A friend reached out to me yesterday and asked about Scripture to help in trusting the Lord when feeling hopeless and brokenhearted. The first verse that came to mind was, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Ps. 34:18) And then I thought of “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6) Not only will the Lord not forsake us, but He is also near those who are brokenhearted!
We are commanded to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) How is it possible to “give thanks in all circumstances,” especially if our circumstances are horrible? What fuels thanksgiving when life seems to be one discouragement, disappointment, heartbreak, disease, disaster, and death after another? There is only one way. And Jesus both is the way (John 14:6) and shows the way.
The best place to see Jesus showing us the way is in the upper room where “He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” (Luke 22:19). The Greek word for “thanks” in this verse is eucharisteo. The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning “grace.” Jesus took the bread and saw it as grace and gave thanks. He took the bread and knew it to be gift and gave thanks. It also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning “joy.” Let’s think for a moment about what Jesus’s eucharisteo meant.
Thank you, Father, that my body, symbolized by this bread, is about to be brutally broken and I am about to be (momentarily) damned by your wrath (Isaiah 53:10) so that you will receive supreme glory in being able to forgive undeserving sinners (Philippians 2:11) and I will share eternally full joy (John 15:11) with hundreds of millions of forgiven sinners made righteous through my sacrifice (Isaiah 53:11). Jesus’s thanks was not based on His present circumstances; He was about to endure the worst possible horror. He felt thankful to the Father for the grace and glory that was coming because of the cross and this gave Him joy.
Jesus’s eucharisteo was fueled by His belief in future grace. That’s what the author of Hebrews meant when he wrote that, “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith . . . for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) Jesus’s eyes were on His future joy. He got through the cross by not focusing on the cross but on the promised joy that would result from it. That’s where God wants your eyes: on the future joy He has promised you.
So right now you have trouble. That’s okay. Jesus said that you would (John 16:33). And Jesus really understands (Hebrews 4:15). In fact, the trouble that you endure has a purpose: in it you are displaying the reality of Jesus to the world in a unique way. The kingdom of God is most clearly shown on earth when Christians gratefully suffer present trouble because they see a future weight of glory coming that makes everything this world throws at them as “light momentary afflictions” in comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17).
So, how can you give thanks in all circumstances? There’s only one way: Jesus’s way. Look to the joy set before you. Look to the joy! If the future joy Jesus promises is real and you believe Him, there is no circumstance that can steal your thanksgiving. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Ps. 16:11)
We can give thanks in faith to the God who promises that our affliction is comparatively small and momentary in light of an eternity of joy with our Savior. As Christ looked to the joy that was before Him and endured the cross, we can look to our future of joy with Him with a grateful heart. This is how those who suffer are able to fulfill the command to be thankful in all circumstances. It is not because we are thankful for death, sorrow, and pain. It is because we know and serve a God who is greater than those evils. He reigns victorious! As a result, we can, in faith, look to our future joy with Him with grateful hearts for God’s unspeakable gifts.
And as Max Lucado says: “Gratitude gets us through the hard stuff. To reflect on your blessings is to rehearse God’s accomplishments. To rehearse God’s accomplishments is to discover His heart. To discover His heart is to discover not just good gifts but the Good Giver. Gratitude always leaves us looking at God and away from dread. It does to anxiety what the morning sun does to valley mist. It burns it up.”