There are two biblical kinds of gratitude.
One way to be thankful in the midst of a hardship is to be thankful that it isn't worse. This kind of thankfulness isn’t the best, deepest, richest kind of thankfulness, but it is legitimate nonetheless.
- Manasseh may not have as great a blessing as Ephraim, but he will have a great blessing nonetheless. (Gen. 48:19)
- Jacob may walk with a limp, but he will walk blessed nonetheless. (Gen. 32:31)
- Job may have escaped by the skin of his teeth, but he has escaped nonetheless. (Job 19:20)
This kind of thankfulness is negative, thanking God for what isn’t. A person can be grateful that he doesn’t have the measles or isn’t a paraplegic, never took up smoking, or didn’t marry that junior high heartthrob who turned out to be a jerk. This scaled-down, lesser variety of gratefulness is one way we can be thankful in a pandemic. This COVID-19 is not the Passover in which firstborns are dying all over the place. This pandemic is not the bubonic plague in which half of each community is dying and we are running out of caskets. We can be thankful it is not the Spanish Flu that killed over three hundred times more people than COVID. We can be thankful for what it is not. It is not as bad as it could be.
Those who track this pandemic report that 99.9% of its victims recover and a large percentage have no symptoms, no dysfunction from ailment. We can be thankful for that. If you are reading this article, you can be grateful the pandemic hasn’t rendered you in a coma, and on and on. We can thank God for a zillion things we are not experiencing. Christians are not Chicken Little, and the sky is not falling.
But what about the person who does have measles, or is a paraplegic, or did take up smoking and now has emphysema? Or has COVID? Is there a positive gratefulness for such adversity? Yes, there is. And it is a deeper, richer, better kind of gratitude.
The second kind of thankfulness is grateful not only for what isn’t, but for what is. The Bible doesn’t exhort us merely to be thankful in everything, but for everything.
Be filled with the Spirit . . . giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. —Ephesians 5:18, 20
Always. For everything. No exceptions. The evidence of being filled with the Spirit is gratefulness for all things. “All things” includes pandemics.
How in the world can we be thankful for all things, including pandemics? We can because God wastes nothing. Not. One. Thing.
Why Thank God in Adversity?
First, productivity. All adversity—without exception—is productive in the life of the believer. Adversity is God’s wise design for producing. He is producing Christlikeness in us. Notice the productivity emphasized in the following verses:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. —James 1:2-4
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. —Romans 5:3-5
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. —2 Corinthians 4:17
Second, God is not done. Ever.
When the children of Israel were taken into captivity in Egypt, was God through with them? Obviously not.
When God sent pestilence in the wilderness, was he finished? No way.
When Lazarus died, was God finished with him? Definitely not.
When Lazarus died the second time, was God finished with his story? No, for here we are still learning from him.
When Jesus was brutalized on the cross, had the Father failed? Get real.
When you lose your job, or the baby dies, or your marriage is difficult, or a coronavirus induces governments to shut things down, is God done? Never. He is always—always—producing fruit through the adversity he has appointed.
How, Then, Shall We Practice Thankfulness during a Pandemic?
First, remember God. He hasn’t stopped being wise, loving, or all-powerful. He’s not failing. Not even close. His eternal promises are still in effect.
Has his steadfast love forever ceased?
Are his promises at an end for all time? —Psalm 77:8
Thank God for his steadfast love and faithfulness, even in a pandemic. Especially in a pandemic.
Second, review the scriptures that touch upon his purposes in affliction. He never wastes one shred of affliction in the lives of his children, but uses each and every pang to produce sweet and lasting fruit. For example:
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. —Psalm 119:67
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. —Psalm 119:71
Thank God that he relentlessly pursues our sanctification through suffering.
He never wastes one shred of affliction in the lives of his children, but uses each and every pang to produce sweet and lasting fruit.
Third, compassionately serve others who are suffering.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. —2 Corinthians 1:3–4
Thank God for the opportunities he gives to be instruments in his hands.
Fourth, pray. He hears the cries of his people. Prayer is a great mystery. The Bible teaches that God folds our prayers into causality. He ordains not only the outcomes stemming from our praying, but he ordains the very prayers themselves as the means for bringing about the outcomes.
You do not have, because you do not ask. —James 4:2
Thank God for the unspeakably precious privilege of his open invitation to petition him and intercede for others.
Fifth, whenever circumstances change (e.g., a pandemic arrives) thank God for what has not changed (e.g., his eternal power and godhead, his promises are still intact, heaven is still secure, etc.).
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. —Hebrews 13:8
Sixth, if he has so worked in your heart that earnest gratitude is welling up, thank him that you are thankful, for he is the one who is bringing about that transformation.
There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound. —Psalm 4:6-7
Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation. —Habakkuk 3:17-18
Sam Crabtree is the author of Practicing Thankfulness: Cultivating a Grateful Heart in All Circumstances.
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