Do I have to be thankful for the trials in my life?
The Bible says, “give thanks in all circumstances…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV). But being thankful for trials doesn’t seem right and we wonder if that is what God really wants of us. We need to understand some things about thankfulness and trials in order to gain perspective on this question.
First, thankfulness is an attitude before it is a feeling or emotion—a mindset that looks for the good, the pure, and the positive in things that happen in life. For Christians it is rooted in the belief that God who is sovereign over all is a loving God working all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). It’s an attitude, which we must cultivate and develop through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Second, being thankful is different than being glad. This is an important distinction because we may be thinking when Scripture tells us to give thanks in all circumstances it is telling us to be happy about everything, or glad that the circumstance happened.
I spoke to a woman whose husband had passed away from a brain tumour. There is nothing happy about that. And she was not grateful that God took him. She was grief-stricken. Yet in the midst of her grief she was grateful for God’s care and provision for her and that her husband was with the Lord. If we have an attitude of gratitude there will always be things for which we can be thankful. And thankfulness helps to assuage our grief.
Third, thankfulness is social. It is best expressed to others, especially and ultimately to God who providentially works all things for our good. In that sense thankfulness works against our self-serving bias, which thinks when good things happen to us it’s because of something we did. Then when bad things happen we blame God, other people, or circumstances. Ingratitude negatively affects relationships, including our relationship with God. Gratitude makes us appreciate the value of something or someone and we are less likely to take them for granted.
Fourth, thankfulness is an antidote to unhealthy and destructive attitudes and behaviour. Ingratitude, resentment, complaining, and bitterness—things that Scripture speaks against—are things that poison us and others spiritually, emotionally, and even physically.
To bring further clarity to this question we need to understand trials. The Bible tells us that there are numerous purposes for them. God’s ultimate purpose is to conform us to be more like Jesus (Romans 8:29). Trials wean us from self-sufficiency to greater dependence and depth of relationship with God. Trials test our faith with a view to proving it is genuine (1 Peter 1:6-7). If responded to in the right way, trials develop godly character (Romans 5:3-5).
The fact that God is at work in our life to accomplish these things is something for which we can give thanks even though the circumstances surrounding them may be unpleasant. It’s like surgery—though we do not like the pain we are grateful for the healing it brings.
I encourage you to look at the difficult situations you may be facing right now and find ways to be grateful for what has taken place in your life. In the midst of our darkest moments God is still good. He still loves us infinitely and unconditionally. And He is still working for our good. These things will never change and for that we can always give thanks.
I hope this helps.