Question: I know that I should be thankful during this holiday season and I know I have lots be thankful for. But sometimes I find this difficult when my life is filled with so many troubles. Any advice?
Answer: First of all, rest assured: Your struggle is not uncommon. I myself sometimes find it difficult to cultivate a spirit of ongoing gratitude. So rather than offering some theological answer, let me simply share a story that has helped me in the past:
About four hundred years ago there was a poor coppersmith who worked hard with his hands and who loved God with all his heart. God also loved him and blessed him with the birth of a healthy son: Martin
Martin was raised in this Christian home and there learned that the most important things in life were loving and serving God. He took this seriously: Singing in the church choir, studying at a Christian university, and ultimately entering the gospel ministry at the age of thirty one.
One might have concluded that all the prayers of Martin’s parents had been answered and all their hopes for their son had been realized. However, all their hopes were immediately shattered as one of the most destructive conflicts in European history began: The Thirty Years’ War
While this was a “religious war” between catholics and protestants, it bore all the ugly marks of modern war with entire regions being devastated by bloodshed, starvation, disease, and relentless looting and pillaging by godless foot soldiers.
The town in which Martin served as Pastor had been under nearly constant siege and had also been recently stricken by a plague. While the other ministers left town, Pastor Martin stayed and opened his home to others as a refuge. So many came that he had to mortgage his house in order to provide enough food for them all.
Things got worse. So awful was the pestilence, that Pastor Martin was conducting as many as fifty funerals per day. Within only a few months, he buried 4,480 people (including his dear wife).
Things then got even worse. Another siege came upon this already crippled city and the commander of the army issued an impossible ultimatum: Pay a high ransom or fall by the sword.
The poor townspeople began to lose all hope, but Pastor Martin turned to his parishioners and said, “Come, my children, we can find no mercy with man – let us take refuge with God.” Everyone fell to their knees as Pastor Martin lead them in fervent prayer.
God heard their prayer, had mercy upon them, and softened the commander’s heart.Having been reminded once again of God’s power and love, Pastor Martin called the congregation together a few days later for a special service of thanksgiving for their recent deliverance where together they sang a hymn that he wrote for the occasion. It is a hymn that we continue to sing today:
Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd 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!
All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore. Amen.
[Martin Rinkart, c. 1636]