By Pastor Glenn Pease
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in being occupied with what happens that we forget that there is so much to be thankful for because of what doesn't happen. For example: Peter Marshall died of a heart attack as a middle aged man with great potential ahead of him as Chaplain of the Senate and popular Washington pastor. It was a tragedy, and Catherine Marshall has written much about the horrible grief and agony of adjustment, but she has also written about the marvelous blessing of what did not happen to Peter Marshall. This puts even the tragedy into a new light.
As a young man he was taking a short cut one dark night through unfamiliar territory. He did not realize how dark it was. He suddenly heard someone call his name. He stopped and took a few more steps, and then he heard it again. He stopped completely still and tried to peer into the darkness. It was so scary, for he could not see anything. He fell to his knees and began to feel around him, and to his shock he discovered that he was right on the brink of an abandoned stone quarry. One more step and he would have plummeted to his death. There was never a doubt in his mind that God had spoken and spared his life. By grace all that he did for the rest of his life was made possible. Later a car killed a friend he was walking with, but it missed him. He was spared again. Another time a plane crashed that he had missed, and a boat caught on fire 10 miles out to sea, and he was again spared.
The point is that though he died so young, he didn't die so much younger, which he easily could have done. He lived long enough by the grace of God so that his early death was a shock and a loss to the whole Christian world. His life has had one of the greatest impacts on America than that of any preacher in this century. And it was all because of what did not happen. It makes me think again of the book of Ruth where, if Elimelech would have died sooner, Naomi would never have been in Moab to meet Ruth. If her sons would have died sooner she never would have been Ruth's mother-in-law, and all of the influence of Naomi and Ruth on history would never have been.
It was what did not happen that made possible all that did happen. We need to balance out life and its problems by looking at what did not happen as well as what did. It is the non-events that help us see the happenings from a broader perspective. They add light to the darkness, and give meaning to what otherwise may seem senseless. In almost every negative event of life you can find something that did not happen that enables you to have a basis for thanksgiving.
Your life and mine only have meaning right now because of what did not happen. It is not likely any of us would be alive today had certain things happened in the past that did not. One of our members told of an event in his younger years where he was working and a man pulled a large knife on him and threatened him. The adrenaline poured into his body and he was so angry that he grabbed a clever and so frightened the man that he fled at such a pace that he didn't even open the screen door but went right through it. That story could have had a different ending with him on the floor stabbed to death. But that did not happen, and that non-happening is the basis for his great thanksgiving.
We all have stories that could, with just slight changes in the timing, have led us to an early grave. We are only here because of many things that never happened. That is what David is thanking God for in verse 3 of Psa. 30. "O Lord, you brought me up from the grave; you spared me from going down into the pit." David was alive and well, and he was praising God because of what did not happen. This theme of negative thankfulness runs all through this Psalm. In verse 1 David exalts God for what God did not let happen. One of David's great fears never materialized. He dreaded to have his enemies gloat over him, but he thanks God that it never happened. He not only didn't die physically, but he didn't die psychologically or emotionally. I can just imagine David saying, "If that ever happened to me I would just die." But it didn't happen, and he is grateful for that which never was.
Count your blessings we say, and rightly so, but when you are done with this list you have not scratched the surface of all you have for which to be thankful. The list of things that are blessings because they never happened is near infinite. Paul gives us a couple of examples of negative thanksgiving. In Rom. 14:6 he describes to Christians who are thankful for opposite things. He says, "He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks." One is thankful he eats meat, and the other is thankful he does not. Both are thankful they are not like the other one.
Have you ever said that I am thankful I am not like so and so? That is legitimate, but it is also legitimate if they are thankful they are not like you. There are endless numbers of things that make people different, and we can be grateful for these differences we do not possess. I can be thankful I am not as tall as Wilt Chamberlain, or as short as Micky Rooney. But they can be equally grateful they are not as commonplace as I am. This life has endless non-realities and non-events for which we can be thankful.
Paul looked at the mess in the Corinthian church and all of the division that had come over personality clashes within the church, and he writes in I Cor. 1:14-15, "I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you accept Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you are baptized into my name." Imagine that! Paul is being thankful for what never happened, even though it would seem to be a positive thing if it had happened. What if he had baptized a hundred members of that church? It sounds like something he could have been proud of, but instead he is grateful that it never happened, for this non-happening prevented his success being used for the negative purpose of raising up a competitive cult in his name.
This opens endless doors of potential gratitude. How many wonderful things have never happened to you for which you ought to be grateful? What if my father was a millionaire and I would have inherited it and became a rich playboy with no thought of God, but totally devoted to self-pleasure? I would have missed the love of Christ and service for His kingdom, and the precious hope of eternal life in the family of God. Not only is life filled with endless negatives that never happened, but it is filled with endless positives and successes that never happened that could have led us to miss God's best. Thank God for all the burdens and all the blessings that never happened that could have been enemies of my best self. If we only knew, we could even thank God for prayers that were never answered.
Paul could look back and say that had I been more successful I could have baptized many more people, but thank God that never happened, for in the long run less was better, and failure was my success. If Christians were successful in everything they did, they would never move on to other challenges God wants them to tackle. That is why even non-success and non-happening of good things can be a reason for thanksgiving. What didn't happen was even a basis for the thanksgiving of Christ. He prayed in Luke 10:21, "I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children."
Jesus was grateful that God did not operate on the same level as the world. He did not give priority to those with power and learning, but rather to the innocent and helpless. In other words, thank God that the Christmas story was not given to the king or high priest, but to the lowly shepherds. What God does not do in history is almost as marvelous as what He does do. This means that there is no end of things that never happen for which we can be thankful. Jesus was not born in a palace. He never joined the ranks of the official religious leaders of Israel. He never became a legalist like the Pharisees. He never fell for the lures of Lucifer. He never gave up on His disciples. He never took the easy way out when He faced the cross. The things that never happened in the life of Jesus are the foundation for all our thanksgiving.
Life is not only full of things for which to give thanks, but it is also empty of things for which to give thanks. Everyone has their problems, but if you add up all the problems, trials, and diseases, and then count how many of them you don't have you will be overwhelmed by the multitude of non-happenings for which you ought to be grateful. Richard Armor gives a trivial example that illustrates just how near infinite the realm of negative thanksgiving can be.
"Make yourself at home," I'm urged
By hosts when I'm a guest,
But I am very careful not
To do as they suggest.
For if I did, I'd take off coat
And tie and also shoes,
And put my feet up on a chair
And take a little snooze.
And then I'd turn the TV on
To something they'd find hateful.....
No, I won't make myself at home-
For which they should be grateful." Author Unknown
Thank God for all the people who do not take you literally and follow through on your offer to make themselves at home. The point is, from the trivial to the tremendous we have an endless resource of thanksgiving in the realm of the negative, which are the things that are not, were not, and never will be. These negatives of life are not all absolutely non-events, however. Sometimes they are only relatively so, and so we want to look at the 2 categories of non-happenings that David deals with in Psa. 30.
I. NEGATIVES THAT ARE PREVENTED.
President McKinley developed a custom of always wearing a pink carnation in his buttonhole. His wife raised them at the White House. Wherever he traveled he always gave his carnation to the engineer of the train. He would walk up to the engineer and lift the pink flower into the grimy hands of the engineer and say, "I sincerely thank you for your skill and my safety." He was being thankful for what was prevented. Every time we take a trip and get back safely we can be thankful for what was prevented. This of course is a major part of David's thanksgiving. He was spared from disgrace and humiliation, and from fatal disease. These evils never happened because they were prevented.
This always has been, and always will be, the best kind of negative non-event. The next best is the second category we will be looking at, which is negatives that do happen but do not last. For example, the getting sick but then being healed. It is better to prevent the sickness, for you can't beat staying well, but it is also a great second best to be healed and restored to health when you do get sick. Prevention is total non-happening of the negative, and this is the best source for gratitude. We can learn from suffering, even as Jesus did, but thank God we do not have to learn everything by the negative of suffering. God prevented Jesus from having to learn by being born with handicaps. He was prevented from having to endure diseases of all kinds. He was prevented from being made a slave, or of having to grow up as an orphan. Jesus missed a multitude of negatives, and so it is with all of us.
Preventative medicine alone has blest most of our lives. Many of us escaped the diseases that killed children by the thousands because we were given shots. Thank God for the evils and sufferings that never happened because they are prevented. Prevention does not make the headlines, for non-events do not make news, but the fact is, the non-events of life are some of the best news. It would be a marvelous headline that would say, "Fifteen million babies do not have polio this year." We need to be reminded of all the evils that have been prevented to have a totally thankful perspective. The prevention of one evil can lead to the prevention of other evils, and so one non-event can lead to another non-event.
For example: "In 1874 a young Texas doctor named John Burke treated a patience suffering from typhoid fever. The patient recovered and, upon leaving, promised the doctor that he would some day repay him. After a few years the doctor moved to another town. One day when walking to his office, he noticed a group of horseman heading towards the bank. He realized that they were robbers and that the leader was his former patient. After a few minutes of pleading by the doctor that he and the entire town would suffer if the men carried out their plan. The band of men rode out of town on their leader's orders. With this, the patient had repaid his long-overdue debt. The bandit leader was none other than Frank James, brother of the notorious outlaw Jesse James." Because Frank James didn't die a bank robbery didn't happen. The prevention of his death led to gratitude that prevented the robbery. Every evil prevented leads to, who knows, how many other evils that never happen?
There is no way to calculate how many things are not happening every day in our lives, and in our world, because they are prevented. You can focus on the problems that were not prevented and get discouraged, or you can begin to count that innumerable list of burdens you did not have to carry, and see that negative thanksgiving becomes a basis for rejoicing even when all is not well. We must be constantly aware of just how little we really know about the future. We jump to conclusions all the time because we assume that we know that certain non-events will be destructive to our future.
Naomi had a plan. She was going to get Ruth to go back to Moab, and she would be free of all responsibility. She failed to achieve her goal, however, and Ruth refused to go back. What she longed for did not happen, but this non-event, the thing she sought for, was the best thing that never happened to Naomi. Had it happened she and Ruth would have separated and gone into oblivion and played no roll in God's plan. It was this non-event that led to her greatest success. Thank God for things that do not happen. Naomi and Ruth had a future filled with thankfulness because God prevented Naomi from doing things in her grief that would have defeated His best for them both.
The point is, you do not know which is best for you. Is it failure or success? So when the dream you have does not happen, and the goal you set does not materialize, do not give up hope, for the non-happening may yet be the basis for your thanksgiving. Give God time to show you how even the negatives of life can prevent you from missing the positives that He has waiting for you. Both good things and bad things that do not happen can be the best things that never happened to you.
Lavonne and I have thanked God so many times for one of the best things that never happened to me. Had we gotten the service we wanted at a drive in one summer night my friends and I might never have gotten impatient and gone to another town down the road, and I never would have met Lavonne. It was a negative situation that caused it to happen. What we wanted to happen was not happening, but because of that non-happening one of the best things that ever happened to me happened. It was a non-event that prevented me from missing a major event. Thank God for those things which never happened. Next we look at-
II. NEGATIVES THAT ARE PASSING.
David avoided many of the sorrows of life, and much evil was prevented in his life for which he was deeply thankful. But the fact is, it is only in paradise that all evil is prevented, and so David had his share of life's sorrows. He experienced sickness of body and sickness of mind. He had fear and depression, and many tears over life's problems. He experienced sickness of soul because of sin and separation from God. He acknowledges all of these in Psa. 30. Yet none of these negatives stops this from being a Psalm of thanksgiving. It is because all of these negatives are merely temporary, and they all pass away, and they leave only the positives as permanent.
In other words, what does not happen is that the negatives of life stay and hang on forever. They don't, for they come and they go. They are nomads that pack up and move on. That they visit us at all is a pain, but that they don't stay is our great pleasure. They happen, but they do not happen permanently, and their non-endurance is ground for gratitude. They passed into the realm of non-being. For the Christian all negatives will eventually pass into this realm.
I have a slight crack in one of my fillings, and every once in awhile I chew something hard and I put pressure on that crack and end up with a toothache. It hurts bad enough so that I feel like I'm in for some trouble, but then it ceases to hurt and I rejoice that it was only a passing pain. It is easy to endure that which is only temporary. It is so wonderful when it goes away that I am motivated to thank God for that which does not happen, which is the continued and persistent pain.
I've read of an ocean steamer which decades ago was dashed against the rocks of Newfoundland. Most all of the passengers lost their lives. A telegram came to a home in Detroit announcing the drowning of a young man of that household. It was a sad day, and loved ones entered the darkness of grief. A few hours later another telegram came explaining that the young man had been found. He had survived after all, and that family framed and hung that second telegram on their wall as a reminder of the glorious good news of what had not happened. Their sorrow was quickly over, for the negative was merely passing. In this case the bad news was not real, but even when it is real it can be a merely passing negative.
Look at the cross. Jesus really did die, and the disciples were plunged to the depths of the pit of sorrow. Nevertheless, in only a few days they were rejoicing in the risen Christ, for the worst that Satan and all the powers of hell could do was only temporary. It was real, but evil is only a passing reality. That which is forever is the good, the true, and the beautiful. That is why David ends this Psalm on the high note of perpetual praise. "O Lord my God I will give you thanks forever." Thank God that thanksgiving will never end. Here is something that will never happen, and that is the cessation of thanksgiving, and for this eternal non-event we will be eternally grateful.
Forever and forever he will thank God that none of his sorrows and sufferings follow him into the presence of God. All evil will cease to happen, and that eternal non-happening of evil will be added to the eternal happenings of God's love and grace so that David and all God's children will have an infinite supply of reasons for eternal thankfulness. All the former things will pass away says the New Testament, and for all eternity we will enjoy the non-happening of sin and sorrow, and all the other consequences of man's fall. Thank God that the worst that evil can throw at us is passing. Weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning.
Abraham Lincoln had more than his fare share of life's trials. At age 7 he and his family were evicted and suffered humiliation. At 9 his mother died. At age 26 his partner in business died leaving him saddled with great debt. At 28 he was rejected by the girl he proposed to. When he did marry he lost his 4 year old son in death. He lost numerous elections and came near a mental breakdown in battles with depression. Yet he became the 16th president of the United States, and one of history's most thankful leaders, and one for whom much thanks is given. Thank God for what didn't happen in this great man's life. He didn't give up and stop the onward fight for what was just and right. That never happened, and the result is we forget all of the passing problems he had to endure. We remember him for the good that endures because of him.
David had to endure the judgment of God on his sin, but even this was passing, but God's mercies on him were new every morning. Mercy is what God does not do to us that we deserve. We deserve judgement, but God does not deal with us as we deserve, or reward us according to our iniquities. In mercy He provides a way of escape that we might experience His grace forever. Because of God's mercy there is no end to the things that never happen that if they did it would be a curse. But they do not happen because of God's mercy. Count your many blessings, but also count your many non-cursing that you deserve but never get because of God's mercy.
"When all thy mercies, O my God,
My rising soul surveys,
Transported with the view,
I'm lost in wonder, love and praise."
This was David's song, and if we see life whole and see the infinite realm of the non-existent and non-happenings of life, we to will have a song of praise and a heart of gratitude regardless of life's troubles and trials. We will be getting a glimpse into that infinite treasure of negative thanksgiving.