Listen to this article, read by the author, Jessie Mejias.
In June of 2009, we were getting ready to go to London to visit our son. We had planned the trip on short notice and decided to use my sister’s airline privileges to fly standby and hope to get on first class at a deep discount. I was a little apprehensive about flying standby to London during the high season; I had had many experiences of being left at the gate. Before our trip, I prayed for the Lord to arrange all aspects of our journey and help us get on the first flight we were listed on. Our son was flying in from India, and if we made our flight, we could meet up with him at Heathrow.
The day before our trip, we were supposed to go to an outdoor concert. A friend was going to the show with us, and she and I prayed that it wouldn’t rain that afternoon and evening, but it did. The strange thing was that, along with the rain, there was a drastic drop in the temperature: after being in the 80s for the last few days, the thermometer barely reached 70. I started thanking God already for the weather, despite having prayed for no rain. At the same time we checked the forecast for the weather in London and it was going to be no warmer than in the low 70s.
The temperature drop at home made me think that I should make sure I took a jacket, a thought which had not even been on my radar: I had been packing for warm summer weather like ours.
So that was the first thing that I saw was a reason to be thankful for the rain: it made me pack prudently.
The next day we drove to New York City, and it rained on and off pretty much the whole way. I kept silently thanking the Lord for the rain, but at this point, I wasn’t sure why. The radio reported a lot of flight delays up and down the eastern seaboard because of the weather.
Before getting to the gate, I prayed specifically for favor with the gate agents. We stood by for the first flight out, and the gate agent told us that we would not get on first class and asked if we wanted to go coach. We said no, we would wait for the next flight. One of the other agents very gruffly said that we should take coach because we weren’t guaranteed to get anything since so many people were missing their connections because of the bad weather. But we declined and stood back to wait for the agent to roll us over to the next flight. We were about to call my sister to ask her to get a message to our son that we had missed the flight, but before we could do that, the first agent we had spoken to beckoned to us and asked us if we would go business and we said sure. Several business class passengers were coming from a connecting flight, and it was not certain that they would make it on time for this flight. We watched as several out-of-breath passengers ran to the gate and made it, but we also heard the agents talking amongst themselves about whether or not one couple would make it. Five minutes before the flight was supposed to leave, the agent who had been so unfriendly to us told the other agent to release the two business class seats to us, and we got on. I was praising the Lord for the rain even more then! We were able to meet up with our son at the London airport and go home with him.
Romans 8:28 says: 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. (NIV)
For most of my Christian life, I understood this verse to mean that God would take the bad things in my life and work them out for good. The standard explanation offered time and again in different sermons and books was that God will take all of the awful things that happen to me (or that I do by choice) and redeem them so that something good comes out of it.
When I left my husband in 1979 and became the single parent of two small boys, I was pretty much devastated by the turn of events in my life. Seven years later, my husband and I were remarried, but this time we were both more mature, we had both received so much healing, and our children had not had to live in an unstable household. It wasn’t ideal that our lives had been torn apart, but I could look back now, see the hand of God, and gratefully—even easily—praise Him for working all things together for good.
The knowledge that He could and did work things together for good became firmly planted in my heart. However, I still felt like I had to endure hardship and settle in for the long wait to see how He would take the bad and make it good. As I lived through one difficult and unpleasant situation after another, I would declare, while I worried and fretted, that God would work all things together for good. I would wait, sometimes for years, to see the good that He would bring from the bad things that happened to me. When I finally saw the good He brought out of the bad, then, and only then, would I give Him the praise He was due.
But in 2005, I learned how to hear God’s voice for myself, and I began to experience a great deal of healing of my memories. As the Lord walked through many hurtful childhood memories and gave me new perspective and peace, it dawned on me that my God is a good God. Now you’re saying to yourself, “I knew that.” But do you really know that? I had a head knowledge of God’s goodness for as long as I could remember, but it wasn’t until I began to dialogue with Him and experience Him in all the areas of my life, both past and present, that my heart began to grasp this truth: God is good. When we ask Him for bread, He doesn’t give us a stone. (Matthew 7:9).
I began to study Hebrews 11 and the great men and women of faith. As I meditated on this chapter, it seemed natural to me that faith is believing that God is good and that what He says He will do, He will do.
I can’t say when this change of view completely took hold of my heart, but one day I decided that if God is good and He means what He says, then Romans 8:28 is true before I see the good come from it, not just after. I decided to try doing something different: instead of waiting to see how God would work something good from something bad and then praise Him, I would try praising Him as soon as the bad thing happened. Please understand that I didn’t lie to God and say how happy I was that this bad thing had happened; I was completely honest. I told Him how much I thought this or that event hurt and was both uncomfortable and unwanted but then I followed it up by saying that by faith I would thank Him now for how He wanted to bring good out of the situation.
What amazed me was that when I started doing this, I no longer had to wait weeks, months, or years to see the good that God could bring out of the bad: He would often show me instantaneously what He was accomplishing by allowing me to go through hardship (real or perceived). My spiritual eyes suddenly opened to the truth that He was in charge of all my circumstances.
I like what The Message translation says:
26-28 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. (Emphasis mine).
Like thanking God for the rain before I knew how it would benefit me, praising God is becoming a way of life for me. There are so many beneficial side effects of taking this attitude: I no longer have to stay upset about the bad things that come my way because as I thank God for handling them, I am not only acknowledging His involvement in all the circumstances of my life, I am actually handing over the situations to Him. As I bring my petitions before Him with thanksgiving, I see the fulfillment of Philippians 4:6: He gives me the peace that passes understanding.
The other neat thing is that I become expectant and watchful to see how He will work things for good. I am looking for the touch of God’s hand on my life when I do this, and I am more likely to recognize His intervention because of that attitude.
I must confess that when it comes to minor life incidents, thanking God for the annoyances and inconveniences is not so hard. However, for the tough things in life like premature death, losing a job, or seeing a loved one in pain, thanking God for the bad necessarily becomes a sacrifice (of praise). I tend to want to hold on to those terrible events, so it is with great effort that I choose to open my hands and release those situations to God with thankfulness. God is a gentleman, and He waits to be invited into the problem areas of our lives. When I involve Him in my life, He springs into action on my behalf. The solutions are not all the same. Sometimes He will change a situation completely; sometimes, He will redeem it somehow by causing me to go in another direction that was better than the first. Other times He will not change what is happening or lead me in another direction: He will change me in the situation. When I start to thank God for everything, He can give me His perspective on life, and that is what changes me.
When we put Romans 8:28 into practice daily, we are acknowledging that everything that touches us is “Father-filtered.” The Lord once said to me: “Praise me, for I am in control. There is no situation that you are going through that I am not in control of.” It took me a long time to finally believe that in my heart, not just in my head. Thanking God for everything is evidence that I believe Him.
For the difficulties that take time to reveal His hand, may I continually choose the sacrifice of praise and let Him know that I trust Him to make lemonade out of lemons once again.