It seems an odd response, but on the week of Thanksgiving, some search vainly for reasons for expressing gratitude.
Some are generally just discontent. They have fed the monster of covetousness and greed to the point that they are rarely happy and rarely content and thankful. And on the occasions that they are thankful, it is inevitably short-lived — lasting only until they fix their affections on a new item of desire.
Some are thankful, but they are thankful to the wrong individuals. True gratitude must terminate on the ultimate giver of good and grace to us. And while it is appropriate to be thankful to parents and children and friends and even merciful strangers, all good we experience is actually an expression of God’s goodness to us. Because “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (Js. 1:17), then to express final gratitude to anyone but God is a form of ingratitude.
Some, because of the hardness of life, have trouble finding reason for giving thanks. Perhaps a job has been lost (or jobs), or disease has intruded, or accidents have irrevocably changed life for “the worst,” or depression has overwhelmed. The difficulties of life have taken over the heart of this individual and everywhere he turns there is only hardship and sorrow and opportunities (temptations) for anger and bitterness. His friends look at his circumstances and wonder if his name is “Job.”
How will these individuals give thanks this week?
They can give thanks for three reasons: they have been commanded to give thanks (1 Thess. 5:18), they are experiencing nothing unusual — others have previously gone through similar circumstances and responded with thanks (1 Cor. 10:13), and because they do not look at the temporal nature of their circumstances, but at the ultimate grace that they receive from and through Christ (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
Martin Rinkart was just such a man. Who could blame him if he would not be thankful? He was the pastor of the Lutheran church in Eilenberg at the end of the Thirty Years’ War. In 1636, as the war came to an end, his city became a refuge for many displaced by the war. In those final days, the city was under attack from the Swedes and also struggling to keep up with the influx of so many people, taxing the food and medical supplies particularly.
The result was that while many came to Eilenberg for help and hope, they found death instead. The city was ravaged by the needs of wounded soldiers, disease, famine, and economic disaster. More than 5000 people in his spiritual care died that year. On average, Rinkart buried 15 people per day, every day, for a year.
Yet when the war ended, as part of a celebratory service, Rinkart penned a hymn that is still sung today (a hymn we sang on Sunday morning, in fact). “Now Thank We All Our God” includes the following words:
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.
On this week of Thanksgiving, let us also take care to offer words of gratitude — even when circumstances seem to dictate otherwise. We have a Savior who has given us all we need. Let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to him.