You can be in prison and be free, or you can be free and be in prison!
We read about Paul and Silas in prison in Acts 16, experiencing treatment that was unjust, hurtful, and humiliating. And yet they were free in their inner man as they sang hymns of gratitude, thus acknowledging the sovereign hand of God.
We read about Israel on a wilderness safari in Numbers, having been set free from physical bondage in Egypt. And yet they were in bondage in their inner man as they grumbled about their diet, doom, and leaders, thus disallowing the sovereign hand of God.
You can be in prison and be free, or you can be free and be in prison! The practice of either gratitude or grumbling makes all the difference.
God is very clear in His Book about the heart attitude and habitual practice of thanksgiving—its mentioned around 150 times in the Bible. God’s will is that thanksgiving be an ever present outward expression of a grateful heart!
Yes, we get into the hype of thanksgiving as the calendar tells us that the fourth Thursday of November has again arrived. We probably know the story of the Pilgrim’s thanksgiving celebration in 1621 as they gathered to “render thanksgiving to the Almighty God for all His blessings”. We probably know that President George Washington declared that a day of Thanksgiving be celebrated on November 26, 1789, recognizing “our duty as a people, with devout reverence and affectionate gratitude, to acknowledge our many and great obligations to Almighty God, and to implore Him to continue and confirm the blessings we experienced.”
This is now my 70th participation in Thanksgiving Day, about 20 in the US and all the rest else-where. I still remember the competition we boys had at boarding school in Venezuela to see who could gain the most weight over the thanksgiving weekend. I remember the years during the 1980’s as staff at the same boarding school when Lois orchestrated the thanksgiving meal for 250 to 300 hearty eaters. And then came the Thanksgiving feasts during the Guatire church plant years where quite often we spent the weekend at one of Venezuela’s warm beaches and even enjoyed tag football on the beach.
Nor can I forget the joy and excitement of introducing Europeans to this American Thanksgiving Day phenomena during the years of church planting in Tenerife. On our last two thanksgivings in Tenerife, Lois traveled to Italy to help her sister Carmen serve the meal with all the trimmings to 80 people on Thursday and another 80 on Friday, most of these being unbelievers who heard someone from the US share about their supreme reason to be thankful to God for salvation through Jesus Christ.
So yes, we are quite adept at being thankful to God during this particular season. But what about the other 364 days of the year? David the Psalmist writes:
“I give you thanks, O LORD, with all my heart; I will sing your praises before the gods. I bow before your holy Temple as I worship. I praise your name for your unfailing love and faithfulness; for your promises are backed by all the honor of your name. As soon as I pray, you answer me; you encourage me by giving me strength.“
Psalm 138 (New Living Translation)
The Psalmist acknowledged his personal responsibility to willfully and actively express gratitude to God for His abundant mercies.
It is not my intent to be “preachy”. It is my intent to encourage all of us to a heart beating rhythm of constant thankfulness to God for the circumstances of life and thankfulness to others for specific ways they have blessed us. This includes the driver who delivers us to our destination, the person who washes the clothes, the person who takes out the garbage, the piano teacher who shares their talent with us, the volunteers who takes care of our kids and grandkids on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, the friend who helps us rake our leaves, the medical professional who treats us with compassion, the waitress who brings us a glass of water, the barista who prepares that life infusing latte, the Bible study leaders who sacrifice their time to prep for Growth Group, the Moms and Dads and wives and husbands who each day lovingly satisfy our hunger pains, the worship team volunteers who put in hours of practice to encourage our public worship of God, the administrative assistant who processes our document, and the friend who points us to the wisdom of God and His promises as we “walk through the valley of death”. Yes, we have so much for which to be thankful to God and to others.
Our habitual practice of expressing thanks from a heart filled with gratitude is the sure antidote to grumbling and complaining. It is so easy to grumble and complain… about the nasty weather, our debilitating health, the burnt toast, the exhausting traffic, our clueless boss, that overbearing teacher, our strict parents, our unruly children, that unfair treatment, that missed flight, and the biased referees. But we all know that this does nothing to resolve and only makes us emotional slaves to that for which we are ungrateful. So instead of complaining, we acknowledge God’s sovereign hand and even look for something in the situation for which to give thanks.
Corrie ten Boom and many other women were consigned to inhospitable living conditions in a bunk house at a German concentration camp during World War II. The fleas, lice, and mice were a constant plague. But they willfully gave thanks to God for these irritating creatures, because this was what kept the guards from inspecting the bunk house, thus allowing these ladies to huddle at nightfall to be solaced through the reading of a Bible that God had sovereignly allowed them to acquire. You see, with the power of the Holy Spirit, though your circumstances may feel like prison (or actually be prison) if you choose thankfulness, you are free!