THIS Is the Will of God (Letters to a Samuel Generation)

“One act of thanksgiving made when things go wrong is worth a thousand when things go well.” – St. John of the Cross

At one time or another, we all find ourselves in circumstances beyond our control. Jobs are lost and once-stable finances reach a crisis point. Illness strikes. Churches lose sight of their vision and split into factions—and someone is always caught in the middle. Death comes.

And there is nothing we can do about it.

In crisis times, life becomes a complicated dance. We try to keep our feet in the path God has laid out for us, but His will isn’t always clear. We are stepping in the dark. God is a God of light, and He does not keep us in the dark forever, but the fact remains that we often “see through a glass darkly.” Things will become clear—later. For now, we are called to put our hand squarely in the Lord’s and step into the murk, believing that He will lead in the right direction. My problem is that I don’t want to go where I can’t see. I have a strong aversion to walking in faith. I want to know exactly what God is thinking and doing every second, so that not one of my own movements will be risky. I am a believer in the common misconception that if I know God’s will, everything will go smoothly.

If you’re doing a murky dance of your own, I have one piece of good news for you. I don’t know if God wants you to go east or west, spend money here or save it there, pray for recovery or for strength to be weak. Those things you must discover for yourself. Those are the minutiae of God’s will—the specific steps that will lead you in the right direction.

But there is a broader will of God, one that applies to you and to me no matter where we are. It’s written in the Bible, in black and white, where anyone can see it. Obedience to it in the dark times, I find, brings an amazing amount of light. In this article, I’m only going to deal with one aspect of this greater will of God, and I hope that it encourages you as it does me.

It is God’s will that we give thanks.

I’m not telling you that you must go leaping and skipping, strewing flowers in your wake, when you feel more like laying down to die. God does not ask us to manufacture emotions where there are none. God’s will is not necessarily that you feel thankful—it is that you give thanks. The giving of thanks is an act of obedience, a matter of the will. Anyone can do it. And because God is a merciful, loving God, who knows what it’s like to feel despondent and helpless (if you doubt it, read the Gospel accounts of Gethsemane), our act of thanksgiving is often followed by joy and peace, which are gifts of the Father and do not come out of our own strength.

“In everything give thanks,” Paul says, “for this is the will of God concerning you.”

Something almost mystical happens when we give thanks in times of trouble. We proclaim to the world, to the devil, and to ourselves that God is still in control, that we are still His children, and that He is still blessing us—no matter what it may look like. The beauty of this is that it’s true. He is in control. We are His children, and He is actively working everything for our good (Rom. 8:28).

When we choose to give thanks in a difficult situation, we choose to believe in God. We choose to believe in His promises. And because His promises are true, this choosing on our part brings light into darkness. Satan can do a great deal with a bitter heart. He can’t do a thing with a heart that stubbornly insists on blessing God when the world seems to be falling apart.

Witness Job, whose own wife told him to “curse God and die.” True, the Book of Job does not seem at first glance to be a shining example of thankfulness. Job spends much of the book lamenting. But on closer examination, the oldest piece of writing in the Bible reveals a heart that is dead-set on being thankful. True, Job is at a loss to find anything to bless God about in the ash heap where he sits. So, he looks for something he can be thankful for—and finds it in the past.

“The LORD gave,” he says—and how many beautiful memories are involved in that word “gave!” “The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

A remembrance of God’s faithfulness in days gone by not only gives us something to thank Him for, it also reminds us that the same faithfulness is working now, and we will see the fruit of it in the future. As Job declares, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and he shall stand on the earth in the last day.”

David also knew the secret of determined thankfulness. The shepherd king spent years on the run—from his king, from his conscience, from his son. Yet he continually exhorts himself and his followers to bless the LORD. Psalm after psalm begins with an admonition to thankfulness. Here are the opening verses to Psalms 103-106:

“Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.”

“Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.”

“O give thanks unto the LORD; call upon his name: make known his deeds among the people.”

“Praise ye the LORD. O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever.”

Thanksgiving is one of the most powerful acts of faith we can possibly carry out. It is a grand announcement that our allegiance is fixed. It is a joyous defiance of Satan and all of his works. It is the singing of praises in prison that leads to the bursting of the prison doors (Acts 16:25). It is the simple reaching of a child to a Father who is there, and that Father has never failed to reach right back.

Whatever circumstances you face today, or tomorrow; whatever decisions you now pray and mull over, do not forget the greater will of God.

Shout blessings in the desert caves that hide you from your enemies.

Sing praises in the prison cells where life has beaten and shackled you.

Remember His faithfulness on the ash heap; look to His promises when you are most in pain.

Give thanks, people of God.

And know that your Redeemer lives.


This is an excerpt from Letters to a Samuel Generation, a book about knowing the mind and heart of God. I will be posting from this work until I finish Seeds 2 and can get back to writing new Matthew commentary later this fall. I hope it’s a blessing to you!


Photo by Courtney Hedger on Unsplash




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