A tourist was visiting a village in Mexico where a hot spring and a cold spring were located right next to one another. This natural phenomenon proved to be very helpful to the women who brought their laundry, for they could boil their clothes in the hot spring, then rinse them in the cold spring. The tourist commented to his guide that the people must be very thankful for this convenience. The guide replied, “Not really. They grumble that Mother Nature provides the water but no soap.”
I visited a lady whose son was dying. He was a very young man and the cancer was very painful. She said, “I can’t give thanks to God for this.” She had always been a gracious lady who had lived a very blessed and thankful life. We understand what she is talking about, for the Bible says, Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
We understand that the Bible doesn’t say, “…for all circumstances….” We know that Paul’s words are “…in all circumstances….” However, it is difficult to say, “thank you God that he is dying.”
Frederick Buechner tells about a rare occasion when he was spending the evening with his beloved mother at her New York City apartment. Just as they sat down for a carefully planned meal, the phone rang. The call was for him. A close colleague called from the airport. His parents and pregnant sister were in a serious automobile accident and all were in critical condition. His colleague wanted him to come to the airport and be with him until the plane took him to join his injured family. Buechner told his friend that he was not sure he could leave and suggested that his friend call back in ten minutes. Buechner’s mother did not want him to go; nor did he himself. He was torn between his selfish comfort with his mother and the guilt over the pain of a friend. His colleague called back and said he did not need Buechner to come to the airport – he said he was feeling better. Buechner was able to stay with his mother without making any further decision. But he had been faced with the reality of life: “…my friend’s broken voice on the phone was a voice calling me out into that dangerous world not simply for his sake, as I suddenly saw, but also for my sake.” He concludes: “The shattering revelation of that moment was that true peace, the high and bidding peace that passes all understanding, is to be had not in retreat from the battle, but only in the thick of battle.”
The secret of contentment is the realization that life is a gift not a right. (Luke 17:12-18) As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
The modern American seldom pauses to give thanks for the simple blessings of life. One reason is that we are used to having so much. We simply assume that we will have all the good things of life. Another reason is that it hurts our pride to be grateful. We do not want to admit that God is the Provider of all good things. We are simply His stewards. Being thankful requires humility and faith in God. When we have these, we can be grateful.
Gratitude is from the same root word as “grace,” which signifies the free and boundless mercy of God. Thanksgiving is from the same root work as “think,” so that to think is to thank. John Henry Jowett said: “Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic.” Gratitude can be a vaccine that can prevent the invasion of a disgruntled attitude. As antitoxins prevent the disastrous effects of certain poisons and diseases, thanksgiving destroys the poison of faultfinding and grumbling. When trouble has smitten us, a spirit of thanksgiving is a soothing antiseptic.
Sometimes we lose sight of just how good and gracious God is to us. It was not easy for the Church to live in Thessalonica. The Jews in Thessalonica even ran Paul out of town. Now the Christians had to go on living in this environment.
Eight-year-old Frank had looked forward for weeks to this particular Saturday because his father had promised to take him fishing if the weather was suitable. There hadn’t been any rain for weeks and as Saturday approached, Frank was confident of the fishing trip. But wouldn’t you know it, when Saturday morning dawned, it was raining heavily and it appeared that it would continue all day. Frank wandered around the house, peering out the windows and grumbling more than a little. “Seems like the Lord would know that it would have been better to have the rain yesterday than today,” he complained to his father who was sitting by the fireplace, enjoying a good book. His father tried to explain to Frank how badly the rain was needed, how it would make the flowers grow and bring much needed moisture to the farmer’s crops. But Frank was adamant. “It just isn’t right,” he said over and over. Then, about three o’clock, the rain stopped. Still time for some fishing, and quickly the gear was loaded and they were off to the lake. Whether it was the rain or some other reason, the fish were biting hungrily and father and son returned with a full string of fine, big fish. At supper, when some of the fish were ready, Frank’s mom asked him to say grace. Frank did — and concluded his prayer by saying,
“And, Lord, if I sounded grumpy earlier today it was because I couldn’t see far enough ahead.” No doubt much of our complaining is because we “can’t see far enough ahead.”