A few years ago, I had the unique experience of having two “thanksgiving” messages on the same Sunday. For the first service, I played piano at seniors’ home and then attended my regular church service.
At the senior home, the emphasis was on our faith heritage, coming from other places and recounting the journeys of our Mennonite forefathers, and how life in Canada is much more desirable than life elsewhere. The “thanksgiving” part was more the material and social benefits we receive by being North Americans and the physical comforts we enjoy by virtue of where we now live and the physical freedoms we experience. It felt more like we should be thanking our forefathers for having the wisdom and courage to come to a new land so we could enjoy the lifestyle we now assume is ours to have.
The second part to that sermon was the “how to” in the Old Testament by bringing the first fruit of the harvest. How we show our celebration in physical ways – sharing with others, tithing and being generous with material blessings.
When I came to Morrow Gospel, the sermon topic was “Thanksgiving Makes You Well”. It certainly wasn’t a “health and wealth” message, rather the question – do we assume that we are “owed” certain privileges such as health (in particular)? What is our attitude in the face of difficulty? It’s easy to be thankful when everything is clicking along smoothly and life is lovely. What about the times when chronic pain fills our lives? When family disappoints us? Or when we are faced with personal tragedy? Where is our Thanksgiving then?
Our Pastor related some incidents of people, who had good reason to be discouraged because of their situation, were the ones who were offering comfort and encouragement. Their attitude was that of thankfulness to God.
I was moved by the response from the congregation when asked to complete the sentence “I am thankful for …”
The responses were many and varied. They ranged from forgiveness from God and each other; Salvation; Church family and godly leadership; family, friends and fellowship; heritage of faith from our parents and grandparents; new babies in the congregation; freedom in our country; ability to meet in small groups and develop relationships, and many others.
We were encouraged to be thankful in our circumstances and make thanksgiving a part of our daily lives. God doesn’t “owe” us health or other material goods, but chooses to bless and provide for us. Our responsibility is to give back by having an attitude of gratitude and praise that is genuine and that will minister to, and encourage others.
During that same morning service, the pianist played “Great is Thy Faithfulness” as the offertory. I’ve played that song many times for the congregation, but I’m leading at that point, not always paying attention to the words of the song. That particular morning, hearing “morning by morning new mercies I see” had a particularly personal meaning.
When we were first married, my step-daughter had a very difficult time with her dad – she was very angry with him first of all that her mother had died, and secondly that he remarried. I entered into a household of stress and broken relationships.
Early in our marriage, George and I experienced the pain of loss of relationship with Julie. Our prayers begged God to give us wisdom and courage to face each situation with her and to know what to do.
In October of 2004, we stood in Julie’s little house with her. Again, we were crying – not because of pain, but because of the restored relationship. We had the privilege of co-signing for her mortgage for her first home. She had other options for assistance, but she felt this was something that “her parents” should be a part of.
Contrasting those 11 years – we cried in pain at the start, we agonized over the years and came to a point where the joy again came out in tears.
It was a very special Thanksgiving – recognizing God’s faithfulness through our circumstances, even when the road was difficult and there seemed to be no end to the pain.
Hearing Andrea play “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” that morning had a huge impact on me. I needed to be reminded that although I had not always recognized God’s hand in circumstances, his faithfulness has carried me, carried US all these years.
I’m not always thankful FOR my circumstances, but I am learning to be thankful IN my circumstances – the constant that God is always faithful: ready to listen, ready to forgive, ready to accept my thanks.
This article was originally published in The Recorder Volume 59 No 5