by Keith Boyette
November 25, 2020
Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, commands, “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NLT). In 2020, we have encountered our share of adversity – with COVID-19, strife flowing from racial and ethnic injustices globally, political polarization in many nations, and economic uncertainty and insecurity. Add to that the personal adversity many have experienced with challenges to health, relationships, and finances. We could be easily overwhelmed by life. But somehow, because our identity is in Christ Jesus, God’s will for us is that we would be joyful and thankful, immersed in prayer. Quite the contrast to the world around us which is anxious, full of complaining and grumbling, and focused on limitation.
One might dismiss Paul as being naïve. Perhaps he lived a privileged life where he never experienced the challenges common to the lives of many. Whenever I am having a difficult day, I read 2 Corinthians 11:23-33 where Paul recounts the hardships he encountered in his ministry. I am confident his list is not exhaustive. Paul had personal experience in the struggles of life, but he remained unbowed, oriented toward God, full of joy and thanksgiving, constant in prayer.
Here in the United States, we will pause for a special day tomorrow – Thanksgiving. It is the world’s tip of the hat to spiritual reality. Thanksgiving is not reserved for a special day placed on the calendar. Thanksgiving is God’s will for us who belong to Christ Jesus. Whatever comes our way – yes whatever — we are to meet it with joy and thanksgiving. The perspective of our lives is not fixed on our circumstances but on our eternal destination and the One who has secured that destination for us.
Scholars debate whether Paul intends for us to be thankful for the adversity and struggles that come our way or whether he is telling us to be thankful in spite of them. Some would argue that God is not the author of evil – that adversity is not part of his design for a life that flourishes – and so we are not to be thankful for the setbacks associated with something like COVID-19. I have never prayed for adversity to intersect with my life, but I have met God in ways I would not otherwise because adversity brought me to the end of myself where I encountered God in all of His fullness.
God uses what the world dishes out to us to achieve His ultimate purpose in each of our lives. I am reminded of Joseph speaking to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good” (Genesis 50:20). And I am also reminded of Paul’s observation, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts (Romans 5:3-5).”
When our eyes are fixed on struggles and obstacles, we see only our limitations. When our eyes are fixed on God, we see His goodness, infinite power, faithfulness, and possibilities. No, I will not thank God for COVID-19 because God is not the author of disease, but I will thank God for how He is with us in these days, for how He has not abandoned His people, and for how He is still at work accomplishing His purposes. After all, He is the God who sets the captives free, who is a father to the fatherless, who rescues the perishing, who turns a crucifixion into a resurrection, and who transforms death into life.
Many of us have memorized Romans 8:28: “We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” 2020 may have dealt you a handful of losses and restrictions, but not even the devastation and loss of 2020 can deprive you of the presence of God or separate you from His love. In all of this, we are more than conquerors.
Join with me in fixing all that we are resolutely on Jesus, the author and finisher of our lives. Because we belong to Him, let us fulfill God’s will for us every day being always joyful, never ceasing in prayer, and being thankful in all circumstances. Our best days are yet ahead of us!
Keith Boyette is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.