By Bill Weber
It was the fall of the year. We were anticipating a great weekend with friends from Bible college days, friends we hadn’t seen for several years. After graduation they returned home where the husband worked the ranch with his father. We moved into youth ministry in the city. They had two preschoolers. So did we. Our families planned to discover some of the fun things our community offered.
When they arrived we exchanged hugs, introduced the children, and sent them off to play and get acquainted. Then the husband handed me an envelope. A little surprised, I opened it to find a check for $500—a lot of money 35 years ago! I was so shocked and overcome with emotion I couldn’t speak. He just looked at me and said matter-of-factly that it had been a good year on the ranch. They thought we probably could use a little help with our young family trying to live on a youth minister’s salary.
These friends had no way of knowing how tight money was for us. We struggled to keep our heads above water. Their check met our need. We didn’t know what to say except, “Thank you!”
Thankfulness comes naturally sometimes. Unexpected gifts, kind acts, and encouraging words make it easy to express thanks. Occasions to thank a parent, teacher, friend, employer, or neighbor often present themselves because of some good thing that happens.
But often life is difficult. Thankfulness eludes us. There’s just not much for which to be thankful. Or so we think.
But let me pose this: Being thankful is a state of existence, a disposition of the heart, a condition of the mind, an attitude. If thankfulness depends on circumstances, many people would not be thankful very often. Life can be hard.
On the other hand, thankfulness is recognizing the good in life and affirming what is positive, even in difficult circumstances. Let me illustrate.
Giving Thanks During an Asthma Attack
Several years ago in my quiet time, it occurred to me that I should not ask God for anything for a time but rather spend that time only praising him and thanking him for his goodness, kindness, and generosity toward me. After all, I thought of myself as particularly blessed. I had as good a life as anyone and really didn’t need anything. How noble of me!
A week sounded like a good amount of time; beginning the following Sunday, I would not ask God for anything for the next seven days. Instead, I would devote myself to praise and thanksgiving.
I didn’t see coming what happened next. Our grandson had asthma. Not just a slight case, but serious asthma. He was once hospitalized for four days and suffered a partially collapsed lung. His parents knew well the route to the children’s hospital where they took him when his attacks were too severe to handle at home. Wouldn’t you know it! Sunday evening of that week they rushed off to the hospital because of another asthma attack. Whenever we got a call about an attack our automatic response was to go into prayer mode.
This placed me in a difficult position. I had told God I wouldn’t ask for anything for a week. Would he understand if I didn’t keep my promise? After all, how could I have anticipated something like this?
It wasn’t easy, but I decided to honor my commitment to thanksgiving and praise. I discovered there was so much to be thankful for that week: modern healthcare, good doctors, qualified and compassionate nurses, a modern hospital, effective medicines. I was thankful for his parents, the church, and friends. I was thankful for a beautiful and loving grandson.
I didn’t sense that I had abandoned him at all by not praying for his healing. I learned much about God, his provision, and his care. God could very well take care of my grandson without me. And he did. God honored my thankful posture before him.
A Thanksgiving Feast During the Riots
Our family served as missionaries in the nation of South Africa during the years of social and political upheaval that preceded the end of Apartheid. Distrust and anger often led to violence. Rioting was common in some of the poor areas surrounding Johannesburg where we lived.
During these difficult months and years the churches in Johannesburg had an especially difficult time trying to protect themselves and their families. Needless to say, we were quite surprised when we were invited to a particular Thanksgiving Feast.
One of the local ministers, Olifeet Mkhundlu, whom we worked with in one of the most dangerous townships, wanted to celebrate. His children had finished the school year, neither the church building nor his house had been vandalized or burned, his wife and daughters had been spared from molestation, no one had been killed; all good reasons to celebrate. And so he invited church people to a Feast of Thanksgiving. And a true feast it was! Plenty of meat, rice, vegetables, and pudding—a real thanksgiving celebration!
Thankful While Mourning
I was just out of Bible college and entering my first ministry when I was asked to officiate at a funeral for the first time. We had barely finished moving into the parsonage when they came to tell me I needed to visit the family of Mr. Jones, who had just passed away.
As we talked about their loss and the plans for a funeral service, I was questioned quite extensively and pointedly about what I would say during the service. At first I thought the family might be concerned about my youth and lack of experience, but as it turned out, Mr. Jones—husband, father, neighbor, and I suppose friend—was actually quite a scoundrel. They were trying to tell me not to say anything negative about the deceased.
In sharp contrast, we recently held a memorial service for my mother-in-law who passed away after 97 years of full, rich, Christian living. It was a time of remembering all the good that had been done by one person in the name of Christ. Tears were shed, stories were told, laughter sometimes filled the room, but the overriding theme of the day was thankfulness. We thanked God because death had not won. There was no victory in the grave. There was no sting of death (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). God had been honored in her family, her service, and her church. We experienced true thankfulness as we mourned our loss.
The Cup of Thanksgiving
The best illustration of being thankful in times of distress comes from God himself. Paul tells it this way when he writes about the Lord’s Supper: “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?”(1 Corinthians 10:16). The cross is a symbol of cruelty, humiliation, torture, injustice, and death. Yet we remember the cross by drinking from a cup of thanksgiving. Something good came out of something bad. Forgiveness and life are the gifts that come out of the cross. A celebration of thanksgiving takes place every time we remember the greatest unjust suffering in history.
Sometimes thankfulness comes as a natural reaction, but other times it is a reflection on the deeper meaning of our lives.
Bill Weber is a freelance writer in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Teaching Thankfulness to Kids
Route 52—Bible People Who Were Thankful
(Standard Publishing, 2010)
by Holly Davis
(Standard Publishing, 2007)
Thank You, God
by Lise Caldwell and Diane Stortz
Board Book, Coloring Book, and Level 1 Reader
Item 025451711, 37011, 04148
(Standard Publishing, 2011, 2007, 2007)
For more information visit www.standardpub.com