Over the weekend many of us had the joy of celebrating the life of our dear friend and colleague Susan Perlman. Twenty years ago Susan was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of cancer. The disease took an incredible toll on Susan and those who love her. God gave her amazing strength and she fought hard. She is alive today because of His mercy and grace. The party was a kind of thanksgiving, a celebration of 20 years of life for Susan. No one thanked God for Susan’s cancer but we did thank Him for what has come about as a result. All of us who know Susan have been touched and changed through this difficult journey; we’ve been made more sensitive to suffering and more grateful to God for her life.

In last month’s Real Time we asked prayer for Moishe Rosen, who was very seriously ill. I am happy and thankful to report that he has not only recovered, but within two weeks of coming home from the hospital he was out speaking and ministering. Over the past several years I have watched God give Jews for Jesus the gift of Moishe Rosen three times over. Back in the late 90’s Moishe was rushed to the hospital with septicemia, a virulent blood infection that nearly took his life. Ten days later he was back at home. Two or three years ago he developed congestive heart failure. I was certain that this must spell the end. But it didn’t. Then last month we asked you to pray because Moishe had some undetected internal bleeding which led to severe anemia and kidney failure. A very low blood count and a very high level of potassium had his cardiologist anxious that Moishe might not make it through the night. But he was home after eight days in the hospital.

After each episode Moishe has bounced back with a measure of renewed energy and creativity along with his usual opinionated sagacity. These days I am given to calling him our miracle man.” In some ways I am more thankful to God for Moishe now than ever before.

It is amazing how God in His sovereignty provides opportunities to give Him thanks in ways we would never have asked for or been able to do otherwise.

How often have you heard it said, or even said yourself, “the Lord allowed it” concerning some difficulty? In our desire to give God “the benefit of the doubt,” at times we may attribute a completely passive role to the Creator of the Universe. This alleviates feelings of confusion over thorny theological questions or feelings of anger (and accompanying guilt) that we might otherwise feel towards God regarding our suffering. But in seeing God as passive we can misunderstand Him and miss the opportunities before us. I don’t want to oversimplify all of life’s tragedies and hardships. Yet I do believe some problems we face are special opportunities God provides for us to thank Him for who He is and for His many gifts to us.

My friend Lon Solomon wrote a fantastic book called “Brokenness” in which he deals with this very issue. “If God is truly the sovereign God of the universe as he claims, then what he allows is synonymous with what he sends. To put it another way, if God decides not to allow some tragedy, it simply doesn’t happen. Therefore, if God does decide to allow some tragedy, then by allowing it, God sends it. For all practical purposes, God allowing something and God sending something are identical.” (pg.13)

God’s sovereign will is forever settled in heaven and will be accomplished. It does not depend upon our understanding. God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11b). We cannot always understand God’s sovereign will, though it is being worked out all around us. We should be able to say confidently that God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives, but the question is, does that plan include problems and pain? It most certainly does.

At this season of Thanksgiving we naturally focus on the obvious blessings of life. But haven’t you found that the trials of life often give us deeper and more profound opportunities for thanksgiving? The fact that we don’t fully understand why God allows us to experience certain trials should not prevent us from trying to grasp what He offers us through some of those trials. Our best chance of getting the most out of every circumstance is to humbly recognize our own frailty and with thankfulness, submit with trust to His sovereignty.

We may never fully understand why God allows/sends us painful experiences or difficulties. If we trust in His sovereign grace we can find opportunities to give thanks in the midst of it all—not so much for the problems but for who God is and for what He will accomplish as a result. The Bible tells us “IN everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). It doesn’t say, “FOR everything give thanks.”

Thanksgiving is a decision we make in spite of, not in light of, circumstances. Giving thanks in the midst of trouble is a way to engage, to take part in, and to experience the joyful acceptance of God’s sovereignty.

When we thank God, we enter into His purposes in a powerful way. And when we express our gratitude through praising Him to others, we have great joy. C.S. Lewis wrote, “It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.” (Reflections on the Psalms, p. 95)

That is what thanksgiving does. It allows us to share with God and others the pleasure of trusting His sovereign plan for our lives. Let’s not keep that pleasure to ourselves. Let’s express our thanksgiving through heartfelt praise. As we speak and sing His praises, we have the privilege of delighting our God and making our joy complete. In this season of giving thanks, let’s remember that it is not only in the bounty on the table, or the pleasant warmth of gathered friends and family that we give thanks. It is in everything. Everything.