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Give Thanks

November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  There are so many things that I cherish about Thanksgiving and the long week-end–the crisp fall weather, the gathering of family and friends, quiet talks by the fire,  telling stories and laughing around the table, fall colors, the smell of turkey roasting, the Thanksgiving feast with all of our favorite dishes, cutting up pumpkins and making pumpkin soup with potato dumplings from a hundred year old family recipe—pausing before the busyness of Christmas begins to remember all of the things we have to be grateful for, a time to count our blessings.

Giving thanks for everything is evidence of the presence of the work of the Holy Spirit.  R.C. Sproul points out that Paul reminds us in the fifth chapter of Ephesians of three evidences of a spirit-filled life: a song in our hearts (v. 18); an attitude of thankfulness (v. 20) and putting others’ needs before our own (v. 21).

Sproul says this of the thankfulness component: “In contrast to those in this world who are never content with God’s provision, the true Christian is thankful for everything, even the smallest joys.  Believers understand that we deserve nothing but the Lord’s wrath, so we are thankful for all of our blessings.”[1]

It sounds easy enough for some to count their abundant blessings—who wouldn’t if you’re in good health, surrounded by a loving family, live in a safe and warm home and have a comfortable income?  But what about the person who is alone in a hovel, who has lost his or her job and health insurance, who has chronic pain, or is suffering from mental or physical illness, abuse, abandonment, divorce, the death of a loved one, a terminal illness– or from one of life’s other endless cruelties?  What has that person to be thankful for?

One story in particular comes to mind when I think about being thankful in difficult circumstances.  It is the story of Corrie Ten Boom, a young Dutch woman who survived imprisonment in a concentration camp during the Second World War.  Many years later, in her book, The Hiding Place, Ten Boom tells how she and her sister, Betsie, were so thankful that their living quarters were infested with fleas!

Their family was arrested in February, 1944 for hiding Jews in their home in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.  They had built a secret room in their home to hide Jews from the Nazis until they could be moved to safety.  Corrie’s father told his children that Jews are “the apple of God’s eye,” and considered it his honor and privilege to help them.

The Ten Booms were sent first to Scheveningen prison, where Corrie’s father died ten days later.  Corrie and her sister Betsie were sent to the Vught political concentration camp, and then to the Ravensbrück concentration camp in northern Germany.

They smuggled a Bible into the camp and began to hold small prayer meetings in their bunkroom with a few other women.  However, they had to be very careful, because if the guards found them meeting, they would be executed.  After a few weeks, they noticed that the guards did not come into their building.  They were grateful, but curious as to why the guards left them alone.  They discovered the reason when Betsie overheard the guards talking; they would not go inside the bunkroom because of the flea infestation in the room!  From that day forward, the women gave God thanks for the fleas.

Betsie died in Ravensbrück on December 16, 1944, a few days before Corrie’s release on New Year’s Eve, 1944.  Corrie later found out that her release had been a clerical error.

St. Paul was no stranger to adversity.  He fled enemies in Damascus (Acts 9:23-25); was shipwrecked (Acts 27:27-42), suffered from a chronic malady (2 Corinthians 12:7-8); and was imprisoned in Rome twice, to name a few of his difficulties.  Yet, he tells us to “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

The lesson of Ten Boom’s story echoes Paul:  we have reason to give thanks in all circumstances.  May we take time this week to remember the many ways that we have been blessed throughout our lives, to give God thanks for those blessings, and to ask Him for strength to meet the challenges to come.

November 23, 2011

[1] R.C. Sproul, Ligonier Ministries, Tabletalk, September 2011, p. 66.

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