“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”
The Apostle Paul didn’t write these words to people who had a lot of reasons to celebrate. He wrote these words to the church in Philippi that was facing persecution. How could he say such a thing to people who are suffering?
Well, Paul himself knew a thing or two about suffering. In fact, he wrote these words from prison, and he wanted to share with his church family a secret for navigating life’s hardships.
“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 all this through him who gives me strength,” Paul writes in Philippians 4:12-13.
Is it possible to rejoice and give thanks in the face of suffering? Paul would say a resounding “yes.” But not on our own.
Paul tells us that it is only through the strength of Christ that he can be content in any situation. We can try and try on our own strength to be grateful in all circumstances, but ultimately our efforts will fall short. Paul has learned the secret that even gratitude is a gift.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:15, Paul exhorts another church facing persecution to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Many people interpret this passage this way: God really wants you to give thanks, so you better get your act together and be thankful all the time.
But the truth is that we cannot be thankful in every circumstance by our own willpower. The fact that it’s God’s will for us to be thankful means that He will empower us to do it.
Many Crossroads students understand this. Men and women, who are surrounded by darkness, disappointment, pain and suffering, have found strength in Christ to be content and even thankful.
Every month, we receive dozens and dozens of letters from students expressing deep gratitude. Here are a few notes we have received recently:
“I am always so encouraged by the letters I receive from the mentors at Crossroads. I am so thankful for the faithfulness of all the volunteers. I’d like to thank two volunteers in particular—Von and Marcia. Their testimonies and compassion touched me.” -Brent B.
“I’ve been locked up since March 2012. I’m doing 15 years. I have had nothing or no one in my life since getting locked up. No family, no money, no friends. The only thing that keeps me going is that the Lord is there for me. I want to say thank you to all the Crossroads mentors for the encouragement and help they give me.” -Gary G.
“I want to say thank you for the courses you send to us inmates. Without God, it would be hard to be inside these walls. Before I was arrested, I didn’t care one bit about God. But with your courses, I have grown in the Lord, learned to trust God through pain and in everything.” -Andrew H.
“I just want to thank God, praise God for all the mentors and staff at Crossroads. God has been the best thing that has happened in my life. The Crossroads Bible studies have been the second best thing in my life.” -Gary P.
May we follow the example of Crossroads students in giving thanks in all circumstances.