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Finding Contentment and Thanksgiving in Suffering, Part 1

Finding Contentment and Thanksgiving in Suffering, Part One

Did you know that suffering can be an occasion for gratitude? Without the eyes of faith, this may seem insane. But looking through God’s eyes of eternity, it is not only possible, it’s logical.

In When God Weeps, Joni E. Tada defines suffering as “having what you don’t want and wanting what you don’t have.” Defined by these terms, everyone is suffering in some way. Even you. Therefore, you might find it very hard to be thankful today. But it is possible for your suffering to be an occasion for gratitude and thanksgiving.

Greatest Gift

The time I was the most content and the most thankful in my life was the season in which I experienced the most suffering.

It happened in the middle of my captivity of sorts. All total, I spent ten years in a wheelchair, seven years confined to bed and three years in severe mental torture. As the Lyme bacteria affected my brain, I began to feel electrocuted or burned alive … but where one feels thoughts. It was excruciating—more excruciating than the sum total of bodily pain and sickness I had endured over the years thus far! I had been confined to wheelchair and to bed, but it was nothing compared to this.

When the neurological torture began in July 1995, I thought it would be an absolute miracle of God if He helped me make it an entire week to my next doctor appointment, where I presumed (wrongly) I would be cured. Yet … three years later, I remained in the exact same shape. I wailed and screamed bloody murder from the physical agony for those three years, living much of the time on the floor, near baseboards, in dark closets.

If ever I thought I was in an “I can’t take it” scenario, this was it. And I let God know! I wanted out. I didn’t want to wake up, didn’t want to be alive, didn’t want to endure any more torture. It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to die; I just wanted relief. There was no known medical treatment that would help. For three years my family exhausted all the United States and other countries had to offer … all to no avail.

But you know what? Looking back, those three years of seemingly unbearable moments taught me where true joy resides. God taught me that I had something valuable to be thankful for. In fact, it was the most invaluable gift a person could ever receive. And I had it not in spite of my suffering … but because of it.

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Finding Contentment and Thanksgiving in Suffering

The Address Where Joy Lives

I discovered where true joy resides. It doesn’t reside in real estate, or a bank account, or bodily abilities and comfort. True joy is found only one place:

“You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at
your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).

True joy, true pleasure, is found only in God’s presence—not in material possessions, not in health, not in a good-paying job, not in a spouse, and not in the success of your children.

Only in Christ and the experience of His life living for us can we find true happiness. Suffering should escort us to the foot of the cross where we exchange our life for His resurrection power. When we suffer, we become one with Christ in His sufferings. He takes on our flesh and we take on His holiness (see Hebrews 12:5-11). This is the great exchange! We die so that he might live through us.

The riches of Jesus Christ that we receive in return for our old self far exceed the spiritual poverty in which we lived before. Once we ever experience them, we’re changed. We’ll follow Jesus anywhere—even to the cross—if it means that more of His Resurrected Life will inhabit us.

Better is One Day

When our suffering ushers into God’s presence and we experience deep joy and pleasure, we realize nothing on earth compares.

“My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God…. Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Psalm 84:2,10).

Better is one day in His courts than a thousand elsewhere! It’s better to be in His presence—with whatever suffering or adversity ushers us there—than to be without Him in a life of ease.

Nothing compares to knowing Jesus and experiencing Him! (See Philippians 3:8). Like Job, we are satisfied in our suffering by seeing and experiencing God.

No matter what is going on in our circumstances, pure joy is available… in His presence.

Finding Contentment and Thanksgiving in Suffering

Christ Alone

About halfway through those three years of agony I described above, God began speaking to me through Psalm 62:

5”My soul, wait only upon God and silently submit to Him; for my hope and expectation are from Him6He only is my Rock and my Salvation; He is my Defense and my Fortress, I shall not be moved. 7With God rests my salvation
and my glory; He is my Rock of unyielding strength and impenetrable
hardness and my refuge is in God!

Psalm 62:5-7, AMPC

Wait only upon God: Through this passage, God began helping me wait only upon Him, putting my hope and expectation in Him—not in a doctor, a cure, a plan, a spouse or a family member. By the grace and inner working of God, this passage became real in me. I began to see, not just intellectually but experientially, that Christ and Christ alone was my Rock and Salvation, my defense and my fortress. Living by His life in me, I would not be moved or affected by my affliction.

With God rests my salvation: I began to see that my salvation and my glory rested with God. In other words, God saw my way out of that torturous season. It rested with Him. He saw the day I  would be sitting here at my desk—out of a wheelchair, out of bed, free of mental anguish—writing to you. He wasn’t having to fret and finagle and figure out how He was going to deliver me. No, He saw it. The future was past tense with Him. It was done. If He wasn’t fretting and worrying and finagling (and He was the only one who could do anything about the it anyway), why in the world would I fret and worry and try to finagle a way out?

Unyielding strength: There are many passages that speak of Christ as our rock, but I love the way the Amplified Bible words this verse. “He is my Rock of unyielding strength and impenetrable hardness.” Consider this phrase in light of Philippians 4:13.

 “I have strength for all things in Christ Who empowers me [I am ready for anything and equal to anything through Him Who infuses inner strength into me: I am self-sufficient in Christ’s sufficiency].”

Philippians 4:13

When we placed our faith in Jesus Christ and received Him as Savior and Lord of our lives, He made His dwelling in our heart. With His life living in us, we have His strength available to us.

If the very strength of Christ is infused into you and me, and according to Psalm 62:7, Christ’s strength is unyielding and impenetrable, then so is your strength and my strength. It is unyielding and impenetrable. I can never say, “I can’t.”

Are you weak today? Maybe not in physical strength, but in perseverance and endurance? Then let Christ be your strength. He is your Rock, your hope and expectation! A spouse does not hold your answer. A business deal does not hold the key to your hope and future. More finagling and strategizing won’t map your way out. Your expectation is not in a correct diagnosis or a medical cure. Your hope and expectation are in Christ alone. Him alone.

I have never been more content than when the Holy Spirit first began to conform my heart to these verses of scripture. I was confined to bed, still screaming bloody murder night and day, not able to drive, talk or pass the time, but I have never been happier, more at peace and more satisfied in all my life. I was satisfied because Christ was my EVERYTHING! My strength, my thoughts, my endurance, my joy, my hope, my expectation, my today, my tomorrow, my protection, my perspective … my life!

I finally let go of everything else but Christ. My hope and expectation were in Him alone, not in a spouse, a doctor, a diagnosis or a cure. Not even in medical relief of some sort. In fact, I was so content I told God, “It doesn’t matter if anything ever changes or improves. This experience of Christ’s life in me, living for me, is more valuable to me than anything. I’d rather experience Jesus like this than have my health any day.”

Not only could I be at peace, totally content, I had tons to be thankful for! I had the most priceless treasure man can ever receive.

Suffering Exposes What You’ve Been Clinging to
More Tightly Than God

Suffering exposes what you’ve been clinging to more tightly than God:

“Suffering itself does not rob you of joy; idolatry does. If you’re suffering and you’re angry and you’re bitter and you’re joyless, it means that you’ve idolized whatever it is you’re losing. Joylessness and bitterness in the crucible of suffering happens when we lose something we’ve held onto more tightly than God. How is your present disappointment, discouragement, or grief a window on what has actually captured your heart?

“When we depend on anything smaller than God to provide us with the security and the significance and the meaning and the value that we long for, God will love us enough to take it away. He will take it away not because He’s angry but because He loves you and He wants you to enjoy the freedom and the security that comes from knowing Jesus — and not locating your identity and your security and your significance in your accomplishments, or your place, or position, or whatever.

“We look to a thousand things smaller than Jesus to make us feel like we matter. And it makes us a slave. God in the gospel comes after us in the person of Jesus Christ not to angrily strip away our freedom but to affectionately strip way our slavery to self so that we might become truly free. That’s good news. The reason for much of our anger and bitterness in the crucible of suffering is God prying open our hands and taking way something we’ve held onto more tightly than him.” [1]

We Have Everything in Christ. He Alone is Enough.

Exercising contentment releases spiritual power. Paul and Silas actually had Thanksgiving—they sang praises to God—after being beaten and imprisoned in Philippi for preaching Christ (see Acts 16:25). As a result, they were released, and the jailer and his entire family were saved. The city experienced the power of God’s love.

Imprisoned in Rome, the apostle Paul wrote:

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4: 11-13).

What is the secret of being content in any and every situation? It’s seeing every event in our lives—whether it brings pleasure or pain—in the light of eternity. To be fully content, we must see everything in light of God’s ultimate gift of salvation. (Tweet this)

Paul learned this secret. It wasn’t something he naturally possessed. Nor was it something everyone knew. It was learned … and it was a secret. Paul had to acquire skills – he had to learn to make choices in order to practice contentment and gratitude of heart.

In The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs says that the New Testament word rendered “contentment” in English Bibles carries the idea of sufficiency. Paul used the same Greek root in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Paul’s secret was learning to receive God’s enabling, His grace, to impart eternity’s value system—the value that Christ alone is enough. He alone is sufficient for me—for every need, for every desire, for every situation.

In A Christless Pentecost, David Wilkerson speaks of the sufficiency of Christ:

We no longer want Christ as much as we want what He can do for us. We want an escape from pain and suffering. We want our troubles to vanish. And we are so caught up in our escape from pain, we lose the true meaning of the Cross. We refuse crosses and losses—no Gethsemane for us! No nights of agony! We don’t even know this suffering, bleeding, resurrected Christ!

We want His healing power. We want His promises of prosperity. We want His protection. We want more of this earth’s goods. We want His happiness. But we really don’t want Him alone!

The Church once confessed its sins—now it confesses its rights.

How many of us would serve Him if He offered nothing but Himself? No healing. No success. No prosperity. No worldly blessings. No miracles, signs, or wonders. What if—once again we had to take joyfully the spoiling of our goods? What if—instead of clear sailing and problem-free living, we faced shipwreck, fears within and fightings without? What if —instead of painless living, we suffered cruel mockings, stoning, bloodshed—being sawn asunder? What if—instead of our beautiful homes and cars, we had to wander about in deserts in sheepskins, hiding in dens and caves? What if—instead of prosperity, we were destitute, afflicted, and tormented? And the only better thing provided for us was Christ?

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Finding Contentment and Thanksgiving in Suffering

Summary: 3 Steps to Becoming Content and
Thankful in Your Suffering

In summary, these four steps will lead to gratitude and contentment no matter what suffering you’re enduring:

  1. Get in God’s presence. “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11). Let your suffering escort you to the foot of the cross where you exchange your life for Christ’s resurrection power. Better is one day in His courts—no matter what ushers you there—than a thousand days elsewhere (Psalm 84:10).
  2. Look to and desire Christ alone. Wait only upon Him. Put your hope and expectation in Him alone. Realize He alone is your source. (Psalm 62:5-7, AMPC) A spouse does not hold your answer. A business deal is not the key to your hope and future. More finagling and strategizing won’t map your way out. Your expectation is not in a correct diagnosis or a medical cure. Your hope is not in your bank account, a job promotion, or that dream being fulfilled. No, your hope and expectation are in Christ alone. Him alone.

When you realize this, when you put your hope in Christ alone, you naturally let go of whatever it is you’re clinging to more tightly than God. Joylessness and bitterness in the crucible of suffering happens when we lose something we’ve held onto more tightly than God. Your present disappointment and despair reveal what has actually captured your heart.

  1. View every event in your life—whether it brings pleasure or pain—in the light of eternity. To be fully content, we must see everything in light of God’s ultimate gift of salvation. Let God give you eternity’s value system—the value that Christ alone is enough. He alone is sufficient for you—for your every need, for your every desire, for your every situation.

TweetablesMore Tweetables

  • “Suffering is “having what you don’t want and wanting what you don’t have.” You may have found it hard to be thankful in your suffering. Yet it IS possible. Our suffering can become an occasion for gratitude & thanksgiving. Find out how here… Click to tweet Tweet
  • “In years of excruciating suffering, I learned where true joy resides. I had something valuable to be thankful for — the most invaluable gift a person could ever receive. And I had it not in spite of my suffering … but because of it.” ~ @NatalieGNichols Click to tweet Tweet
  • Suffering should escort us to the foot of the cross where we exchange our life for Jesus’ resurrection power. When we suffer, we become one with Christ in His sufferings. He takes on our flesh; we take on His holiness. This is the great exchange! Click to tweet Tweet
  • Better is one day in God’s courts than a thousand elsewhere! It’s better to be in His presence—with whatever suffering or adversity ushers us there—than to be without Him in a life of ease. Click to tweet Tweet
  • Suffering exposes what you’ve been clinging to more tightly than God. Click to tweet Tweet
  • What’s the secret of being content in any and every situation? It’s seeing every event in our lives—whether it brings pleasure or pain—in the light of eternity. To be fully content, we must see everything in light of God’s ultimate gift of salvation. Click to tweet Tweet
  • “How many of us would serve Jesus if He offered nothing but Himself? … No worldly blessings… What if once again we had to take joyfully the spoiling of our goods?… And the only better thing provided for us was Christ?” — David Wilkerson Click to tweet Tweet
  • We have everything in Christ. He alone is enough. Click to tweet Tweet

Scripture

  • “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God…. Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.” ~ Psalm 84:2,10 Click to tweet Tweet
  • “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” ~ Psalm 16:11 Click to tweet Tweet
  • ”My soul, wait only upon God and silently submit to Him; for my hope and expectation are from Him. He only is my Rock and my Salvation; He is my Defense and my Fortress, I shall not be moved.” ~ Psalm 62:5-6, AMPC Click to tweet Tweet

 

Questions:

  • Are you pressing in to God’s presence? Are you allowing your suffering to usher you into His courts? Your joy will be immeasurably full there! His presence will be superior to everything else. Nothing—not even the removal of your suffering—will compare to it.
  • In what have you placed your hope? What or who is your source, your solution, your answer? Are you constantly strategizing and finagling, trying to map your way out of your suffering? Or are your hope and expectation in God alone?  
  • What have you been clinging to more tightly than God? What is causing you to feel disappointed and despondent? This reveals what has captured your heart, what you’ve idolized and have elevated above God. Whatever you’ve been clinging too more tightly, will you let go of it and embrace Christ, thankful for the opportunity to know and experience Him more fully?
  • Do you view every event in your life—whether it brings pleasure or pain—in the light of eternity? Are you allowing God to give you eternity’s value system—the value that Christ alone is enough? Do you believe that Christ alone is sufficient for you—for your every need, for your every desire, for your every situation?

 

OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

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  1. Tullian Tchividjian sermon excerpt transcript. Video no longer available.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, Shades of Grace will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

5 Responses to “Finding Contentment and Thanksgiving in Suffering, Part 1”

  1. Leyla says:

    Dear Natalie,
    I just came across your site while I was searching on fasting and prayers. I am new to the faith (originally a muslim) but I now know for a fact that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. Last Thursday I fasted for an entire day. my first time in 32 years of not putting anything in my body for 30 hours. Oddly enough or probably it is the Holy Spirit.. I'm not sure.. but today I'm fasting again and loving it! I know this particular blog is not about fast and prayer, but I just wanted to say Thank you! I have started reading your blogs from 2009. I saw and heard your story and I can hear the honesty in your voice… It is such a blessing!!! I tried to subscribe but it will not allow me.. I was worried (I thought you were no longer on here) but I see the above posts from Ginger and I just wanted to say that you and your father are in my prayers!! Blessings to you and yours!!

    • Wow, Leyla! What a testimony God has given you!!!!! I would love to hear some day how you came to faith in Jesus Christ! It excites me to read that you are fasting and loving it! Thank you so much for all that you shared in your comment. I'm so sorry you tried to subscribe and weren't allowed to. Did you happen to use the subscribe form in the center of the website home page? If so, I think I may have discovered the cause of the problems you and Ginger (& no doubt others) have had subscribing. That form (homepage, center) was not correct—it went to a delivery service I no longer use. That form was changed when all other forms on the site originally were … but in a website crash a while back, elements of the site reverted to a previous time. I just discovered it and inserted the correct form, so I pray this fixed the issue completely! If this didn't fix it for you, please let me know!

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