Now Thank We All Our God

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Now Thank We All Our God

This past week in New York I met with some very grateful friends. My friend Eric Metaxas book on Bonhoeffer is a bestseller, a young woman friend was giddy with the enthusiasm of an expected marriage proposal over the Thanksgiving holiday, and young Josh Church was excited to tell me about his first year of marriage.

In the words of scripture ~ the lines have fallen in pleasant places for them and they can say wholeheartedly, “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; His love endures forever.”

Not everyone is in that situation this Thanksgiving. For some of my friends, times are tough. One emailed me recently with this tragic news.

“We lost our son Aaron to aplastic anemia. Aaron was an atheist but he was a sincere seeker after truth and we had some great discussions. At his request I read Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion’ back in 2007 and I wrote him my response to Dawkins’ arguments. We disagreed but we were very close. He was far more intellectually gifted than I am.

Our oldest son Brian flew from New Zealand to make a stem cell donation for Aaron, but he died the day he was to have received the cells. Fungal infection destroyed his lungs.

I never prayed so hard for anything as I did for Aaron’s life. I have not felt close to God since.”

What to say to a friend walking such a lonely, devastating journey that does not trivialize or sound glib in the face of real, unrelieved pain?

I sometimes turn to hymns to guide me and the title of one, “Now Thank We All Our God,” makes three suggestions about the nature of our thanksgiving. 1) We should ALL give Thanks; 2) We should all give thanks TO GOD; 3) We should give thanks NOW regardless of our circumstances.

But why and how can we give thanks when times are tough?

Well, we can give thanks as an act of obedience. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Sometimes all we can manage is assenting to a simple children’s chorus. “Thank you Lord for saving my soul; Thank you Lord for making me whole; Thank you Lord for giving to me; Thy great salvation so rich and free.”

We have the example of Jesus who on the night he was betrayed, while his disciples bickered over who was the greatest, gave thanks and broke bread.

Giving thanks in tough circumstances is a way of affirming by faith that we believe God Is present in our joy and pain and is trustworthy in good times and bad.

We know from historical records that the Pilgrims in America made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than these who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving. WHY?

I think it is because they believed that God would never leave them or forsake them, had led them to the new land, and that even their losses could be turned to gain in the divine economy.

At the heart of our thanksgiving is the recognition that the Lord is good¢â‚¬¦ And despite difficult circumstances God can be trusted.

Oscar Wilde joked, “The Irish have an abiding sense of anguish, which sustains them through temporary periods of joy.” But the Irish also contributed this haunting prayer: “I believe in the sun when it’s not shining, I believe in love even when I feel it not, I believe in God even when he is silent.”

There is a practical reason for giving thanks regardless of circumstances, a somewhat selfish reason. It is my experience that an attitude of gratitude produces joy.

JOY happens when we choose to look on the positive.

An old poem reminds us: Two men looked out from prison bars, one saw mud ~ the other man stars.

Put two people in identical situations and one will be cheerful and hopeful. The other pessimistic and hopeless ~ which of the two prisoners would you rather be?

I am not saying we ignore the mud; our hope is not based on a delusional denial of painful realities on our life. I am saying in the midst of the worst of times there is almost always something for which we can be grateful and it is good for our health to focus on those things. Daily bread, shelter, a loving family, friends, answered prayers and the beauty of the earth are among our blessings.

The Apostle Paul wrote from a prison cell, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

I do not mean to imply that it is easy to be grateful when your world is crumbling around you. I am comforted to know that the man who wrote “Now Thank We All Our God” wrote it in his life’s darkest days.

It was written by Pastor Martin Rinkart who served in Eilenburg, Germany during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648.) Eilenburg became an overcrowded refuge for fugitives who suffered from epidemic and famine.

At the beginning of 1637, the year of the Great Pestilence, there were four ministers in Eilenburg. But one abandoned his post for healthier areas and could not be persuaded to return. Pastor Rinkhart officiated at the funerals of the other two.

As the only pastor left, he often conducted services for as many as 40 to 50 persons a day some 4,480 in all.

In May of that year, his own wife died. Yet, while living in a world dominated by death, Rinkart wrote this timeless prayer of thanksgiving for his children:

Now thank we all our God With hearts and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things hath done, In whom this world rejoices.
Who, from our mother’s arms, hath led us on our way,
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

As we think about giving thanks remember these words: Whatever you do, whether in word or deed do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. ALWAYS giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends for the benefit of the world,

Dick Staub.

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PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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