“Continue earnestly in prayer being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.”
~ Colossians 4:2
It may not be November, but I’m going to talk about thanksgiving! (If the first thing you think of is turkey, you’re on the wrong track.)
Before we dive into thanksgiving, I want to review what we’ve been focusing on in our prayers over the past few weeks:
Remember: Prayer is our communication with our Creator. We need to make it a priority in order to have a rich relationship with Him.
Thankfulness is a learned trait. We have to train our hearts to be grateful. When a baby is born, it cries for it’s food and doesn’t stop crying until it’s needs are met. Never once have I heard a newborn actually say ‘thank you.’ They are given everything from their parents. They have to be taught to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Even adults can be constant complainers and often forget their manners. Do we ever do that when we pray to God?
I’ve been spending the last month or so listening to the book of Numbers (hence all the reference to the Israelites in the wilderness). In my New King James Bible, there is a preface to the book of Numbers written by the translators. It notes that the book of Numbers is also referred to as the Book of Murmurings. It is an appropriate title since the Israelites complain about everything from the food (or lack thereof) to the leadership. When life seemed unfair, they would raise their lamentable cry of, “oh why did we leave Egypt?!?! It was so much better there!”
Ah yes, Egypt. Free fish, an abundance of leeks and onions… and, lest we forget, an oh-so-excruciating bondage, hard labor, threatened children and abuse by the Egyptians. What’s not to love?
I imagine that when they cried out to the Lord during their bondage in Egypt, they failed to give thanks for those delicious leeks, onions and fish. The ingratitude of the Israelites didn’t begin in the wilderness. It began in Egypt. Their cry to God from Egypt was justified. They were oppressed. He heard their prayer and responded in a way that only our God can: 10 catastrophic plagues and an astounding deliverance from one of the most powerful nations of that time. As if that weren’t enough, God parted the Red Sea so they could be delivered from the pursuing Egyptians. Finally, in their wilderness travels, they had food to eat, their shoes never wore out, their feet didn’t swell, and God dwelt continually in their presence (Deuteronomy 8). And yet, in spite of all this, they failed to adequately give thanks to God. (Making a golden calf and praising it for bringing you out of Egypt is not a good way to show gratitude to God.) Ingratitude led to their destruction.
How often, in the midst of our troubles, do we fail to give thanks for what is good? One might say that there is nothing good in their life. I’ve read about some amazing people who endured unspeakable persecution and they use what they experienced to do some astounding things for others. (Read Unbreakable, The Hiding Place, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and other biographies for contemporary examples). I truly believe that it is all a matter of perspective. There might be points in time where life is so dark that it may be very difficult to see anything worth thanking God for, but there is always something. Several years ago, I read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie and her sister Betsie end up in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II because they were caught hiding Jews. In Ravensbruck, they are put in a barracks where they have to live with fleas on top of all the other horrors they endured daily. Corrie is absolutely devastated, but her sister, Betsie had a heart of thanksgiving. Below is an abbreviated excerpt from the book:
‘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. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen.
“In the feeble light I turned the pages. ‘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:’…”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 these 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 prodded.
“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 tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie 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. ‘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.”
(A full excerpt of this can be found here.)
Like Betsie so aptly said, “Give thanks in all circumstances. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’” When things are difficult and when things are good, cultivate a heart of thanksgiving. Train your eyes to see God’s triumphs instead of the world’s troubles. Betsie had that thankful heart. She possessed that heart long before the horrors of Ravensbruck. We need to follow her example.
Each day before you pray this week, take a minute to write down at least 5 blessings and then say them in your prayers. Try to come up with 5 different things each day if possible. When you go to God with your sorrows and requests, make sure you take time to say thank you for what He has already accomplished in your life.
Finally, dear friends, commit the following verses to memory as you train your heart:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
~Philippians 4:6 ESV, emphasis mine
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV