Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
In his book Power in Praise, Methodist minister and retired US Army chaplain Merlin Caruthers provides several illustrations of how God works when we genuinely and sincerely praise and thank Him for the seemingly horrible circumstances of our lives. One story sticks out in my memory some twenty years after reading the book. I’m recounting it here from memory with apologies to Rev. Caruthers. Errors are mine.
At the conclusion of a revival service, a middle-aged woman approached the evangelist long after most all others had left the church sanctuary. He greeted her warmly and asked how he might help her.
“Would you pray for my daughter? She’s a stripper in a night club,” the woman asked in a weary and worried voice.
The man smiled genuinely and replied, “I’d be honored to pray with you and thank God that your daughter in a stripper in a night club!”
The woman was taken aback. What did he just say? Thank God that my daughter is a stripper? “What do you mean? I’m not thankful for that. I’m appalled. I hate that for her. Why would I thank God for that?”
Motioning for her to sit on the pew next to him, the minister said, “The Bible tells us in 1 Thessalonians to be thankful in all circumstances. I’m suggesting we be obedient to God’s Word.”
“But,” the woman exclaimed, “I can’t believe I’m supposed to be thankful for something like that. It’s disgusting and sinful. It’s sexually immoral. How could I be thankful for that? I’ve been praying for years that God would get her out of that job and bring to salvation.”
“Has it worked?” the man asked matter-of-factly?
A frown appeared on the woman’s tired face. “Well, no…”
“Then,” said the preacher, “let’s do what the Bible says and trust God to be faithful to His Word.”
Reluctantly, the woman agreed and they knelt down at the altar and began to pray. The minister began by praising and thanking God for bringing the woman to him and asked God to give her faith to trust and obey the Scriptures. When he paused, the woman began to pray.
“Lord, I know you love me and my daughter. I believe you want her to be saved. It seems strange to me to thank You that she’s working in that horrible place and committing such sinful acts, but….but I will do what the Bible says. Thank…thank you that my daughter is a stripper in a night club. Use that situation how ever you choose to bring glory to Yourself and to Jesus. Amen.”
The two parted soon after they prayed. The minister encouraged the woman to continue to be thankful in all circumstances, trusting in God’s love, power, and sovereignty in the affairs of all men at all times.
Around 2 o’clock in the morning, the woman woke with a start and realized her phone was ringing. She answered groggily, “Hello?” “Mom….” said the ragged voice. It was her daughter from whom she had not heard in months. “Yes, Dear? What is it? Are you alright?” “I’m fine. I’m sorry to call so late, but I need to ask you something.” The mother sat up in the bed and turned on the night stand lamp. “What is it?” The girl struggled to speak, “Mom you said you prayed for me every day, right?” “Yes, Honey; every day.” “What time did you pray for me tonight?”
The fog of sleep now lifting, the woman remembered her prayers with the evangelist several hours earlier. “Around 8:30 or 9:00. Why?” “That was the time I was dancing. I noticed a young man standing in the back of the room. He was looking at me but trying not to at the same time. It was like he was embarrassed. There was something strange about him and I felt like I needed to talk to him. After I finished…dancing I got dressed and found him at a table in the back. He was staring at the floor, not watching the next dancer. When I asked who he was, he told me his name was John. He said he was walking home from a Bible study when He sensed God telling him to go talk to the girl dancing in the strip club.”
The mother was weeping now as the girl told her story.
“He said he was supposed to tell me that God really loved me, no matter what I had done, and that Jesus wanted to save me from my sins and make me a new person.” There was a long pause. “Mom…I got saved tonight! Jesus forgave me and cleansed me from all my sins. I’m a Christian now. I quit my job.”
The mother was shocked. “Oh, Honey….I prayed…”
“Mom,” the daughter interrupted, “I want to come home.”
I would first point out that being thankful for the sinful, deplorable, and horrific acts of others does not mean that we are to be gleefully happy about this. A disingenuous smile and “Praise the Lord!” in the midst of such situations is not intended goal or response.
We do need to recognize that most situations we find ourselves or loved ones in could be worse. We can be thankful they are not. We can also be thankful that God in His sovereignty is never taken by surprise in the face of trying or terrible situations; He is in control and His power and grace are greater than any sin man can commit. Also true is the fact that a thankful attitude holds despair at bay. The trying and the terrible often drive us to pray more often and with greater fervency that we typically would otherwise. (Could you be thankful, if, after months or years of praying about some sinful circumstance if the only blessing you had to show for it was a richer, stronger prayer life and more intimate relationship with the Lord?)
Finally, when we are thankful in all circumstances, we are obedient to God’s Word and He always blesses obedience. The blessings might be seen or unseen, great or small, but He blesses.
What incredibly dark circumstance do you face today? Pray the daring, risky, obedient prayer of thanks for it and watch for what great and mighty thing the Lord may do in the midst of it.