.. give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess. 5:18, ESV).
The traditional adage of ‘counting our blessings’ always comes into sharper focus as the annual Thanksgiving holiday rolls around in the United States doesn’t it?
However, there is little doubt that many Americans – Christians included, will be a bit more challenged than usual to count their blessings in the year of our Lord, 2020, though biblically oriented disciples of Jesus Christ understand, (though may not cherish) the exhortation in scripture from the apostle Paul to give thanks for even circumstances such as the following ‘lowlights’ of the year:
- The seemingly never-ending pandemic of the global Coronavirus, which has crippled much of our society’s normative way of life since the beginning of the year.
- Civil and racial unrest manifest in protests and violence in the wake of some high-profile police related shootings that began in the summer.
- Our politically and culturally divided country enduring one of the most contentious presidential election campaigns in American history, of which the result has been questioned and not completely acknowledged – yet (as of the date of this post), as we enter the final month of the year.
Of which the later event by the way, will not be totally resolved until the state of Georgia conducts its special run-off election in early January, to decide the makeup of the Senate majority of our country and its legislative direction for the next two-four years. God only knows what further division that result will cause.
That said, why and how can we obey the biblical imperative (command) to give God thanks each and every day for circumstances like COVID-19 and a divided nation in the year 2020?
The Lord actually has given us a vaccine for ingratitude in everything, speaking in relevant terms today.
In the New Testament, Paul also wrote that prayers filled with thanksgiving serve as a remedy for anxiety (Phil. 4:4-6). From the Old Testament, Israel’s King David wrote a Holy Spirit inspired psalm – a song of praise that recognizes God’s sovereignty and faithfulness to his people, which should fill their hearts with peace and hope in even the most difficult of circumstances:
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning (Psa. 30:4-5).
I take that text amongst many others which affirm it, to mean that thanksgiving can be found in the fact that this world’s nature of affliction, evil, pain and suffering (including God’s holy wrath or “anger” against sin) is temporary (“may tarry for the night”).
It is scripture like this which reminds me that by faith we trust in and obey God because he is good – perfectly so, and is perfectly free and sovereign to directly or indirectly cause circumstances which may on the one hand “tarry” or remain for a season, inflicting discipline and difficulty, but will also bring ultimate glory for himself, hope, edification, good and grace for his own (Ro. 8:22,24-25b, 28; Ro. 5:3-5, 11,15). We can be thankful for that theological truth.
As we’ve posted here and preached before, salvation, sanctification and eventual glorification, come to God’s children from a world of pain and suffering in which the Lord providentially brings about greater, redemptive purposes in his kingdom through it all. Again, that is a reality worth thanking God for I would argue.
The opposite of thanksgiving can only breed despair if not depression and bitterness – circumstances notwithstanding. When things go wrong, what do we usually do? Complain. Grumble. Doubt God. You might say, Pastor Bernie, “We all do this right? What’s the big deal? God knows we’re only human right?”
The problem with that, is that ingratitude leads to self-pity. Self-pity unchecked, grows and becomes depression. It betrays a heart of unbelief. What God wants from his people- from Israel to the church, is humility and a gratitude attitude from faith, which leads to joy- or what I like to call soul satisfaction. That’s the Christian’s real joy and Paul knew this better than any other Christian I can think of in scripture other than David (Col. 2:6-7).
Therefore, I will prayerfully push myself by the help of the Spirit of God to give thanks for 2020 and all of the obstacles to worldly happiness the good Lord has presented or allowed in it, including the lowlights becoming highlights from the above:
- I thank God for allowing COVID-19.
Not in the havoc or destruction of the life, liberty and the pursuit of prosperity that has resulted from it, but for the dependence it has fostered to tens of thousands of people who have looked to God for mercy, grace in provision and for meaning in the midst of it all as never before.
I thank the Lord further, for giving the church of Jesus Christ the greatest appreciation of its assembly in person, in the worshipping, feeding, fellowshipping and loving of one another as never before in our lifetimes. “Virtual” (online) and regulation limiting church services have served as a necessary though largely unsatisfying and poor representation and reminder of the best biblical congregating God offers his people. I’m thankful for that dose of appreciation as I long for it to return.
I also give thanks that I personally know of so few people in and out of my church that have been infected with, much less hospitalized without a fatality from Coronavirus.
- I thank God for allowing civil unrest in our nation.
Why would I thank God for that? It is because that unrest has caused me to rethink the state of race relations and ethnic hatred, bias and bigotry which still resides in all of our tainted flesh in this country and the need for us to introspectively consider what we can do to personally and corporately lessen this sin problem, which is misdiagnosed as a simple skin problem.
It is not mainstream ‘Critical Race Theories’ which will remedy this issue.
Only a return to the preaching and ideals of a multi-cultural and ethnic church, unified in the gospel and single-race blood of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2), is what will bring greater unity to our land.
- I thank God that he seems to be allowing a change in the governing authorities of our country.
I am not thanking the Lord for what seems to be the upcoming inauguration of a President-Elect and administration which supports the murder of the pre-born, redefines God’s divine design for family and sexuality and seeks to attack if not greatly restrict the religious liberty of our citizens to freely exercise their faith.
I recognize the gravity of such public policy positions and recoil at just the possibilities of them coming to fruition. While we are not to thank God for evil, we can thank him for what he can and will most assuredly do with it for greater purposes as Joseph realized in the midst of his brothers (Gen. 50:20) and what Jesus endured by God’s providence to accomplish the greatest news of all time (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).
It is God, as I have been preaching in our church’s current Sunday series, (The Sovereignty of God) that “ ..changes times and seasons; .. removes kings (e.g. Presidents) and sets up kings, rules over the nations and the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” (Dan. 2:21; 4:32; Psa. 22:28). I thankful for that.
Furthermore, as I’m tempted to despair over the course of this country as my young adult children and their children will deal with, I’m thankful and encouraged that “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will (Pro. 21:1).” The course of this nation’s future is in God’s hands and only he can save our likely President-Elect and members of his administration (including the Vice-President Elect) and turn them to Christ or to govern rightly by his common grace. We are to pray for that (1 Tim. 2:1-4).
Thus, I conclude with the story of Corrie Ten Boom and the Hiding Place. Corrie and her sister Betsie, were courageous, compassionate Dutch Christians who helped harbor Jews from the Nazis in Holland during World War II. After the sisters were arrested for doing so, they were imprisoned at a German concentration camp.
Forced to live in the rancid conditions at Ravensbruck, Corrie and Betsie found they could not sit upright on their own platform beds without hitting their heads on the deck above them. They lay back, struggling against nausea that swept over them from the reeking straw.
Suddenly Corrie started to sit up, striking her head on the cross-slats above. Something had bitten her leg. “Fleas!” she cried. “Betsie, the place is swarming with them!” “Here! And here another one!” Corrie wailed. “Betsie, how can we live in such a place?”
“Show us. Show us how,” Betsie said matter-of-factly. It took Corrie a moment to realize that her sister was praying. “Corrie!” Betsie then exclaimed 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!”
Corrie checked to make sure no guards were nearby, then drew from a pouch a small Bible she had managed to smuggle into the concentration camp. “It was in First Thessalonians,” she said, finding the passage in the feeble light. She prayed aloud from the text, “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus …” (1 Thess. 5:14-18).
“That’s it!” Betsie interrupted. “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 barracks!” Corrie stared at her incredulously, then around at the dark, foul-smelling room.“Such as?” she inquired. “Such as being assigned here together.”
Corrie bit her lip. “Oh yes, Lord Jesus!” “Such as what you’re holding in your hands.” Corrie 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,” agreed Betsie. “Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!” She looked at her sister expectantly and prodded, “Corrie!” “Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds.”
“Thank you,” Betsie continued on serenely, “for the fleas and for …” That was too much for Corrie. She cut in on her sister: “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
‘Give thanks in all circumstances,” Betsie corrected. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.” So, they stood between the stacks of bunks and gave thanks for fleas, though on that occasion Corrie thought Betsie was surely wrong.”
One evening when Corrie arrived back at the barracks Betsie’s eyes were twinkling. “You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,” Corrie told her. “You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” Betsie said, referring to the part of the barracks where the sleeping platforms were. “Well—I’ve found out. This afternoon there was confusion in my knitting group about sock sizes, so we 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 as she exclaimed, “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said: ‘That place is crawling with fleas!’ ” Corrie’s mind raced back to their first hour in the barracks. She remembered Betsie bowing her head and thanking God for creatures that Corrie could see no use for.
I pray I can get to the point where I can join the Ten Boom sisters in their gratitude attitude to God. To thank God for his sovereignty in COVID 19 and 2020 – and “in all circumstances,” because I remember God’s goodness, his glory and can be grateful as a result. Happy Thanksgiving!