Romeo United Methodist Church
Sunday, January 25, 2015
Looking Up - Reaching Out - Caring Within
Thanking God in the Midst of Trouble
By Dr. Gary R. GlanvilleNovember 29, 2009
Did you have a good Thanksgiving holiday? Were you able to find something to give thanks for, maybe a family member came home or you received a long-awaited answer to prayer? [Personally, I will be very thankful when all of our people who want to work are employed.] Or maybe you found a reason to give thanks in the common place for what others might take for granted. For instance, I read about a Sunday school teacher who asked her class of young children what they were thankful for. One little boy said he was thankful for his glasses. “Any special reason?” the teacher asked. “Yes,” he said, “my glasses keep the girls from kissing me.” Well, I suppose for a young boy that would be a reason to give thanks.
However, here’s the bigger question for the day. Can we give thanks before the answer to prayer comes, or can we give thanks to God when going through problems or we are facing more trials to come? That’s a little tougher don’t you think? Today, I want to talk about thanking God in the midst of trouble, because encountering various trials and frustrations and setbacks is something everyone of us deals with from time-to-time don’t we?
So I invite you to journey with me for these next few moments and let us see what we can learn together about giving thanks to God, in light of the trials and troubles that may come our way.
To our advantage living in the 21st Century, we can go back in history and see a great Biblical example in the New Testament of a person giving thanks while in the midst of trouble. I refer of course to the Apostle Paul. In the book of Acts, chapter 27, beginning at verse 14, we find Paul on a ship headed toward Rome. He has been unjustly accused of crimes he has not committed by his own countrymen and they have plotted twice to kill him over a span of several years while he is a prisoner. The ship with its crew and passengers totaling 276 people, are hoping to find a safe place to harbor for the winter, to avoid the terrible storms that crop up on the Mediterranean. And though Paul warns those on board to not travel at this time, the captain decides to head out and is caught in a violent wind, called an Euraquilo, meaning a treacherous E-NE wind. For 14 days they are tossed about. They jettison cargo and the ship’s tackle, anything on board to lighten the ship as they take on water. No one is eating any food and they are getting weaker and weaker with each passing day. Because of the blackness of the storm, the wind and the rain, the sun and stars haven’t been seen and all hope for being saved are abandoned.
This is when Paul steps in again. He says, men, you should have followed my advice before and we wouldn’t be in this mess. [In other words, Paul told them I told you so. Don’t you just hate that when someone else is right and they say I told you so?] So Paul goes on and says, I want you to listen to me now because the Lord has spoken to me. I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is - we’re going to lose the ship. The good news is - there will be no loss of life. So take courage and hang in there, because I believe God and trust His word.
Then picking up at verse 33 we read - And until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, "Today is the fourteenth day that you have been constantly watching and going without eating, having taken nothing. Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation; for not a hair from the head of any of you shall perish." And having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all; and he broke it and began to eat. And all of them were encouraged, and they themselves also took food. (Acts 27:33-36)
Here is an example of a spiritual leader leading. Paul listens to God and believes God will do exactly what He says He will. It doesn’t matter that a storm is raging, that 270+ people have lost hope, or that he can’t see any visible signs of confirmation of the Lord coming through on His promise. Paul believes that God will provide for him, and whatever circumstances he finds himself in, he believes God goes with him, and will use those events for his betterment. [And we need to remember as well, no matter what we are going through God goes with us and will provide an answer as God sees best in each situation. And, the timing of God will always have a purpose in mind.]
Now did you notice what Paul does in verse 35? Paul gives thanks to God doesn’t he? Yet, not quietly, not privately, not in some corner - but for all to see and hear. Paul thanks God before the answer arrives. Paul thanks God in the midst of trouble.
And I believe this is an extremely valuable lesson for us to learn and practice. For we as followers of Christ will not be immune from trials, tribulation, or troubles. To think that everyday will be free from difficulty and that once we become a believer we will live at ease in luxury without a concern in the world is a false notion. Trouble may come knocking at our door not because of what we have done wrong, but because of what someone else has done. Our lives are impacted by the poor decisions and sins of others. Please notice Paul warned the crew of his ship not to travel. He warned them of disaster, but they did not listen. Yet Paul was subject to the same difficulties as the rest of those on board, though it was not his decision nor was it his fault. Many times we are not in control and things happen to us beyond our control.
Trouble may also come because of poor decisions we make ourselves. Ever get yourself in a financial bind because you stretched things just a little too far? Who did that? We can’t blame our decisions on God can we? We will reap what we sow. We will bear the consequences to our actions.
And then I must point out that we have a spiritual enemy who wants to see us fail. If our enemy (Satan) can stir up some trouble that discourages us or gets us off the right path or causes us to doubt the Lord’s wisdom or keeps our eyes off of God, then he wins a minor victory.
Yet I have some good news for you. Nothing misses the notice of God nor lies outside His permission. E.M. Bounds, who was imprisoned as a Methodist chaplain during the Civil War and rose up at 4am to pray, reminds us: “Trouble is neither above God nor beyond His control.” “And though God may not originate the trouble, God is sufficiently wise and able enough to take our troubles and lay His hands upon them,…. and work them into His plans and purposes for our highest good.” “Trouble often drives people to prayer, while prayer is but the voice of people in trouble…. Prayer often delivers one out of trouble and, more often, gives strength to bear trouble, ministers comfort in trouble, and begets patience in the midst of trouble.”
And one area of prayer which helps us tremendously to get through troubling times is the prayer of thanksgiving. You see, we may describe gratitude as an inward emotion rising up within us on an involuntary basis. Gratitude is felt in the heart. Whereas thanksgiving is the outward voluntary expression of gratitude, what we verbalize of that inward feeling. Thanksgiving is oral, active, positive, looking at the past, present and even future. Meaning - we give our thanks to God for what God has done in the past, what God is doing in the present and our many blessings about us, but more importantly, what God will continue to do in the future. Then, as soon as the answer comes, we immediately experience a sense of heartfelt gratitude, where love for God grows and breaks out into praise and thanksgiving.
For example - ever have a loved one or even yourself, go through a difficult time and when the answer to the prayer finally comes our gratitude swells up within us and we cannot help but thank and praise God? Sometimes our emotions are so strong we are moved to tears or utterly speechless, and yet our hearts call out to God in thanksgiving without words, because no words can express what we feel. Then at other moments, times when our faith is tested, when the bottom of our buckets have been ripped open and everything that represents security is spilling out onto the floor, we are challenged to express our thanks to God in advance, in all things, way before the feelings of gratitude are available.
You know if the people of Israel after they had left Egypt under Moses’ leadership could have learned to thank God in all things, they would have entered the promised land much sooner and not died out in the desert over 40 years of wandering around. But what did the people do? They murmured and complained and were ungrateful for God’s provision all around them.
Yet, here is the good news and what we can learn. A thankful heart filled with praise cannot complain. A thankful heart believes in a good God who does all things well and will bring His purposes to pass at exactly the right time. A thankful heart trusts in the promises of God and confidently knows God’s greater reward is coming.
Charlie Mack tells the story of Steve Sawyer, in “Too Young to Die,” a hemophiliac, who gets AIDS through a tainted blood transfusion in the early 1980’s, and must resolve his anger that a loving God could let that happen to him. Steve’s roommate in college was in Campus Crusade for Christ, and through him Steve Sawyer came to know Christ as Savior and Lord, experiencing forgiveness, peace, and new life. In 1994, doctors gave Steve only 6 months to live. He quit college because he was too weak to attend classes, but determined he would tell as many people about his Lord as he could, while he still had life. Over four years later, Steve gladly agreed to speak at Central Michigan University and Michigan State University in December of 1998, as long as the scheduled talks were two days apart, so he could rest in between. 900 people came to hear Steve speak; of which 100 college men and women committed their lives to Christ.
Charlie states: “I was particularly impressed with Steve’s attitude. Never once did he complain but he was always joyful, even when his own lack of energy slowed him down. As he said in his talk, ‘I would rather have Cirrhosis of the liver, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and AIDS, and know Jesus Christ; than be perfectly healthy, and not know Jesus Christ.’ As we drove from CMU to MSU, we talked of many things. Steve’s only regret was that he always wanted to have children, and would likely never have them because of his AIDS. And yet Steve has 100’s of spiritual children because of his faithful testimony of his Savior. On Saturday, March 13, 1999, five years after being told he only had 6 months to live, Steve went to be with the Lord he loves. God had answered the many prayers for Steve’s healing by bringing him (to his heavenly) home and making him whole.”
If anyone had a reason to feel shortchanged it was Steve Sawyer. If anyone could complain that life was unfair, that someone else had dealt him this hand, it wasn’t his fault, it was Steve Sawyer. But once Steve came to know Christ, the Lord gave him a peace that everything would work out for the best. God would use Steve’s troubles to lead others to the knowledge of His Son. And in the process, Steve’s anger would be radically transformed into a spirit of thankfulness, believing God would make all things up to him in eternity.
Dear ones, what have you been dealing with lately that has caused your heart to sink? What trials are weighing you down or causing you to lose sleep? What would you think if right now you decided to cast all of your cares, all of your troubles unto the Lord in prayer (stepping out in faith and trust), while giving thanks for who God is, what God has done, and what God will do in the future?
Can you be like the Apostle Paul or Steve Sawyer giving thanks in the midst of your troubles? Let us pray together.