A Better Response to Suffering

Posted by Naomi Vacaro on

An Invitation to Pray with Thanksgiving
Katie Gutierrez

We all woke up to the same horrific headlines, ‘Israel at War After Hamas Attacks.’ We watched families taken hostage by terrorists, saw pictures of cities devastated by shrapnel, and learned that the number of civilians brutally murdered or injured was growing. This news brought tears to my eyes and made my stomach turn. How can people be so evil?
With these images lingering in my mind, I baked a pumpkin spice cake—because for me in Canada, it was also Thanksgiving weekend. My hands mixed nutmeg, cinnamon, flour, and pumpkin while my mind tried to figure out how to be grateful for the goodness of God in my own life while also grieving the gravity of evil. 
The world offers two responses to brokenness and suffering: Focus on the suffering and respond with fear, anger, or depression; or ignore the suffering and focus on positive thinking and self-care. 

Jesus offers a better response. He invites us to fix our mind on Him instead of the brokenness, by giving thanks for who He is and what He is doing. He also commands us to pray about the suffering, instead of ignoring evil. 
“Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.” (Col. 4:2, NKJV emphasis mine)
Your response to terrible world events or crushing personal pain doesn’t need to be either gratitude or prayer. It can and should be both.

Respond with Prayer
If you’re anything like me, the devastating headlines over the last few years can become overwhelming. It seems like every week we hear of another earthquake, war, or politician who does more harm than good. When the brokenness of the world becomes our focus, we will suffer under the weight of it.
You weren’t meant to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. You and I were created to glorify Jesus and one way we glorify God is by giving our burdens to Him and trusting that He alone has the answers.
Our world is facing impossible situations, but with God, all things are possible (Matt. 19:26). We need the power of our almighty God in our lives and our world. 
When I’m faced with impossible things, I’ve found it helpful to pray through the Psalms and use them as a springboard for my own prayers. Many of the Psalms were written from a place of fear, anger, or grief. Yet, most of them are also filled with praise and thanksgiving to the Lord. The Psalms can give you words to express how you feel and what you need when you don’t know how to pray. 

Respond with Thanksgiving
Expressing gratitude to the Lord in the middle of suffering and evil is a tension the Bible doesn’t shy away from. The command of Scripture is to give thanks in all circumstances. “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thes. 5:18, NKJV) 
Gratitude can feel like a trite response to heavy circumstances, but take a closer look at Scripture. God isn’t instructing you to ignore your problems, focus only on the good, and fake your emotions. His instruction to give thanks in everything is an invitation to lay all of the impossible, hard, and heavy things in your life at His feet—to trust Him because He has always been with you, and taken care of you in the past.
Giving thanks is the special ingredient in prayer that many people forget, yet it anchors our souls to truth. You don’t need to be happy to give thanks. You can speak the truth about who God is and what He has done, even with a sorrowful heart. Thanksgiving is a decision to believe the truth about Jesus and praise Him for who He is. 
If you find it hard to thank God for anything in your life, try giving thanks for attributes of His character. Give thanks that God is merciful and just, sovereign, and your redeemer.

The Path of Peace 
The incredible thing about combining prayer with thanksgiving is that it puts our feet on a path to peace.
In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses understanding will guard your hearts and minds. (Phil. 4:6, NKJV)
Prayer + thanksgiving isn’t a magic formula guaranteed to bring peace. The only thing guaranteed to bring peace is a Person, Jesus Christ. Scripture says, “He Himself is our peace.” (Eph. 2:14, NKJV) Prayer + thanksgiving is a path to fellowship with the Peace Giver. When you pray with thanksgiving you remind yourself of who God is, you exalt His name and give Him glory.

Our First Response
The day after we heard the news of the war in Israel, my Canadian church gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving. We prayed for Israel and Palestine and, in the same service, also sang; 
“My heart is filled with thankfulness
To him who reigns above,
Whose wisdom is my perfect peace,
Whose every thought is love.” 
How should Christians respond to the terrible and hard things in our world? We can, and often should, respond with actions and words–after all, we are called to be the hands and feet of Christ to this broken world. But those actions and words will be so much more effective when we start by laying these things at Jesus' feet and giving thanks that He has overcome them.

  Katie Gutierrez loves an urban cafe as much as the smell of campfire and pine. She works in communications while studying business and non-fiction writing and is most happy when leading worship and discipling others.
Prayer Suffering thanksgiving Trust Weary Wisdom

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