Giving thanks for ‘all things’

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And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28-29)

It takes an amazing amount of faith to believe that all things happening to you are working together for your good. How in the world can adversity, suffering, and pain work out in your favor?

The most theologically correct answer I can give on this issue is, “I don’t really know exactly how, but they do.” A typically simplistic and religious perspective has been that good things come from God, and bad things come from the devil. The two are in a struggle for supremacy and our very souls hang in the balance. The Lord giveth, the devil taketh away; cursed be the name of the devil!

Having studied the Bible carefully over the past half-century, I just cannot buy into that sort of dualistic philosophy. The God of Scripture is absolutely sovereign. He is large and in charge.

Nothing gets by him and nothing happens outside of his ultimate will. The devil has, in fact, been a defeated enemy from before creation. Ironically, in many ways he functions as God’s unwitting servant, sort of like the heat that burns off the dross in the refining of silver and gold.

An unchangeable fact of life is that each one of us is the object of affection and concern of our Father in heaven. He is fully aware of all our “goings on.” He always knows where we are, what we are doing, and what we are thinking. Absolutely nothing gets by him! That is an equally scary and comforting concept for us to fully realize.

His love secures us in his wonderful grace. At the same time, he calls us into account for our thoughts, words, and deeds. That weighs heavily upon the soul. We belong to him, and to enjoy life as he intended for us, we must surrender our carnal, self-referential perspective to his perfect righteousness.

The transformation of our mind (Romans 12:12) necessitates that we displace our self-interests with his sovereign will. He requires us to love him more than we love ourselves and to love others as much as ourselves. We cannot merely pretend to do this, although we often try.

The weight of his love will not let us get away with anything fake or self-promotional. We cannot be the ultimate judge of which things are good and which things are bad for us. Our “decider” is so hopelessly warped, it cannot be trusted. Simply put, our ways and thoughts are so much lower than are his. Apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit, we would be clueless.

Part of the good news is that God has a plan for your life. You didn’t just hear that for the first time, I’m sure. However, we all need to be regularly reminded that each of us is his unique project.

Yes, you are special to God … just like everyone else! God is working on every one of us … simultaneously. No wonder we keep bumping into each other!

We are his special workmanship, his masterpiece, created to fulfill a destiny that gives meaning and purpose to our lives (Ephesians 2:10). He is using every circumstance, situation, and relationship to shape us into the people he destined us to become, regardless of our kicking and screaming through the ordeal. His love just will not leave us alone, and it often overwhelms us.

The shaping process includes the good, the bad, and the ugly of our circumstances to conform us to the likeness of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is what God has been up to throughout our whole life whether we see it or not, and we resist the process to our own peril and misery.

The “fine print” of Romans 8:28-29 is that the “good” promised to us by God can be appreciated only in relation to “his purpose.” It is about our good, according to his purpose and not our own self-serving one, which would lead to destruction. Father does know best!

Sometimes I cry out to God helplessly during a difficult situation, in total frustration, “Why me, Lord?” In due time I see his mercy unfold in ways that I could never have imagined, and I cry out once more, this time in awe and gratitude, “Why me, Lord?” My struggle is part of his plan and purpose for my good.

A few years ago while living in up-country Kenya, I watched for hours as an expert African wood carver shaped a magnificent elephant from a block of mahogany. I was amazed at his imagination and skill. I asked him how in the world he was able to create such a masterpiece with nothing but a sharp knife. His answer was simple, but profound.

He said, “In my mind I see the elephant in the wood, then I cut away all the wood that doesn’t look like the elephant.” While I have heard other similar anecdotal quotes concerning sculptures, the object of that illustration transcends time and culture.

For believers, the point is that God sees Jesus in us. Using “all things,” he cuts away everything that does not look like Jesus, transforming us to our Lord’s image. At the time this process doesn’t seem like a “good” thing, but the product of being conformed to the likeness of Christ is a most wonderful destiny.

That is really the issue. Do we trust him? Do we believe his Word, despite what we see and feel? “All things,” regardless of what seems to be our present reality, are working for our good, but only according to his ultimate purposes. If we believe that to be true, then surely we would want to give thanks in each and all our circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

That is a radical concept, but one that is solidly scriptural. This world lacks an attitude of gratitude. But sadly, so do too many Christians. A self-referential world view dictates that “good” is what suits our own immediate interests and personal comfort without regard to ultimate consequences. We need to better understand God’s perspective.

That understanding can only happen as we repent of our selfish motivation and mistaken certainties and turn our hearts to God’s perfect will. A submitted mind and heart are much better positioned to see and comprehend what God might be doing in every situation.

If we honestly believe that His sovereign will is ultimately our best-case scenario, then we are free to always give thanks. Otherwise, we risk doubting God’s very nature and Word.

Thanksgiving is exactly where our faith meets our circumstances. Giving thanks confirms our belief that God is good … all the time.

Happy Thanksgiving!

[LeRoy Curtis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He served four years as a U.S. Naval Officer after which he became a pastor, Bible professor, educator, author, and missionary living in E. Africa for eight years where he and his wife developed a curriculum of biblical studies for untrained pastors in rural Kenya. His passion for training young church leaders takes him to various parts of the U.S., Latin America, and Africa. He and Judy are currently residing in Carrollton, Georgia.]