“Give thanks, with a grateful heart…”
The words of an old chorus woke me up the other day. And then I began to see words about thanks all over my house. A simple sign in my kitchen says, “Give thanks.” In the dining room a Thanksgiving decoration borrows Paul’s words from I Thessalonians 5:18 (KJV): “In everything give thanks…” In everything? Could Paul really have meant that—everything?
Giving thanks comes easily for me right at this moment. These days, my heart is overflowing with thanks. At our house we’re getting ready for a visit from our son Lars, his wife Kelly, and their two wonderful kids Bengt (5) and Hannah (1 ½). We are very excited. Last year Lars was eating his turkey at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan. This year he’ll be with us. So this Nana is feeling especially full of thanks this Thanksgiving!
But as this chorus played itself out in my head, my mind went immediately to some of the people I’m praying for especially right now. What does giving thanks look like when you’re sad and lonely after a divorce? When you’re broken-hearted over an adult child’s choices? When your husband is still bed-ridden and brain-challenged in a rehab hospital four months after a terrible accident? When your wife is in hospice and every day takes you to a new country you never wanted to visit? When your mother, who struggles with Alzheimer’s, has broken her hip and is suffering but can’t even understand about the surgery or why she will never walk again? When you had a miscarriage months ago and are now riding the monthly roller coaster of hope and disappointment and wondering what God is doing in all this?
I pondered these questions, and prayed for these friends. Then I walked by some other words hanging on the wall of our family room. They’re the words of Psalm 34 in a paraphrase from Psalms Now! by Leslie F. Brandt. The Psalm begins: “I feel as if I can never cease praising God…” It then goes on to talk about how very present God is in every situation in our lives. Even in —and maybe especially in—the difficult places.
“I turned to him out of my inner conflicts, and He was there to give me strength and courage. I wept in utter frustration over my troubles, and He was near to help and support me . . .”
The words shout to me out of this Psalm because it has deep meaning for our family. Psalm 34 was my Nana’s favorite Psalm; it is inscribed on her tombstone. This paraphrase of Psalm 34 was the one Woody’s parents read together in the hospital nearly every day many years ago when Dad was slowly dying at age 52 over nine long weeks. They found the words to be true even in those days.
[God] is very near to those who suffer and reaches out to help those who are battered down with despair. . . . He meets their emptiness with His abundance and shores up their weakness with His divine power.
Then some other words came to me. Years ago, I remember reading somewhere something Ann Graham Lotz said about her mother, Ruth Graham. The main thing her mother lived out, Ann said, was the truth in her life that God is enough. “I’ve seen God be enough when she had everything else,” Ann said, “and when she had nothing else. “
Some more words from that chorus came back to me:
Give thanks with a grateful heart.
Give thanks to the Holy One.
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son.
And now, let the weak say ‘I am strong,’ let the poor say ‘I am rich’—
because of what the Lord has done for me.
Weak, strong. Poor, rich. Healthy, sick. Disappointed—or rejoicing. God truly is with us in everything. Maybe that’s what Paul meant when he said, “Give thanks in all circumstances . . .” (I Thessalonians 5:18 NIV) Notice he didn’t say for all circumstances but in all circumstances. Big difference!
As my friend of years ago used to say on his answering machine message when he, as a young man, had just had a stroke and his mentally challenged daughter was struggling with heart issues, “God is good—all the time.” Reason to give thanks—yes? All the time . . .