Thankful for what isn’t

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18, NLT

In 1990, country music artist Garth Brooks released a song titled “Unanswered Prayers.” In it, as with most country hits, he reflected on an old flame he once prayed to God would be his, but undoubtedly was not to be. Ending each chorus with this refrain: “Some of God’s greatest gifts are all too often unanswered prayers.”

On this day, we will sit around tables. We will write posts. We will reflect on all the ways in which we have been blessed. During this month of “thanks,” we will focus on gratitude, and most often the ways in which God has answered our prayers, and given us what we have wanted. Made us laugh. Times we have felt joy. Times we have known love. Things of which we can know without a shadow of a doubt were “good.” We will not reflect on those things that God did NOT do for us.

But what if He is also calling us to give thanks for these, and be grateful for those things He doesn’t give us. Those prayers that go unanswered. Those times when we were struggling, full of despair. Grief. When it looked like all we kept meeting were barriers upon barriers. When He removed people from our lives, and we didn’t know why.

See, we often see these as obstacles. Even at times punishment. And they can be. If we are not being obedient to God, He can provide struggle to disrupt us, and move us back to the right path.

But He can also allow struggle for growth. To refine us and make us more like Him as the word says in Romans 5:3-5. He can use these trials to “help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.”

We can see barriers as “no’s,” when often they are placed there to teach us to persevere.

We can see removals as rejection, when often God knows that person can’t go where we are going. He knew they wouldn’t be able to walk in the room He wanted us to walk into.

What we deem as “unanswered,” God is working for good, but in the midst of the suffering. The pain. The rejection. We don’t often see this, and we certainly are not thankful.

It’s why Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 12:9, Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. So can we boast about what He has not allowed to happen in our lives? The unanswered prayers? The ways in which we have endured suffering?

The person He removed, because it taught us to forgive, and to honor the relationships we do have?

The suffering we endured because it produced faith and a reliance on God we didn’t have before?

The setbacks and barriers He placed in our path; because it taught us not to give up on His purpose for us?

Today, as we reflect on all that God has done that yes…is certainly oh so good, may we also reflect on the things that have not been, but how He has turned them for the best.

For His unanswered prayers.

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