Being thankful requires hard work. Eating turkey or watching a silly football game will never bring about true thankfulness. Sunday I preached about the need to give thanks even in and for difficult circumstances in our lives. St. Paul was able to write that his imprisonment “has really served to advance the gospel” in Philippians 1:12. In that same letter he would go on to write in 4:6 “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” The two most important words for me, right now, in that sentence is “everything” and “thanksgiving”.
A part of processing giving thanks in hard times, for me, was a chapter in Wayne Cordeiro’s book Leading on Empty. This book has been very helpful to me as pastor, and I am thankful for all of it. However, “Chapter Three—Power Perfected in Weakness” was particularly moving. Cordeiro sprinkles the chapter with a healthy dose of quotations from notable people who have commented on their own struggles and how it has helped them become better.
- “We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.”—Winston Churchill
- “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.
- “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.
- “I am told God loves me—and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”—Mother Teresa
- “I seem forsaken and alone, I hear the lion roar; and every door is shut but one, and that is Mercy’s door”—William Cowper
- “The ministry is a matter which wears the brain and strains the heart, and drains out of the life of a man if he attends to it as he should.”—Charles Spurgeon
- “I am now the most miserable man living . . . Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell. I awfully forebode I shall not.”—Abraham Lincoln
- “We turn to God for help when our foundations are shaking, only to learn that it is God who is shaking them.”—Charles C. West
- “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”—Helen Keller
I’ve been thinking about these quotations, my own struggles in ministry with both success and failure; and where I think I can improve in the future. The MLK quotes stand out in my mind the strongest. As a white man I will never truly know the kind of social injustice he faced and the kind of courage it took for him to be the hero that he was and is; however, I understand his twin concepts of hope in the face of hopelessness and the nature of integrity emerging our of hardship. Both of them are universal.
Life is good; but every good life has times of intense trial. The difference between genuine success as a human being is not letting the hardships define who we are or become. We cannot allow the difficulties to define us. Instead, it is our response to these difficulties out of which greatness comes. If this is true; then I must learn to give thanks for those hard times in my life that have helped me become the person I am right now.