First Thessalonians 5:18 is a verse that often comes to mind when I am wrestling with discontentment and disappointment. I want something that I didn’t receive or have something that is taken away. And sometimes I am fearful or anxious of something that might happen. The question in all these circumstances is, “can I give thanks?”
I’d been a pastor for about 10 years when Y2K threatened to bring in the end of the world as we knew it. I was astounded over the months approaching 1/1/2000 not only how many people were fearful, but how many Christians were fearful — and seeming to lead the way to anxiousness and fear. It seemed then what was needed was a good dose of gratitude and trust.
And now at a time when many are fearful of the Ebola virus, the same kind of gratitude and trust is needed. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to be wise and prudent in the way we protect ourselves from exposure to the virus; but it does mean that we don’t need to be overwhelmed by anxiety. And at the same time, we must find ways to give gratitude, since this is the will of God for all believers (1 Thess. 5:18).
It might seem that gratitude is impossible at a time like this; a short historical reminder might remind us of the power of a testimony of gratitude.
In 1636, as the Thirty Years’ War came to an end, Eilenberg, Germany became a refuge for many displaced by the war. In those final days of the war, the city was under attack from the Swedes and also struggling to keep up with the influx of so many refugees, 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 under the spiritual care of Lutheran pastor Martin Rinkart 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 often sing at Thanksgiving. “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 blessed 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.
These words come from the pen of a man who was not contemplating the possibility of death; he was surrounded and overwhelmed by death.
And still he was thankful.
We also should seek to give thanks to God.