4 Things Persecuted Believers Can Teach Us About Gratitude
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods, for His steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the LORD of lords, for His steadfast love endures forever…
(Psalm 136: 1-26)
This week as you prepare to give thanks with family and friends, we want to say thank you for partnering with Open Doors and for letting God use you to bless and strengthen the persecuted Church around the world for His glory.
At Open Doors, we continue to hear from believers who are taking the gospel to others, strengthened by knowing that they are not alone … that Christ followers like you are praying with them and equipping them to share the Jesus they have found. These believers have learned the importance of living grateful lives.
Lessons in Gratitude
Saman from Iran, Noor from Iraq, Seojun from North Korea and Racheal from Nigeria, among many other believers, can teach us what gratitude truly looks like–and why it’s so important in our lives as we mature in Christ.
Thankfulness puts our hearts in the necessary place to continue to recognize God in the middle of our difficulties and adversity.
In the midst of threats on their lives and despite the memories of dark prison cells, our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ understand that God has commanded His people to be grateful for a reason. As the martyred German pastor and evangelist Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.”
Former Iranian house church leader Saman (now ministering in Turkey) recently participated in trauma counseling for ex-prisoners where he confronted dark memories and deep wounds: “I am encouraged and thank God that you visit us, that my story is shared, and that people pray for me. You can’t imagine how much it means to me to know that I am not alone in this.”
Thankfulness defeats discontent.
Gratitude and contentment go hand in hand. Throughout Scripture (at least 100 verses of thanksgiving), we repeatedly see that God calls us to praise and thankfulness, knowing that we are sinners. We are prone to discontent and envy. As the Canadian-American theologian Harry Ironside said, “We would worry less if we praised more. Thanksgiving is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.”
Iraqi Christian Noor was among the thousands of Christians who fled Qaraqosh when ISIS invaded. Last year, Noor returned with her family and is reworking to rebuild her life and her community. She understands the power of being thankful even when life is unjust: “We are thankful for every Christian in the world for thinking about us. And we are grateful that you are helping us, also with your prayers. So, thank you.”
Thanksgiving is not a once-a-year celebration.
Rather, giving thanks is a daily practice—one of the most distinctive marks of our faith. North Korean Christian Seojun (now a pastor in South Korea) knows that well. He met Jesus in an Open Doors safe house in China. “I am so thankful … It is not easy to carry on,” he says. “But I am trying my best to work for His kingdom. I am trying to remember all your prayers and effort and I am trying to live as God’s faithful servant.”
Thankfulness places God over our lives and in the center of our hearts.
In the 17th century, preacher and author John Bunyan (best known for The Pilgrim’s Progress) wrote, “A sensible thanksgiving for mercies received is a mighty prayer in the Spirit of God. It prevails with Him unspeakably.” As image bearers of God, we give Him glory, following Jesus’ call to abide in Him. Gratitude gives God His due and control over our lives. It acknowledges that He is the giver of all good gifts.
Nigerian believer Racheal John was one of 34 Christian women rescued from an extremist group that is located primarily in Northern Nigeria militants. She endured seven months captive in Nigeria’s Sambisa Forest: “I wish my eyes could see the people who sent this support to me. I don’t know what to say. One thing I will never forget about this gift is that I have brothers and sisters who care for me and who prayed for my rescue.”
This Thanksgiving as you celebrate and reflect, please also remember our persecuted family—our brothers and sisters who are living lives of gratitude in dark situations. We pray that you and your family will experience anew the Author of our thankfulness and His love that endures forever.
*representatives names and photos used for security