THANKFUL NO MATTER WHAT!
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Markus Bach tells of flying above the majestic Selkirk Range in British Columbia with a strange and intricate mechanism in the tail of the plane. It was called a magnetometer. This instrument was used in Ontario to detect 60 millions tons of silver, copper and zinc. It is an "electronic prospector in the sky." Unlike the old time prospector who had to climb the hills and with pick and shovel dig his way to uncertain riches, these modern prospectors sat in comfortable bucket seats soaring over the mountains like a seagull while the instruments were computing all the information needed to tell them where treasures were to be found. No one would ever suspect that by means of this instrument those men in the plane were seeing the unseen. They were seeing what men on the ground could not see. They were penetrating forests and rocks, and they were detecting that which was hidden to the natural eye.
Paul did not know anything about instruments for discovering riches in the rocks, but he had already discovered an instrument equivalent to the magnetometer which enabled one to find riches in all of life's experiences so that the possessor could be one who was always thankful, no matter what. We could call Paul's discovery a thankometer if we keep in mind that it is an instrument which is itself unseen, and which is built into the very heart and mind of the obedient and perceptive believer. It gives the believer the amazing ability to pierce through the crust of reality into the core and discover riches which are unseen by the natural eye.
It was the possession of this advanced divine technology that enabled Paul to be a persistent optimist through all the trials he endured. Throw him into prison and he looks upon it as an opportunity to catch up on his choir practice. He and Silas sing praises to the Lord in the prison. Let the blind think they are defeating Paul by running him out of town, stoning him, and afflicting him by every means possible. Paul sees an altogether different picture, and he writes in II Cor. 2:14, "But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere."
Paul thankometer was water proof and shock proof. In spite of ship wreck and stoning it kept operating and caused Paul to see blessings everywhere. His optimism was comprehensive and covered every possible circumstance. He wrote in Phil. 4:4, "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice." In verse 6 he wrote, "Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." Paul did not let his optimism become limited by circumstances. He wrote to the persecuted Thessalonians who were suffering for Christ, and he commanded them in the same comprehensive terms of our text and said in verse 16-18, "Rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks."
Paul expected every Christian to be equipped with a thankometer which was to be kept in operation full time. Christians are not to be joyful and prayerful and thankful on a part time basis. If we are joyful only when all is well, then we have not risen above the natural level, for this is only normal. Who would be impressed with a magnetometer if it was a device that let a man down by a rope with a pick and shovel and let him dig away at the mountain to see if there was any valuable metals? The fancy name would only add to our laughter at the commonness of it. Likewise, the name Christian does not impress anyone who sees that the label does not affect the actions and attitudes of the one who wears it. The non-Christian must certainly laugh at the professed believer who goes to all the trouble of prayer, worship, and Bible study just to be like everyone else who do none of these things.
Paul says in everything gives thanks. That is, under all circumstances. To be thankful just when circumstances are such as to call forth natural gratitude is to give no hint that Christians are on a unique level. If the Christian does not possess a thankometer, or whatever else you want to call that power which enables them to see treasures of beauty in the junk heaps of life, then he is living in voluntary blindness on the level of the natural and unredeemed man. Like all of God's gifts, this one is also free to those who ask and seek for it. Paul is urging Christians to hunger after this greater vision of reality that they might perceive that which will make them thankful, no matter what.
Paul says that it is God's will that we be thankful under all circumstances. This is one thing we need never doubt, for it is stated clearly. We know then that it is possible for everyone of us to acquire the vision of Paul and be incurable optimists. Knowing that perpetual thankfulness is God's will is the first step on the road to acquiring the ability to see the unseen. We tend to see what we are looking for. The focus of our mind determines what we perceive with our eyes. We are blind to all evidence but that which confirms what we have already predetermined is reality. This is why spiritual truth is foolish to the unbeliever. He has already determined before considering the evidence that the spiritual is non-existent. He cannot allow himself to see its reality and so he is blind to it.
If you have determined in your mind that Friday the 13th is a day of bad luck, you will be blind to all the good and fortunate events of the day, and concentrate only on the bad things. The Christian is to be one who shatters superstitions and prejudices by concentrating on the positive and valuable. He finds the single star in the vast expanse of dark and cloudy sky. He sees the vein of gold in the mountain of common dirt. He sees the glory of the commonplace, and the cause for joy even in trial. He can even obey his Lord and rejoice and be exceeding glad when persecuted, for he knows the great reward that awaits him in Christ.
The Christian who is not being thankful under all circumstances has some faulty parts in his thankometer and needs to turn to God, the Master Technician, for repairs, for we can only be adequate Christians and effective witnesses when we can fulfill God's will in being thankful no matter what. Thanksgiving is a good time for a spiritual eye examination, or a thankometer tune up. It is a good time to look at yourself and your attitudes, and to evaluate how you see life. We need to determine if we are like those who, as Trench writes, "Murmur when in a blue sky one speck of cloud appears." We are to be like those who hearts are filled with thankful love if, "but one steak of light, one ray of God's mercy, guilds the darkness of the night." What do we see in the-
I. TRIVIAL CIRCUMSTANCES OF LIFE.
In contrast to Paul's picture of the ideal Christian who is thankful no matter what, what are those people who are complaining no matter what? The sad fact is that all of us tend to conform, to some degree, to this pathetic image. The poet has given us a fairly good description of this far from extinct creature called the chronic complainer.
Once there was a man whose name was Horner,
Who use to live on Grumble Corner.
Grumble Corner in Cross Patch Town,
And he never was seen without a frown.
He grumbled at this, he grumbled at that.
He growled at the dog, he growled at the cat.
He grumbled at morning, he grumbled at night,
And to grumble and growl was his chief delight.
This sounds like an eyewitness account of a man I once worked for. He was a man who, as my father would say, had an even disposition-he was mad all the time. No matter how happy the occasion, you could be sure he would not let any joy slip through and rob him of his reputation as the shipping room crab. Nothing was ever good enough or fast enough. He even shouted at the truck drivers when they came in. You would think that even in the darkest life a little sun must shine, and it did with him too. Things did go well sometimes and there was just nothing to gripe about. But he had a defense against just such occasions. The secret weapon all of use when we are determined to be pessimistic, and that is to complain about the trivial. When all else fails there is always the weather.
As a rule a man's a fool; when its hot he wants it cool.
When its cool he wants it hot; always wanting what its not.
It is such a habit to complain about the weather that it is practically a custom in our culture. It is only a trivial aspect in our lives, but we need to apply what we know is God's will and seek even here to be thankful in every circumstance. We need to have our thankometer working even on the most miserable days. We need to be like the country preacher who one winter battled through wind and sleet to get to the village chapel. He began his prayer, "O Lord, this is a wretched day, and no mistake... but we thank thee Lord, that everyday isn't as bad."
If you look, you can find riches in the most dismal of days, for the clouds and rain cannot dim the light that comes from within. Saul Kane in John Masefield's The Everlasting Mercy was converted and saw then what he had never seen before. His eyes had been open to perceive a deeper reality and he said, "The running brook, to my new eyes, was babbling out of Paradise; the water rushing from the rain were singing, Christ has risen again." Even the commonplace and trivial is to lead the believer to praise God with thanksgiving.
II. TRYING CIRCUMSTANCES OF LIFE.
This is where the Christian really needs to shine, for if his light goes out in the winds of adversity the world will not be impressed with the sustaining power of the Gospel. We need to see Paul's meaning here accurately lest we think it is a mountain top ideal impossible for us to attain. Paul is not saying we are to be thankful for all things and all circumstances. He is saying we are to be thankful in them, and that is far different. The first is sheer nonsense, but the second is both possible and practical.
No one can be thankful for every circumstance. It is impossible to be thankful for what you despise and wish was not. I cannot be thankful for many circumstances, but I can be thankful in them. Paul was not thankful for the Judaisers who confused the church and caused Christians to fall back on trusting the law rather than the grace of Christ. Paul is not thankful for the conflict in the Corinthian church that led to a weakness of their witness and a failure of their fellowship. Paul was not thankful for the disobedience that led some of the Corinthian Christians into such severe judgment that some even died. Paul was not thankful for any of these things, but he was thankful in them, for he was a channel of the grace of Christ to bring healing and solutions to all of these problems.
Don't ever give the impression that Christians are to be thankful for all things. This would mean that we are to be thankful for evil, sin, failure, blasphemy, folly, and every facet of the kingdom of darkness. This would mean that we would have to be thankful for the devil himself. Such an idea is absurd and is a denial of the reality of evil.
Abraham Lincoln was a grateful man, and he made a great Thanksgiving proclamation, but he bore a huge burden and was not thankful for the horrors of the Civil War. He wrote to a friend: "If what I feel were divided to the whole human race there would not be one happy face on earth." Many are the hidden heroes and heroines of history who bare heavy loads, but who do not break down in defeat, but go on serving others and bringing light into the darkness of those who are unaware of the burdens they carry.
They call me strong because my tears I shed where none can see,
Because I smile, tell merry tales, and win the crowds to me.
They call me strong because I laugh to ease and aching heart,
Because I keep the sweet side out, and hide the bitter part.
This is not hypocrisy, but thankometry, which is the art of obeying God and being thankful in every circumstance. It is being thankful, for example, that you can still help another when you feel helpless to help yourself. If we lack the ability to see any reason to be thankful in trying circumstances, then it is time for a spiritual overhaul. Christians have no business out on the highway of life with a defective thankometer, for this leaves them blind and limited to their natural eyes, and they are liable to injure others as well as themselves. We need to ask God to open our eyes to see the unseen so that we can always be thankful, no matter what.