Tullian Tchividjian is the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. Yes, that Coral Ridge. And he has been through the fire. During Thanksgiving, he penned a reflection on the lessons he has learned from a year of conflict, accusations, division, disunity, and vote.
For various reasons, this past year has been the most painful year of my life by far. As of late, God has graciously given me a mild reprieve, but I still spend a lot of time thinking about all that happened this year and the way God used trials and tribulations to remold and reshape me.
As crazy as this might sound, I have finally come to the place where I am genuinely thankful for all of the pain and difficulty and loss I experienced this year. As much as my family and I suffered, I look back on the way God used our desperation to make us more dependent on him and I am deeply grateful. In fact, I told a friend the other day that I wouldn’t trade one desperate, difficult day for all the dollars in the world. Seriously!
I’ve discovered that being thankful for pain is such a hard concept to grasp because many of us live in a country which has convinced us that the pursuit of happiness and comfort is our “inalienable right.” Therefore, when our comforts, conveniences, and cushions are threatened, we cry “foul.” This has deeply affected our understanding of what it means to give thanks and the types of things we are to be thankful for.
I love reading biographies. And one of the things I’ve discovered in reading them is that the greatest people in history have been just as thankful for their pains as they have been for their pleasures. They’ve given gratitude for their desperations as much as their deliverances; their grief as much as their glory.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Health is a gift from God, but sickness is a gift greater still.” Throughout his time in this world, Spurgeon suffered with various physical ailments that eventually took his life prematurely. He longed to be well but he recognized the supreme value of being sick and he thanked God for it because it was his pain that caused him to desperately draw near to God.
Similarly, David Brainerd was a young missionary to American Indians who died in 1747 at 29 years old from tuberculosis. Toward the end of his struggle, he was on his deathbed coughing up blood and coming in and out of consciousness saying out loud, “Oh for Holiness! Oh, for more of God in my soul! Oh, this pleasing pain! It makes my soul press after God.”
The Puritans used to say that this life was the gymnasium, the dressing room, for the life to come and if suffering here and now better prepared them for the next world then it was welcomed.
To be thankful for our comforts only is to make an idol of this life. “God-sent afflictions”, says Maurice Roberts, “have a health-giving effect upon the soul” because they are the medicine used to purge the soul of self-centeredness and this world’s vanities. Pain, in other words, sharpens us, matures us, and gives us clear “eye-sight.” Pain transforms us like nothing else can. It turns us into “solid” people. Roberts continues, “Those who have been in the crucible have lost more of their scum.” All of this should cause us to be deeply thankful.
It’s been said that pain is the second best thing because it leads us to the Best Thing (God). For, it is only when we come to the end of ourselves that we come to the beginning of God. And it is only when we come to the beginning of God that we come to the beginning of life.
The paradox of Christianity is that if you want to find your life, you must lose it (Matthew 10:39). In the world’s economy, life precedes death. In God’s economy, death precedes life–the cross always precedes the crown. The good news, however–the thing that should cause us to be supremely thankful–is that when we lose our worldly comforts, we gain heavenly ones.