“Mama, what is Thanksgiving Day?” asked my three-year-old son.
“It is a day to say thank you,” I answered.
“Thank you, Mama!” he shouted happily. My son never hesitated to say thank you to me.
“Oh, you’re welcome! That’s so sweet of you.” I smiled. “But Thanksgiving Day is also a special time to give thanks to God.”
My little one then had a puzzled look on his face. Although I had told him many Bible stories, “giving thanks to God” still seemed to be an abstract concept for a three-year-old.
“Well, you see, all your toys and yum-yums are given to you by God through Mama and Dada.” I explained, “God gave you piggy pig and blue bear (my son’s favorite stuffed animals), and he also gave you your favorite chocolate lollipops! Now, what do you say to God?”
“Thank you, God!” he said, with a big smile on his face.
I smiled and hugged him. Knowing that he still has much to learn about God, I said a little prayer in my heart. I prayed that God would help my son to experience him in a deeper and personal way. I asked that he would learn to thank God not only when he receives blessings, but also when trials and difficulties enter his life.
That is exactly the lesson that my husband and I are learning right now. The last two years have not been easy for us. We have struggled to give thanks to God, especially in the area of our ministries.
In January 2020, I had my last lunch with my ministry co-workers at our favorite hotpot restaurant near our office. We said goodbye and wished each other a happy Spring Festival. We thought that we would come back to the office and see each other in a few weeks. However, that day never came.
Instead, the pandemic happened. With it came political pressure and tightening policies towards Christianity. My family and I traveled to my husband’s hometown overseas and weren’t able to come back. The fellowship where my husband and I served was shut down. It will remain shut down for the foreseeable future. Most of our projects for my ministry organization were forced to stop. The office had to move.
Some of my co-workers left the organization because no funds were available to support them. Some of our partner ministries were completely forced out of China.
The ministries we used to work for are either gone or on the edge of survival. The world before 2020 seems gone forever. We still can’t see clearly what God is doing right now, or what he is preparing us for in the future.
My husband and I wept and prayed. We have lots of questions in our heads, and there are many prayers unanswered. We know that we are not the only ones who feel this way. Many ministry workers are also grieving over the situation in China.
In my struggles, I opened my Bible and read the trials that the apostles had to endure. I know whatever difficulties we are in right now are nothing compared to what the apostles faced. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians,
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 2 Corinthians 11:23–28
Yet he called all these sufferings “our light and momentary troubles” (see 2 Corinthians 4:17). In all his letters, he never hesitated to praise God, even during the most difficult times.
I’m envious of that kind of faith. I feel that my faith right now is more like an immature child’s. I can easily give thanks to God when things go well, but I question him when troubles come.
“Lord, how can we thank you when you have not yet answered us? What can we thank you for when all those difficulties blind our eyes?” Those questions often pop up in my mind.
A few days ago, as I was praying for a sister who had been suffering from a serious chronic disease for years, a verse came into my mind, and my tears immediately came down.
Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. Habakkuk 3:17–18
Yes, that’s it. That’s the answer to my questions. We thank him, not because of the blessings we receive from him, but because of who he is at all times.
Dear Heavenly Father,
We thank you, for you are our Savior and God. You sacrificed your only begotten son for our sake, what else will you hold back from us? Even when you allow troubles and sufferings to come into our lives, you mean them for good, because you are a good God, you are wise in your decisions, and you are in charge. You have counted every hair on our heads. No father or mother on earth would ever do that, but you did, because you care for us that much. We thank you, for you are our father. We are safe with you. Even when we are faithless, you remain faithful to us, because that is who you are. Therefore, we can rejoice, even in the most uncertain times, for your hand is always holding onto us. Wherever we are, up on the mountain or down in the valley, our good shepherd never leaves us. In Jesus’ name, we give thanks to you. Amen.
Image credit: reenablack via Pixabay.
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