and securities lie. For me, the difficult times in 2020 provided a much-needed spiritual recalibration. I felt like God gently held a magnifying glass over my heart and invited me to look at what was inside.
Romans 5:3-5 says, “… we also boast in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Affliction ultimately builds endurance because it is through suffering that we discover our true source of strength. In 2020, many of my go-to crutches to lean on during trials were no longer available. Instead, I had to take an honest look at where I found my strength. I repented when I recognized the sneaky idols for what they truly were: people, places, and things I looked to for security instead of looking to God.
I am grateful God loves me enough to not let me stay in my sin. While the Holy Spirit convicts, He also gives grace, assurance, and the deep freedom that accompanies repentance.
GRATEFUL NOT TO SUFFER ALONE
We can complain about the everyday luxuries we used to take for granted, but it’s important to acknowledge many people have faced substantial losses that far outweigh inconveniences. This year, individuals have experienced loneliness, job loss, heartbreaking injustice, and even death.
As believers, we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus our Savior knows what it is like to experience deep suffering. Isaiah 53:3a says, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.” In fact, the writer of Hebrews says Jesus is able to sympathize with our weakness since He was tempted in every way we are, but He did not sin. Because Jesus knows what we’re going through, we can be empowered to pray confidently.
“Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need” – Hebrews 4:16
What a promise! Knowing that Jesus suffered allows us to more easily draw near to Him. He is gracious and giving, and we can find deep comfort in His presence during difficult seasons.
GRATEFUL FOR HOPE
Remember Romans 5:3-5? Hope is the product of proven character, which is the product of endurance, which is the product of affliction. This hope is not merely optimism for a more comfortable solution to our earthly problems; this hope is the full assurance of the believer’s salvation in Christ.
Hope reminds us this world is not our home, but that a perfect, eternal home is waiting for us. We are freed from the frustration that comes from seeking total fulfillment here on earth. We can rest in the assurance of the perfect kingdom to come.
While we are still in our imperfect bodies in this imperfect world, believers have the privilege to share the hope of Jesus with the world, to be ministers of reconciliation between God and mankind. We bring the gospel, the “good news” of God, to all who need to hear.
Lastly, we can have hope for our present life as well. The psalmist David writes, “I am certain that I will see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart be courageous. Wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:13-14).
As we approach Thanksgiving Day, don’t limit your gratitude list to happy moments and surface-level pleasures. Instead, dig deep into how God has revealed Himself during seasons of hardship, and let the Holy Spirit produce endurance, proven character, and hope that does not disappoint.