It is thanksgiving weekend.
I grew up in Brazil and we don’t have thanksgiving, so I was not introduced to thanksgiving until my teenage years, and it was not until I was married that I began to truly appreciate this American holiday.
I mentioned this in the presence of some children last week and they were shocked that there were places in the world where thanksgiving was not celebrated. I tried to explain that Brazil had a different history than to US, no pilgrims, no harsh winter, etc. I am not sure if I was clear enough, I am not sure I succeeded conveying the differences.
I love thanksgiving, not only because of the beauty of its origin, but just the idea of setting aside a day to be thankful blows my mind. I also find the idea of Black Friday following immediately after a day dedicated to thanksgiving very puzzling. I guess we are not as grateful as we thought we were, or perhaps, the right sale will make us even more thankful!
I will not be addressing consumerism at this time, nor will I talk about the Pilgrims, but I would like to talk about giving thanks.
God’s Will for us includes us giving thanks.
Now Thank We All Our God
The hymn “Now Thank We All Our God” is attributed to Martin Rinkart and is believed to have been written around 1636.
Currently this hymn tends to be sung more often around this time of the year, when many families across the United States gather together to indulge in big meals. But the context in which this hymn was written was very different.
“A minister and his family sing this hymn before dinner to thank God for the scraps of food they have on the table in their meager home in a desolate refugee city that is afflicted with famine and disease and war.” (source)
Martin Rinkart lived with his family in the walled city of Eilenburg, which became the refuge for political and military fugitives. This resulted in overcrowding, deadly pestilence and famine. Armies overran Eilenburg three times, pillaging and killing. The Rinkart home was a refuge for the victims, even though he was often hard-pressed to provide for his own family. During the height of a severe plague in 1637, Rinkart was the only surviving pastor in Eilenburg, conducting as many as 50 funerals in a day. He performed more than 4000 funerals in that year, including that of his wife. (source, source)
Imagine this man, singing, with his children, around the table, before each meal
“Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices…” (full English lyrics available here)
in every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus in regard to you.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:18 Young's Literal Translation
Passages like 1 Thessalonians 5:18 are very challenging.
How can I give thanks in everything?
I have found myself in situations, and I believe many of you have as well, where it is incredibly difficult, if not impossible to give thanks.
It’s not easy to be the “the cup is half full” person.
We don’t naturally gravitate towards thankfulness. I personally have seem to have a natural tendency to gravitate towards complaining.
The issue, to me, seems to be that unless I learn to give thanks in everything, I might never give thanks. There seems to always be something that could make us happier, something that could be better.
I believe this is the reason Black Friday is so popular. As grateful as we might be, we could always be happier with one more thing. However, is it possible that the more we practice giving thanks, the happier and more content we will be?
Let’s give it a try?
Text someone 3 things you're thankful for.
If you actually do it, what impact did sharing those three things have on you?
I know that life is not perfect. I know there are things we wish were different. I know many things can be improved.
But isn’t it amazing that there are still things we can be grateful for?
Is it not surprising that even in our current imperfect situation, full of reasons for us to grumble and complain we were able to find at least three things to be thankful for?
I remember as a child complaining to my father that my head hurt, and my father replied that it was good news! I looked at him confused, he explained,
“It means you have a head!” What a privilege to have a headache. (I know, "dad jokes", but I now do the same to my kids)
Regardless of the situation, I believe we can always find something to be thankful for. After all, Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, told them to give thanks in everything!
I believe a grateful heart is a gift from God. I also believe it is something we must intentionally cultivate. (I will explain it further on this post.)
There is a story from Japanese folklore that I believe illustrates this well. The tittle of the story is "The Stonecutter." There are several versions of this Japanese folktale available, here is my version.
The stone-cutter was skillful and experienced. He had spent his life going up to the mountain and laboriously cutting out chunks of stone to sell in the market. He would make decorations for gardens, parts to fix walls, or tables, or benches, street lamps. You name it he had done it. His work was not easy. Working with stone takes skill, practice, patience, wisdom, and quite a bit of effort. The stone was hard, heavy, and unforgiving. The stone cutter’s hands were strong and rough. His joints ached, but his shoulders were broad, his legs strong, his back had many scars and strong muscles from pulling and carrying heavy stones. His toes were crooked his fingers likewise scared, one does not become an experienced stone-cutter without a fair share of scars.
But overall, his labors had their positive side. He knew everyone in his town and was well respected as an honest, hardworking and skillful man. His clothes were full of patches and as rough as he was. But the daily exercise had kept him mobile and strong even as his age advanced. Because of his experience his work continued to be in high demand even though there were other, younger, stone-cutters in the town.
The sone-cutter enjoyed walking around the town and seeing his handiwork helping hold up bridges, in the walls of houses, in beautiful gardens, in shops and parks. He felt like his work mattered, his skill and dedication were appreciated and he felt like he continually made valuable contributions to the lives of those around him.
However, on one particularly hot day, the stone-cutter found himself up on the mountain working to get a specifically difficult piece of stone to adorn the garden of a very rich man. The stone he wanted to cut was in a narrow spot, his elbows were scraping against the rock, his fingers were beginning to bleed from the constant and heavy work, not to mention the sun, the heat, the sweat dripping down his face and oftentimes into his eyes, as well as the mosquitoes flying around his ears and nose. The day seemed to drag on forever, until finally he got the piece just the way he wanted. The color and texture was perfect, the shape was just right. He knew the wealthy man would be happy, and he was happy that his hard work would decorate a beautiful garden.
Carefully, the stone-cutter put the stone on top of his cart and with great difficulty brought it down the mountain, sometimes pushing, other times pulling, other times trying to hold it to keep it from overturning. There was no road at first and then the road was uneven and full of holes and sandy in some parts. With a great deal of effort the stone-cutter made it to the rich man’s house.
The stone-cutter was directed to the garden where he placed the stone where its proper place It looked perfect. Difficult as it had been to get it, the stone was the perfect complement to the rich man’s beautiful garden. The color, shape, and texture were perfect, just as he had intended them to be. Content he went inside the house to announce he had finished. As a servant left to announce it to the rich man, the stone-cutter was left inside the house waiting.
Hat in hand, the stone-cutter waited. The mansion was very big, and beautiful. The high ceiling caused the house to feel cool even though outside had been so hot. There was fine furniture, beautiful artwork, and the house smelled of the most wonderful aroma of fresh flowers. The rich man came and thanked the stone-cutter for his work and paid him even more than they had agreed to. The rich man complimented the stone-cutter in the quality of his work, and sent him on his way.
On his way home, the stone cutter became more aware of his fatigue, his aches and pains. When he arrived at his own house it looked small, felt cramped, crude, bare. His house felt stuffy inside, warm. It was not as cool as the rich man’s house. There was no art or beauty, no scent of flowers. As the stone-cutter nursed his bleeding fingers, patched the holes on the knees of his pants, and massaged his sore legs and feet he began to talk to himself.
“I have worked hard my whole life. I have always done my best. I have perfected my craft. I have helped many people. I have been a good man. I have been honest, and dedicated. Yet here I am, in pain, living in a small house. My life is so difficult, my clothes are full of patches, my house is hot, my body aches.”
“Oh how I would like to be a rich man. To wear silk and live in a house that is cool, and had beautiful art, and smells like flowers. To have servants and plenty of food. That is the life I would like.”
Then the stone-cutter looked up at heaven and asked,
“Why can’t I just be a rich man? I want a big house, lots of money, and servants, and food. I want to wear silk, and not have to work so hard.”
To his surprise he heard a voice saying
“your wish is granted!”
He figured he needed some fresh air and left for a walk in the cool evening air. As he came back home, he could not find his home. He made sure he was at the right place, but he could not find his house. Instead he found a huge mansion, with servants. He approached to ask about his house, confused the servant smiled while telling the old stone-cutter that this was his house. Incredulous the stone-cutter walked into the house, it was cool, and had beautiful art and smelled like flowers.
He took a long bath, and dressed himself in fine silk. He then had the biggest dinner he had ever had in his life, and laid down to sleep in the most comfortable bed he had ever laid in.
Weeks passed by, and as much as the stone-cutter, now rich man, was enjoying his wealth and mansion, he could not help but feel bored. He did nothing all day, and as relaxing as that had been, having someone to do everything of him left him feeling empty. All he did was eat and sleep and he wanted more. Being just rich was not fulfilling.
As he mulled over those thoughts in his head he noticed a very important government official coming to town, he was in a fancy horse, with a beautiful umbrella. He had soldiers around him and everyone ran to and fro around him with important documents and decisions that needed to be made by him.
The stone-cutter, who was now a rich man then realized that was what he was missing. He wanted to be an important government official, with a beautiful horse, and soldiers, and responsibilities and power. As he wished for those things out loud, as he had done before, he once again heard the same voice say
“your wish is granted”
The very next day the man who had been a stone-cutter, than a rich man, was now traveling in a very fine horse, under a beautiful umbrella with soldiers and he had many important responsibilities and he had a lot of power. Now he knew he would be happy.
Until, a few weeks later he noticed he was getting a tan on his arm. (In Asia tanned skin is associated with working in the fields and therefore lower class status. I am from Brazil where everyone ones to have a tan, so I find this odd.) Frustrated with his tan the old stone-cutter, who was now an important government official, looked at the sun and exclaimed.
“It doesn’t matter how powerful or rich I am, the sun will always be stronger. If only I could be the sun, then I would truly be happy!”
As before, he heard the mysterious voice announce “Your wish is granted!”
The former stone-cutter, who then became a rich man, then a powerful government official was now the sun!
He was so happy! He could shine brightly on all bellow him. Soon he was out of control, causing droughts and giving people sun burns. Fires broke out and he was delighted at his new found power! Now he was happy, no one could stop him!
Until one day, rain clouds covered him. He tried with all his might, but as the sun, he could do nothing regarding the rain clouds. The rain clouds would come and cover him whenever they pleased and they would negate his power.
Frustrated, the former government official who was now the sun began to complain. How could he be happy as long as the clouds could cover him?
“Oh, I am so powerless, I can’t make the clouds move. If only I could be a cloud! Then I would truly be happy!”
As before, he heard a voice “your wish is granted.”
Now the man who once had been a stone-cutter, then a rich man, then an important government official, then the sun, was a rain cloud.
He was so happy! He loved to cover the sun and to make rain. Soon the farms and forests that had been suffering from the drought grew lush and green. The rivers and lakes were once again full. But the man who had been a stone-cutter and was now a cloud once again lost control and began to rain everywhere, too much, and to not allow the sun to shine. From his perspective he was more powerful than the sun and to allow the sun to shine would mean defeat. No, he was going to win! He was going to make it rain and rain for days without ceasing. Soon there were floods, houses were being washed away, plants were dying, roads were being destroyed, and the stone-cutter who was now a cloud was loving it! He felt powerful!
He felt happy and powerful until he realized the mountain remained unmoved. It didn’t matter how hard he caused it to rain, the rock face of the mountain remained unmoved, unaffected, by the rain.
Once again the stone-cutter turned rain cloud was miserable. He was so sad that he could not affect the rock. That mountain was stronger than he was. He whined and complained saying
“How can I be truly happy while that mountain remains there unmoved? What is the point of being a rain cloud if I cannot change the mountain, if I cannot significantly affect it by raining on it? Oh, if only I was a mountain, then I would be happy. If I was a mighty mountain, unaffected by the weather, then I would be truly powerful, and only then I could be truly happy!”
As the times before, he heard a mysterious voice say “your wish is granted.”
Now the former stone-cutter, who had become a rich man, than an important government official, then the sun, and then the rain cloud, now became a mighty mountain. His rock face would not be affected by the sun or the rain. He was now mightier than all. He was finally happy!
Until he noticed a peculiar sound. A sound he was familiar with. A hammer and a chisel. It could not be! Someone was taking a piece off of him! As mighty and tall and strong and tough as he was as a mountain, a simple stone-cutter was taking away a piece of him, and he could do nothing about it.
What was the point of being a mighty mountain if a little man could come and little by little carry away pieces of him? He felt, helpless, he felt vulnerable, he felt weak, and just like that his happiness left him.
“Oh,” he thought to himself, “if only I could be a stone-cutter. Then I would be mightier than the mountain, then I would be truly happy.”
Once again, the now familiar voice was heard saying “your wish is granted.”
The stone-cutter went back to his life, knowing that he was the happiest he could be, realizing that despite the aches and pains and hardships, he would rather be a stone-cutter than anything else.
I strongly believe that ultimately, our ability to be thankful is directly related to our faith in God.
I do not mean simple intellectual ascent, not just being able to say I believe in God, but a faith that trusts in God.
Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
- Hebrews 11:1 New International Version (emphasis mine)
Faith is more than mere intellectual ascent. I like how the New International Version puts it, as confidence and assurance. Not in anything I see, but in what I hope for and do not yet see.
Faith can only exist if the one who promised is faithful.
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Romans 15:13 New Living Translation (emphasis mine)
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, identifies God as the ultimate source of hope.
Paul also prays that God will fill us with joy and peace, but this only happens as response to our trust in Him. Only when we trust in God will we overflow with confident hope, and that only through the power of the Holy Spirit. According to this verse, we can have hope, joy, and peace, when we trust in God, as an answer to prayer, through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Now, with this in mind, when we read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 again we gain a deeper appreciation for what the apostle Paul is saying here.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NKJV
When he tells us to rejoice, we now understand that he also prays that God will fill us with joy. Which is connected to the next part, pray without ceasing. Joy comes as an answer to the prayer of those who believe in God.
When we believe in God and pray to be filled with joy and peace and God grants us confident hope, that allows us to give thanks in everything. Because ultimately our hope is found in God who is faithful!
The 99 Club
(Taken from KindSpring.org)
Once upon a time, there lived a King who, despite his luxurious lifestyle, was neither happy nor content.
One day, the King came upon a servant who was singing happily while he worked. This fascinated the King; why was he, the Supreme Ruler of the Land, unhappy and gloomy, while a lowly servant had so much joy. The King asked the servant, "Why are you so happy?"
The man replied, "Your Majesty, I am nothing but a servant, but my family and I don't need too much - just a roof over our heads and warm food to fill our tummies."
The king was not satisfied with that reply. Later in the day, he sought the advice of his most trusted advisor. After hearing the King's woes and the servant's story, the advisor said, "Your Majesty, I believe that the servant has not been made part of The 99 Club."
"The 99 Club? And what exactly is that?" the King inquired.
The advisor replied, "Your Majesty, to truly know what The 99 Club is, place 99 Gold coins in a bag and leave it at this servant's doorstep."
When the servant saw the bag, he took it into his house. When he opened the bag, he let out a great shout of joy... So many gold coins!
He began to count them. After several counts, he was at last convinced that there were 99 coins. He wondered, "What could've happened to that last gold coin? Surely, no one would leave 99 coins!"
He looked everywhere he could, but that final coin was elusive. Finally, exhausted, he decided that he was going to have to work harder than ever to earn that gold coin and complete his collection.
From that day, the servant's life was changed. He was overworked, horribly grumpy, and castigated his family for not helping him make that 100th gold coin. He stopped singing while he worked.
Witnessing this drastic transformation, the King was puzzled. When he sought his advisor's help, the advisor said, "Your Majesty, the servant has now officially joined The 99 Club."
He continued, "The 99 Club is a name given to those people who have enough to be happy but are never content, because they're always yearning and striving for that extra 1 telling to themselves: "Let me get that one final thing and then I will be happy for life."
We can be happy, even with very little in our lives, but the minute we're given something bigger and better, we want even more! We lose our sleep, our happiness, we hurt the people around us; all these as a price for our growing needs and desires. That's what joining The 99 Club is all about. (source)
I am not saying that you should live a live without ambitions. I am saying that you should be able to have joy and thankful even as you pursue greater success in life.
Learn to be happy where you are and with what you have, and you will always be happy.
Be thankful for being a child, even as you look forward to growing up.
Be thankful for being a student, even as you look forward to graduation.
Be thankful for the job you have, even as you look for better employment.
Be thankful for the life you have, even as you do what you can to improve it.
As we practice thankfulness, our faith grows stronger. Each time I find reasons to be thankful, I am reminded of the God whom I serve, who daily provides for me.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer;
My God, my strength, in whom I will trust;
My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Psalm 18:2 New King James Version
Ultimately, trust God to be in control and to provide for all your needs. To fill you with joy and peace, and ultimately to save you!
Because of our God, we are able to give thanks in all circumstances.
I strongly believe that ultimately, our ability to be thankful is directly related to our faith in God.
I do not mean simple intellectual ascent, not just being able to say I believe in God, but a faith that trusts in God, that believes that He is in control and that He has our best interest at heart.
Because of who God is, I can be thankful in everything!