He served as a Pastor during one of history’s most devastating wars – the Thirty Years War – from 1618-1648. During this time Martin Rinkart was a Pastor in Eilenburg, Germany. In 1637 alone he was responsible for 4500 burials during a severe plague that consumed his city. He is best remembered today not for all of his work during those struggles – but for a table grace that he had written.
Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices
Who wondrous things hath done
In whom His world rejoices.
In the midst of a time of great tears, he was able to give thanks.
This hymn story took a personal turn for me three years ago. My mother was dying. For about a week she was lying in her bed without any response. Family was gathered around her. We would talk and pray and tell stories – wondering if she could hear – always assuming that she could. Then my sister, Susan, wanted to sing. We got a hymnal from Dad’s study and began to move through the hymnal singing around Mom’s bed. I wasn’t sure that I was up for singing at this time – Susan encouraged us to keep going. And then she picked that Martin Rinkart hymn “Now Thank We All Our God.” I didn’t make it through the first verse before the tears had overcome my singing. I had never really paid attention to those words in the first verse which directly followed the words quoted above:
Who, from our mother’s arms,
Hath blest us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.
In the midst of my thanks for her life I was overcome by tears. Tears and thanks.
I am amazed at the way that Thanksgiving often arises from the very difficult times of life. Look at the observance of Thanksgiving in our own country. Beginning with the serious struggles of the pilgrims who battled hunger and disease, the first Thanksgiving was not born in easy days of comfort. Then, the first declaration of Thanksgiving as a national holiday was made by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 when our country was immersed in a bloody Civil War. At one of the lowest times in the history of our country a President felt that it was important to offer thanks to God. Tears and thanks go together.
Jesus knew this. A study of the four Gospels produces some very interesting results. There are four instances when Jesus is recorded as offering thanks to God. In every one of these situations, he could have shed tears instead. Every time Jesus said “Thank you” to God the times were hard, life was dark and bleak. We should not wait for all problems to be solved and all challenges removed before offering thanks. The best thanksgiving is when we are able to choose thankfulness in the midst of the struggles of life.
Healthy churches understand this truth. It is easy to look around at the church in America today – or just look at the church where you attend – and you can find many things wrong. The challenges are great, the resources seem to be declining, the culture appears to be getting more secular, and more and more people lose hope in the power of the church to be the Body of Christ here on the earth. Many are crying about the state of the church today.
Healthy churches live with gratitude. Instead of succumbing to the tears of defeat, healthy churches choose thanksgiving.
- Instead of crying over a culture that cares less and less about Christianity, they give thanks for the missional opportunity to share the good news with people who really do not know about Jesus.
- Instead of complaining about how the old programs and methods of ministry are not working any more, they give thanks for the dawning of new forms of ministry that bring the possibility of hope and blessing.
- Instead of predicting a dark future for the church because they can’t afford as much staff any more, they give thanks for church members finding their place of ministry through a volunteer revolution.
- Instead of despairing over decreased giving units in churches, they give thanks to God for the abundance of good gifts found in life and learn to trust in the God who has promised to provide for us.
Thankfulness turns our attention to God who is the source of all good gifts. Instead of moaning about all that is wrong with the church, thankful churches are able to focus on the grace of God which is sufficient for our every need. What kind of church is your church?
Happy Thanksgiving! It really is a great time for the church to give thanks. Will you?