Enjoy prosperity while you can, but when hard times strike, realize that both come from God. Remember that nothing is certain in this life. (Ecclesiastes 7:14 NLT)
Prosperity means success, the good life, plenty, comfort, security, and well-being. The first part of King Solomon’s verse above is easy to understand, yet still we manage to forget how the Lord Jesus has blessed many of us here in the USA in the 21st century. To stir us to gratefulness, let’s compare ourselves with others around the world. Imagine shrinking global population to 100 people, with all existing ratios unchanged, and you may observe the following:
There would be 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 from the Western hemisphere (North and South), and 8 Africans. 70 non-Christian, 30 Christian. 50% of the world’s wealth held by only 6 people (all in the USA). 80 live in substandard housing; 70 unable to read; 50 suffer from malnutrition. 1 would be near death; 1 near birth. Only 1 with a college education; no one would own a computer.1
How can we be cheerless when the Lord has provided for many of us so richly? Why compare ourselves with others who have more than we do, when Christ shows us billions around the globe who have less? Many even in our own country. The Lord has lavished abundant material and spiritual advantages on many of us! So let us give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for us in Jesus.2 Let’s be thankful, not just once a year on Thanksgiving Day, but all year round. Our Savior richly gives us all things to enjoy, not selfishly, but as occasions for glorifying Him and doing good to others. Christ desires and commands us to have a lifestyle of thanks-living which involves grateful attitudes and actions, behaviors and beliefs, character and conduct.
God rebuked Old Testament Israel because they did not serve Him with gladness after He showed them such abundant and undeserved kindness.3 What would He say to American Christians today? In the New Testament, the Lord groups ungratefulness with scandalous sins like idolatry and sexual immorality!4 God says that failure to honor Jesus and give Him thanks is a mark of pagans with foolish and darkened hearts.5 The whole Bible shows the crucial importance of actively giving thanks for all the blessings we receive from God’s generous hand. I need that reminder today. Maybe you do too. “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”6
Give Thanks for Hard Times Too
Christ says: I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.7 Happy hours and sunny days don’t last forever here on earth, so Jesus exhorts us to remember that merry and miserable moments both come from Him. The Hebrew word for hard times covers all negative situations: bad, sad, disagreeable, displeasing, distressing, hurtful, and painful things. Hard times are when we have something we don’t want (sickness, unemployment, loneliness) or don’t have what we do want (health, success, happiness).8 This wide range of meaning is what the Apostle James means when he says that we face trials of many kinds.9 The Lord calls us to face reality, not deny it; to accept what we can’t change, not refuse it. Let us consider what God is trying to teach us through the trials we encounter, because unpleasant days come from our Heavenly Father’s hand for our spiritual good, as surely as pleasant ones. Most of us learn much more about God and ourselves in times of adversity.
God comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:4)
A Key to Facing Hard Times
Hebrews 12:11 says: It is never fun to be corrected. In fact at the time it is always painful. But if we learn to obey God by being corrected, we will do right and live at peace (CEV). Jesus wants us to profit from hard times to help us live the right way—His way. Christ sends adversity to improve and develop our Christian virtues and root out our vices. Paul suffered beatings, imprisonments, attacks, deprivations, and long waits and said, “We felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”10 Paul’s perspective helps us look up to Christ our Elder Brother with confidence, joy, and love, realizing that our security is wrapped up in Him, not in our shifting circumstances. Jesus’ followers are His excellent ones; He delights in us and nothing can separate us from His love.11 Hard times make us re-remember Christ, re-trust Him, and run back to Him.
Christians who have gone before us also found that trusting and obeying Christ in hard times was tough. Hudson Taylor (1832-1905) founded the China Inland Mission. Soon after his wife gave birth to their daughter, both mother and baby died. Taylor wrote, “I feel stunned, utterly crushed, only partially conscious. But my Heavenly Father has ordered it, so I know it is—it must be—best. I thank Him. My heart is breaking, but my God gives me peace and happiness even in my days of darkest sorrow.” Taylor trained himself to live by Scripture facts, not by his feelings. We should learn to cry out to God when we feel weary, worn, sad, angry, and anxious, and not let our emotions rule us. We must choose to worship Jesus even when we suffer disasters and distresses.12
Remember That Nothing Is Certain in this Earthly Life
Our Scripture verse in Ecclesiastes reminds us that prosperous and painful times both come from the Lord and little is guaranteed. That’s the constant refrain in Ecclesiastes. We can’t be sure what the future holds; we can only trust Christ who holds our future. Rather than fearing the dark, we must walk in Jesus’ light, watching and waiting for His return. Corrie Ten Boom counsels, “Trust your unknown days ahead to the Lord you know.” Jesus is the Judge of all the earth who always does what is right. When He returns, He will show us how He has handled all things perfectly. Our Savior works to accomplish His goals, in His way, in His time, by His means, not ours. In the end, we will see that “He has done all things well.”13 Puritan pastor John Flavel observes, “Some of God’s providences, like Hebrew letters, must be read backwards,” meaning that often we can see Jesus’ plans and purposes only as we look back over our personal history.
This week, I’m remembering a Christian brother who died in the Lord and has gone home to Heaven. Things were uncertain and unpleasant near the end of his life, but now Joe has entered into the certainties of eternal life. He has departed and gone to be with Christ, which is far better. He has received his heavenly prize and now stands before God’s throne serving Jesus. Now Joe can see more clearly how to give thanks for the Lord’s providential care and grace that prepared his heavenly rest and brought him home to Jesus with everlasting joy. The Savior promises to do the same for all of us who trust Him and follow Him!
And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:10-11)
Notes (various translations): 1 excerpt from www.kubik.org/lighter/100.htm. 2 1 Thes 5:18. 3 Deut 28:4. 4 2 Tim 3:1-5. 5 Rom 1:21. 6 Psalm 126:3. 7 Isaiah 45:7. 8 James 1:2. 9 This is close to Elisabeth Elliot’s definition of suffering. See Suffering is Never for Nothing (2019, p. 9). 10 2 Cor 1:9. 11 Psalm 16:3; Rom 8:39. 12 Job 1:21. 13 Mark 7:37.