When one of our daughters had surgery a few years ago to remove a mass suspected to be cancer (it wasn’t), my wife Nanci and I were grateful to the surgeon who operated on her. But we weren’t praying to the surgeon. We prayed to God, and credited Him for the results. Our highest gratitude was to our Savior. We knew the surgeon’s hands were under God’s sovereign control, making us more grateful—not less—for the surgeon’s God-given skill.
Of course, not every circumstance will turn out as we hope and pray. Either way, our gratitude for God’s sovereign plan, and for His promise to work all things for the ultimate good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28) will make us slower to blame others and less likely to be embittered against them.
“Do not be anxious about anything,” the apostle Paul wrote, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7, emphasis added).
Prayer plus thanksgiving equals peace.
We must recognize, however, that God’s will is often different from ours. He is never under any obligation to do as we ask. Though we are free to ask Him to deliver us from something especially difficult or painful, the final outcome of every situation is solely in God’s hands. Proverbs 19:21 declares, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” While we may only see our earthly circumstances, God is working to increase our dependence on Him and to make us more like Christ. We should thank God no matter what, not out of pretense, but out of trust in His wisdom, goodness and love.
Dr. Helen Roseveare was a medical missionary to the Congo during the 1950s and 1960s, where rebel armies posed a constant threat to her team’s work and safety.
In August of 1964, word spread that the local chief had been abducted and flayed alive. One night Helen and the other women missionaries who had not already fled the country were seized at gunpoint by guerrilla soldiers who took over the hospital compound and occupied it for five months. The women were savagely beaten, humiliated, and raped by the rebel soldiers.
She has never forgotten that first very dark night: “I felt unutterably alone. For a brief moment, I felt God had failed me. He could have stepped in and prevented this rising crescendo of wickedness and cruelty. He could have saved me out of their hands. Why didn’t He speak? Why didn’t He intervene?”
But in the midst of that terrifying ordeal, as she cried out to the Lord, she sensed Him saying to her, “Helen, can you thank Me?” Helen wrote, “That healing and release began when I said, ‘Lord, I’m willing to thank You for trusting me with this experience, even if You never tell me why.’ No, my circumstances didn’t change. But He changed me in the midst of them.”
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.