What’s So Great About Gratefulness?
by Don Jaques
1 Thessalonians 5:16-5:18
In “The Hiding Place”, Dutch woman Corrie ten Boom wrote of her family’s experience undergoing the trial of concentration camps under the Third Reich in World War II. Though not Jews themselves, she, her father, and her sister, Betsie, were sent to a series of prison camps for harboring Jews in their Netherlands home. At one point, the two sisters are sent to their third camp, Ravensbruck, and upon their arrival at the barracks, they realize that among other horrors of the camp their barracks are completely infested with fleas. QUOTE: p. 180-181
“Fleas!” I cried. “Betsie, the place is swarming with them!…how can we live in such a place?”
“Show us. Show us how.” It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.
“Corrie!” she said excitedly. “He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!”
I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. “It was in First Thessalonians,” I said….”Here it is; ‘Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…'” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.
“Go on,” said Betsie. “That wasn’t all.”
“Oh yes; ‘…to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus–‘”
“That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!”
I stared at her, then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.
“Such as?” I said.
“Such as being assigned here together.”
I bit my lip, “Oh yes, Lord Jesus!”
“Such as what you’re holding in your hands.”
I looked down at the Bible. “Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all the women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.”
“Yes,” said Betsie. “Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!” She looked at me expectantly. “Corrie!” she pleaded.
“Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds.”
“Thank You,” Betsie went on serenely, “for the fleas and for–”
The fleas! This was too much. “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,'” she quoted. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”
And so we stood between piers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.
(END OF QUOTE)
Who do you relate with? Betsie and her seeming superhuman power to give thanks even for the fleas? Or Corrie, who had come to the end of her rope?
If I’m honest, I think my gut reaction is much like Corrie’s. I know, I know, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says: Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. But when things are going badly my natural response is, “God can’t possibly expect me to give thanks in THESE circumstances!” Can God really be serious about this? And why would he instruct us to do it anyway? For the next few minutes let’s see if we can find some answers to these questions.
As I began studying the passages in the Bible that talk about giving thanks – one thing began to come clear for me. When the Bible says that I’m supposed to give thanks in all circumstances – it also gives me plenty of examples of people who did just that.”
I found the example of Daniel. He hears the news that praying to God is now a federal offense punishable by death. What does he do? He promptly goes to his room, opens the window and proceeds to give thanks to God, just as he was in the habit of doing.
I also discovered Jesus, standing up in front of a hungry crowd of people, with a measly 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed all of them, giving thanks to God for those measly provisions. Even though what he had was not near enough – He gave thanks!
Most incredibly, I discovered Job, who, upon hearing that in one fell swoop he had lost all of his children in a freak accident, comes up with one of the most profound quotes of the Bible…
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
Thank God I can only imagine the pain of losing just one of my children, let alone all of them at once. But here, this amazing man of God finds the strength to say – even though the Lord has taken away what He gave, I will praise Him still.
But still the question remains – WHY? Why would God make such a crazy demand on us when we’re undergoing the worst of times. Well, I believe the answer is that there are benefits and blessings that God gives to those who will take Him at His word and learn this discipline of giving thanks in ALL circumstances.
So, what are these benefits, these blessings promised from God to those who will give thanks in ALL circumstances?
1. Giving thanks to God prepares the way for Him to reveal his plans for us. (Ps. 50:23)
If you’ve got your Bible with you, turn with me to Psalm 50. Allow me to read, starting in verse 14 (the speaker here is God Himself…)
14 Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
fulfill your vows to the Most High,
15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you will honor me.” …
23 He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me,
and he prepares the way
so that I may show him the salvation of God.”
Do you see that? “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.”
This idea of “preparing the way” calls to mind one of the mundane things
That gets done every week both here and in Oak Harbor. A couple hours before the service starts, a group of incredible servants arrives to do such “spiritual” work as setting up chairs, hauling children’s ministry equipment, and making coffee. These servants “prepare the way” so that the MAIN EVENT of the worship service can happen. If you were to arrive and there was no sound system set up, the musicians hadn’t rehearsed, there were no chairs to sit on, and so on, it would be very difficult for anyone to experience the work of the Lord in their life. There would just be too many distractions.
Well, what does this verse say about how we can see what God wants to do in our lives? It says that those who offer sacrifices of thanksgiving prepare the way for God to show his salvation to them. Just like the work of those on the set up team, our acts of thanksgiving prepare the way for the Lord to reveal his salvation – his way of delivering us from whatever situation we’re facing.
It’s as if God is just waiting for us to say, in our thanksgiving to Him, “God I know that all I have is yours and comes from you – and I trust that just as your word says it, “You are good!” I choose to trust you and thank you!”
I remember one particularly powerful way that I learned this lesson, back in the summer of 1990, on a muggy summer night in the south of France. At the time I was part of a singing group touring for the summer doing evangelistic concerts. After doing our nightly concert, tearing down our equipment, and loading it into our tour bus, we drove a few miles to the youth hostel where were to spend the night.
Just one problem – when we arrived at the youth hostel shortly after 11:00 pm we discovered that they had filled the 35 beds we had reserved since we were so late in arriving. No amount of arguing with them through an interpreter was going to make any difference. They did not have beds for us.
What they did do was refer us to a different hostel in a different part of town that they said might have room for us, if we could make it there before midnight. We tried to telephone them, but got no answer, so all we could do was pack up on the bus and start the drive to this other hostel. On the way, an amazing thing happened. Someone in the front of the bus started softly singing a praise song. Pretty soon a couple of others picked up the refrain, and before we knew it our entire group was singing a song of praise and thanksgiving to God – even though we didn’t know if we would have beds that night. Where there had been disappointment, anger, and fear only a few minutes earlier, the bus now resounded with joy, optimism, and hope.
The great happy end to the story is that when we arrived (just before midnight) we discovered that not only did this hostel have room for all of us, but it was in a safer part of town, and was a cleaner, quieter environment than the original hostel.
But I can’t help but think that, even if that hostel didn’t have room for us that night, we would have found joy in the midst of our uncomfortable night on the bus simply because we had made the choice to praise God anyway.
Now, why else does God want us to learn to give thanks in all circumstances?
2. Giving thanks to God ushers in the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds. (Phil. 4:6-7)
Phil 4:6-7 (NLT)
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
So, the Apostle Paul writes, get rid of your anxiety and replace it with a lifestyle of prayer – bringing all your needs before God WITH THANKSGIVING. And if we’ll do this, we’re promised something that no amount of money can purchase. Peace. Guarding our hearts and minds beyond anything that the human mind can understand.
We’ve all seen and read of the role the secret service plays in protecting our President. Their job is to put themselves in the way of any harm that is intended for the President or a member of his family. 24 hours a day they surround the first family with protection that is often unseen to the casual observer but is nonetheless very real. In this way, the peace of God guards our heart and mind from the harm our enemy would send our way through any one of the weapons at his disposal.
In addition to the peace promised to those who learn to give thanks in all circumstances, and the way doing so sets the stage for God to show us his salvation, there is a third reason I’ve found that God asks us to develop this discipline.
3. Giving thanks reminds us that God uses all our circumstances to make us more like Him (Romans 8:28-29).
As you may know, the Apostle Paul did not have an easy life. He endured hardships most of us only read books or watch movies about – beatings, imprisonments, hunger, shipwrecks, abandonment – yet even in the midst of this, he wrote in his letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verses 28-29:
28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Here we see one of the most incredible promises of the Bible for you and me. It clearly states that for those who love God, every circumstance of their lives is being used for their ultimate good. Now this takes incredible patience and understanding, because the “good” promised may be very far off in human terms.
Yet even to those of you who are in the midst of pain, crisis, or grief, God says – TRUST ME – I’m STILL IN CONTROL, AND I’M WORKING FOR YOUR GOOD. What good you ask? Verse 29 tells us – the good of being conformed into the likeness of His Son. That some day we might be able to stand before Him and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You had some hard lessons in your time on earth, but you see now how they ALL shaped you into who I had created you to become. Welcome and enter into your rest!”
We walk by faith, not by sight. So when sight says, “There is no God – look at all the suffering!” Faith says, “Even in this I believe God is good and his love endures forever.”
I’ll close by returning to the story I started with. You remember Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie, giving thanks even for the fleas in the Nazi concentration camp Ravensbruck. You’ll remember Corrie saying “This time I knew she was wrong!” Well a couple months later something happened that proved who was right and who was wrong.
One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood-gathering foray outside the walls. A light snow lay on the ground and it was hard to find the sticks and twigs with which a small stove was kept going in each room. Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together. Her eyes were twinkling.
“You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,” I told her.
“You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” she said (referring to the fact that they had been free to have Bible studies and even sing hymns in the barracks together in the evenings..) “Well, I’ve found out.”
That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.
“But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?”
Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, ‘That place is crawling with fleas!'”
My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.
May we learn what Betsie and Corrie ten Boom had come to learn – that when we trust God enough to thank Him in all circumstances – even for the creatures and circumstances we can see no use for – He will bless us in ways that surprise us and fill our lives with a peace and a joy that we never knew we could experience.