With Thanksgiving just around the corner, the following gratitude stories might be helpful to you. They all fall under the theme of 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (NIV). Of course, this verse doesn’t mean that everything that happens to us is God’s will. It’s not God’s will that we lose our jobs, or get a diagnosis of cancer, or that our children make poor choices. What this verse does say is that it’s God’s will for us to thankful people in all circumstances, even in hard times—especially in hard times. Consider these three examples.
When Robinson Crusoe was wrecked on his lonely island, he drew two columns and listed the good and bad of his situation. He was cast away on a desolate island, but he was still alive. He was separated from humanity, but he was not starving. He had no clothes, but was in a warm climate and didn’t need them. He had no means of defense, but saw no wild beasts that threatened him. He had no one to talk to, but the destroyed ship was near the shore and he could get out of it all the things necessary for his basic needs. He concluded, therefore, that no condition in the world was so miserable that one could not find something to be grateful for.
When the late John Claypool lost his ten-year-old daughter to leukemia, gratitude was the only way he survived. He tells about that experience in his profound book, Tracks of a Fellow Struggler. After his daughter’s death, John walked down three different paths. The first path was to say, “Well, it was just God’s will. I have to accept it.” But that was not helpful. He could not believe that God willed ten-year-old girls to die of leukemia. A second path was to try to find an intellectual answer as to why this happened. He tried to make sense of it. But that didn’t work either. His daughter’s death didn’t make any sense. Finally, John walked the path of gratitude. He realized that life is a gift. We are not entitled to it. That we have any life at all is pure gift and pure grace. Therefore, John chose to be thankful for the ten good years they had together rather than being consumed with resentment for the years he did not have with her. This path of gratitude wasn’t easy, but it was the only path which offered any help.
Many years ago, an elderly English pastor was famous for his pulpit prayers. He always found something to thank God for, even in bad times. One stormy Sunday morning, when everything was going extremely bad in the community and in the lives of many people in the congregation, himself included, he stepped to the pulpit to pray. A member of the congregation thought to himself, “The preacher will have nothing to thank God for on a wretched morning like this.” The pastor began his prayer, “We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.”
Martin Thielen serves as senior pastor of Brentwood United Methodist Church, Brentwood, Tennessee. A complete manuscript of his Thanksgiving sermon, “Choosing Gratitude,” is available at his preaching and worship website, www.GettingReadyForSunday.com. Martin’s most recent book is “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?” A Guide to What Matters Most. Complete information about the book, including a free Leader’s Guide for leading a seven-week congregation-wide initiative based on the book, can be found at http://thielen.wjkbooks.com.