Christian Thanksgiving

Bob Roane Hymn Stories, Loving and Trusting God, Prayer, Praise, Worship

Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:17)

Let’s Not Forget

A woman complained to her pastor, noticing repetition in his sermons. The preacher said, “I keep reminding, because people keep forgetting.” We forget things due to the passage of time, getting older, being too busy. I forget passwords, people’s names, where I parked my car, where I left my phone, keys, and glasses.

In Bible times, God’s people forgot what He had done for them and wandered from God. The Israelites had tasted and seen the Lord’s many miracles, but they still needed reminding. In Deuteronomy 8, God reminded them how He provided manna everyday and clothing that never wore out. The Lord guided them through a wilderness of snakes and scorpions and provided water from a rock. God blessed them in a thousand ways, but they forgot and became unfaithful to the Lord.1

We can be the same way, beloved. We take the Lord’s care and kindness for granted. We feel entitled to His goodness and generosity. And then we fall away from the Lord. And our thankfulness, joy, hope, and peace shrivel up. Our trust in God and prayers to Him shrink if we fail to remember how the Lord our God has led us all the way.2

This week, the United States faces multiple overlapping crises and I was reminded of the story of Martin Rinkart. Let me tell it to you.

The Background of a Great Hymn

Martin Rinkart (1586-1649) was a German Lutheran pastor. He served during the Thirty Years’ War (1618- 1648) between Catholics and Protestants in Central Europe. Martin lived in the walled town of Eilenburg and many refugees poured in. Armies crossed the land pillaging shops and farms, leaving devastation and desolation behind. Most people were farmers and couldn’t raise their crops, so there was a famine. Then the plague broke out.

Two other pastors in Eilenburg died and Martin was left to care for the large population alone. Day after day, all day long, he went from bed to bed, visiting the sick and comforting the dying. He conducted thousands of funerals, sometimes preaching his funeral sermon over 40-50 bodies at once. One year Martin Rinkart buried 5,000 people, including his own dear wife. One year after the war ended, Martin himself died.

There was famine, plague, and battle horror all around him. Precious human beings, made in God’s image and likeness, were dropping dead like flies. Martin Rinkart was surrounded by tragedy, bloodshed, starvation, and destruction. Yet he wrote this marvelous upbeat hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God” and 65 others! We can read the hymn aloud as a prayer to Christ.

The Hymn Itself

Stanza #1 blesses the Lord for His marvelous acts of love:
Now thank we all our God, With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, In whom His world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms, Has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, And still is ours today.

Stanza #2 prays for Jesus’ continued presence and guidance:
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.                                                                  

Then Stanza #3 soars:
All praise and thanks to God, The Father, now be given,
The Son, and Him (the Holy Spirit) who reigns With them in highest heaven,
The one eternal God Whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus He was, is now, And shall be evermore.

Using the Hymn to Help Us

I use this song to encourage hurting people all year round, not just at Thanksgiving time. I also use it with men in prison. Christians gain perspective by being reminded that believers in past centuries suffered also, often much more than we do. They learned to look up to our Risen and Reigning King for comfort and joy to press on in serving Christ, and we can too.

Rinkart’s hymn reminds me of a quote from my professor and friend Edmund Clowney (1917–2005): “Trials should not surprise us, or cause us to doubt God’s faithfulness. Rather, we should actually be glad for them. God sends trials to strengthen our trust in Him so that our faith will not fail. Our trials keep us trusting. They burn away our self confidence and drive us to Jesus our Savior.”3

Some Psalms on Thanksgiving

I will give thanks to the Lord because of His righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High….I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds….Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.4

Notice that these reasons for gratefulness are based on God’s eternal character, so they are not cancelled by troubling times. Thank God, He comes especially close to Jesus’ followers who are brokenhearted, crushed in spirit, and humble themselves before Him.

Why not pause right now and thank the Lord for physical and spiritual blessings He has given you? Why not also ask for His help in all the ways you need it?

Notes (various translations): 1 In this section I’m indebted to Cindy Hess Kasper, Our Daily Bread.     2 Deut 8:2.     3 The Message of 1 Peter, 1988.     4 Psalm 7:17, 9:1, 100:4-5.