To See Grace in All the Things & To Give Thanks

Bird singing in winter like saint who gives thanks in adversity

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The 1621 Project

Fully one half their number was dead. Of the 102 who crossed on the Mayflower, only 50 remained. Of eighteen married couples who embarked together, just three remained intact. In fifteen marriages, one or both partners had died.

This was the group who paused to thank God. This was the thanks giving group.

But as Tracy McKenzie points out in this insightful The Real First Thanksgiving podcast, those 50 wouldn’t have dubbed that autumn week a first anything. The feasting was simply God’s children being the grateful people he had made them to be.

God gave them eyes to see his grace. Then they gave thanks.

Which reminds me of a story.

A Giving Thanks Story

After the Second World War, two seriously ill woman were placed in the same London hospital room.

Marie was blind, and Ginny was assigned the bed next to the room’s only window. The days flew by. Despite her sickness, Ginny’s words were full of good cheer. She inquired about Marie’s friends and family and prayed for those they knew. And always Ginny thanked God for the day.

But there was this other thing she’d do. It started their third afternoon together, when a discouraged Marie needed hope.

“What’s outside the window?” she’d ask.

Ginny by the window described the squirrels and trees, and the park with the little lake just beyond. She’d tell about the kids and their kites, the rowers and long-necked swans. And Ginny could paint a sunset. The sunsets were Marie’s favorite. Her face would glow as Ginny spoke.

Ginny Could See

In fact, Marie began to live for those “paintings” of the world outside the window. They inspired hope and healing even though her eyes could not see. But while Marie’s health improved, Ginny’s rapidly declined.

Shortly after Ginny died, Marie’s new roommate settled in.

“Would you tell me what’s outside the window today? Who’s at the park? Are the swans on the lake? If the sunset is pretty tonight, would you describe it to me, too?”

Silence filled the room.

“The park? A lake? Our window faces a brick wall. And there’ll be no sunsets tonight or any other, for even if the wall weren’t there, this window faces east.”

Now Marie knew. How Ginny could see.

Seeing Grace in All the Things

Ever since I first heard a version of that story decades ago, I wanted to be Ginny. I still want to be Ginny.

But my honest friends and family will tell you I’m a far cry from her. I dwell on my hurt and others’ wrongs and don’t always see through to the sunsets and swans. This bird gets quiet in winter.

But giving thanks is a miracle drug for our souls. It is a silver bullet for spiritual disease. It trumps every ugly that messes with our souls. You can’t sing as you sneeze and you can’t whistle while you yell. You can’t grumble as you give thanks. My friend Shari says: you can’t ride two horses with one heinie.

Thankfulness is a divinely given spiritual ability to see grace.

Sam Crabtree

But you also can’t conjure up a thankful heart. Seeing grace is a gift. Author Sam Crabtree defines thankfulness as a divinely given spiritual ability to see grace. Giving thanks, then, is the corresponding desire to affirm that grace and the Giver of that grace as good. 

This ability to see grace is a God-given gift. And affirming the grace and the Giver is called giving thanks. Crabtree explains, “I can ask God to help me look at my circumstances through a different lens or from a different angle. And He wants to do it, He wants me to be thankful.”

Give us what you command, Augustine prayed. We can echo him and say, You command us to give thanks, so give us eyes to see your grace.

Giving thanks does not depend on our circumstances. A difficult husband, problem child, poor health, unjust boss or a nasty neighbor might make it hard. But we can ask God to give us thankful hearts.

I’m here to tell you, that whenever I pray that prayer, he answers yes.

Singing Birds In Winter

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father… Always and for everything is what Paul wrote (Ephesians 5:20). Not just in everything, which is God’s will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:18), but for everything. Everything. All. The. Things.

I want people to see Christ as all that. Giving thanks for everything does that. My Uncle Steve did that.

Uncle Steve has had a year. He was hospitalized, near death and discharged, then came bedsores, hospitalized, and G-tube. His breathing is still not right. A specialist next week may tell him there’s something big wrong. But more than once today Uncle Steve said, “God is good.” He sees grace and he gives thanks.

I want to be like that. Like Ginny and Uncle Steve. Because that kind of thanks giving is supernatural. In fact, the call to give thanks in Ephesians 5 verse 20 is an expression Paul’s main command to be “filled with the Spirit” in Ephesians 5:18:

Be filled with the Spirit….giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Spirit is supernatural—he’s God. And I’m supernatural and you’re supernatural if we’re in Christ and his Spirit lives in us.

Giving thanks when you’re healthy and all speak well of you, when your kid is a starter and your business thrives is natural. Most every bird can sing can sing in the spring.

But when we give thanks for illness and hurtful words, for kids who don’t make the team and fails at work—this is supernatural. These are birds singing in the dead of winter.

Which is what happened in 1621.

The 1621 And 2021 Project: Give Thanks

There are only two primary sources detailing the Pilgrim’s 1621 harvest feast. William Bradford’s is less detailed than this one by Edward Winslow.

[O]ur harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors…we exercised our Arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and amongst the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five Deer, which they brought to the Plantation…And although it be not always so plentiful, as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want, that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

Edward Winslow, Mourt’s Relation

That’s it. Yet by the goodness of God…The harvest feast of 1621 was a decimated, threadbare group who gathered to rejoice together and to celebrate the goodness of God.

That’s my 2021 project. Heading into a cold winter, I want to celebrate the goodness of God as he gives me eyes to see.

I want to be like the Pilgrims in 1621 and like Ginny and Uncle Steve. I want grace to sing in the dead of winter.

We should give thanks for all things; not only for spiritual blessings enjoyed, and eternal ones expected, but for temporal mercies too; not only for our comforts, but also for our sanctified afflictions

It is our duty in every thing to give thanks unto God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father in him…

Matthew Henry

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…

Ephesians 5:20

A 2020 Thanksgiving Post With A 1621 Twist

first thanksgiving 1621

Thanksgiving this year will be different. The massive Considine clan will not gather for the first time in my adult life.

Thoughts Of Former Thanksgivings

There will not be the moment when I walk into my Uncle Nathan’s house and stunned by the dozens of beloved aunts and uncles and first cousins who are now having dozens and dozens of children whose names I can’t always remember.

There will not be the whole circle singing Come, Ye Thankful People Come and Count Your Blessings before we bow our heads. Nor will there be the smorgasbord—so vast the desserts, including Aunt Joy’s pies, have their own bord in the basement.

There will not be those catching up down country roads with my cousins Hannah and Humility, Rachel and Kathleen.

Nor will there be the competitive-friendly, after-dinner football game with cousins and uncles from age 8 to age 58, when I count apples and rush, and sneaky cousins eavesdrop on play calls and we run and laugh—and some of us limp—until we just can’t see no more.

Then there will not be the hymn sing with Aunt Judy playing the whole hymnal by ear, while I curb my enthusiasm just enough to refrain from calling out consecutive hymns, to give others a chance to request.

No, there won’t be those.

Thanksgiving of 2020—in one way or another—will be different for all of us.

This Thanksgiving, Think Upon The Things That Are

So the annual Thanksgiving post is different. It’s not about giving thanks per se. It’s about “cleaving the faster together,” and being “friends in adversity.” It’s a theme I keep coming back to in 2020: maintain good friendships. Whatever shape they take, do not give up meeting together, as some are doing (Hebrews 10:25). Keep your friends close.

The feasting was over and the tables were cleared. Robert Cushman delivered the same advice to the Plymouth Colony Pilgrims shortly after “The First Thanksgiving” in November, 1621. In a sermon entitled, “The Sin and Dangers Of Self-Love,” Cushman warned the Pilgrims that they must not go it alone. Self-love must not cuase them to forsake the friends. His whole message can be read here.

But it’s the end of the message that prompted this post. In a fraught year when fear and unknowns make it easier to let our friendships go, the last two paragraphs are both timely and timeless (bolding mine),

And as you are a body together…labor to be jointed together and knit by flesh and sinews; away with envy at the good of others, and rejoice in his good, and sorrow for his evil. Let his joy be thy joy, and his sorrow thy sorrow: Let his sickness be thy sickness: his hunger thy hunger: his poverty thy poverty; and if you profess friendship, be friends in adversity; for then a friend is known and tried, and not before.

Lay away all thought of former things and forget them, and think upon the things that are; look not gapingly one upon other, pleading your goodness, your birth, your life you lived, your means you had and might have had; here you are by God’s providence under difficulties; be thankful to God, it is no worse, and take it in good part that which is… when Job was brought to the dung-hill, he sat down upon it, Job 2:8…consider therefore what you are now, and whose you are; say not I could have lived thus, and thus; but say thus and thus I must live: for God and natural necessity require, if your difficulties be great, you had need to cleave the faster together, and comfort and cheer up one another, laboring to make each other’s burden lighter; there is no grief so tedious as a churlish companion and nothing makes sorrows easy more than cheerful associates: bear ye therefore one another’s burden, and be not a burden one to another; avoid all factionssingularity and withdrawing, and cleave fast to the Lord, and one to another continually; so also shall you be an encouragement to many of your christian friends in your native country, to come to you, when they hear of your peace, love and kindness that is amongst you: but above all, it shall go well with your souls, when that God of peace and unity shall come to visit you with death as he hath done many of your associates, you being found of him, not in murmurings, discontent and jars, but in brotherly love, and peace, may be translated from this wandering wilderness unto that joyful and heavenly Canaan. AMEN

Robert Cushman, 1621, “THE SIN AND DANGER OF SELF-LOVE”

To these ears, Cushman’s sermon is as much for Christian pilgrims in November 2020 as it was for those who heard him deliver it in November 1621. Avoid all factions, singularity, and withdrawing. Do not forsake your friend, the proverb says.

And for those of you who are missing Thanksgiving days of yore, well, like Cushman said, Here you are by God’s providence under difficulties; be thankful to God it is no worse, and take it in good part that which is.

There won’t be the Considine multitude, the after-dinner football and cousin walks and hymn sing. But there will be other good things. Within a smaller circle, I will be thankful.

I wish you all a thankful Thanksgiving, friends. Take it in good part that which is.

Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:18-19

Leaky? What our grumbling reveals about us.

An unthankful person is like a container with a hole in it and all the blessings that are in it just leak out. The grateful person has unlimited capacity to truly enjoy God’s blessings, while the ungrateful person can’t enjoy the blessings he does have. 

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, The Attitude to Gratitude

Do you leak?

Not- Does your thanks spill out and overflow? I mean leak– as in accidentally lose the contents. As in, God’s gifts are lost on you. 

A little grumbling here and there might not seem so bad, but it says a lot- about us and about what we believe about God.

Grumbling is that bad.

God hates grumbling. We’re called to do all things without grumbling.

Pastor Ritch Boerckel offers three reasons why the grumbling of God’s people is that bad.

Reason #1: Our grumbling proclaims that our God is not good.

We might call it venting, or keeping it real, but take a minute and ask yourself: About what or about whom do I grumble?

I’ll start with me. Sadly, the question is easy: I grumble when my time feels “wasted” and if others’ poor choices caused the “waste,” I might even complain about them.

There- I said it.

But how, you wonder, can I draw such a straight line from my grumbling against the people and circumstances down here straight up to God?

Well, when the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the desert, God heard it. Then he told Moses to tell themYour grumbling is not against us but against the LORD (Exodus 16:8, Numbers 14:26-27). Our Father in heaven heard their grumbling, and hears ours.

When we whine like deprived children, we don’t adorn. We don’t make our loving Lord look good. We slander his loving care to watching eyes and listening ears.

Grumbling, John Piper explains, only adds to the darkness because it obscures the light of God’s gracious, all-controlling providence. 

But there’s more.

Reason #2:  Our grumbling demands that God submit to our wishes.

We don’t put it like that, but at the end of the day, isn’t that what our complaints say? That we wish God would do it our way, would submit to our wishes. When we grumble, we’re rebel children, pots second-guessing the potter.

For has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? (Romans 11:34-35). A complaining spirit, therefore, reveals a problem in our relationship with God.

But there is a difference between grumbling and groaning. Groaning, for the record, can actually be a sign of our faith and hope in God’s promises (See Romans 8:22-24).

Groaning and disappointment, criticism and disagreement need not be the same as grumbling and complaining.

Kevin DeYoung explains,

[T]he Bible is full of examples of godly people who say, “I’m upset. I wish this were different. Lord, would you do something? I don’t like this.” […] Grumbling, however, is not a humble cry for help, but saying to God, “I know how to run the universe a bit better than you do.” Instead of saying, “This really hurts, but I’m ready to receive whatever I must receive from God’s hand,” grumbling says, “This stinks, and I’m ready to rebel against God’s heart.” That’s the difference…

We’re talking about rebellion against God. Not that the situation is hard, but that God is hard.

Our situation may be hard. But our God is not hard.

He has promised his children good. 

Reason #3: Our grumbling disbelieves God’s precious promises.

God has promised to provide all our needs according to his riches in glory (Philippians 4:19) and that he will withhold no good thing from him whose walk is upright (Psalm 84:11) and that all things work for good to those who love him and called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). Not to mention that his mercies are there for the picking, new every morning.

But grumbling says we don’t believe those. Or, at least, for the moment, we’re choosing to ignore them. Grumbling says we don’t trust God.

More from DeYoung,

Though you might direct it toward your spouse, your kids, your parents, or someone in authority, you’re saying to God, “You’re not taking care of me…” Grumbling dishonors God.

The problem with complainers is that they don’t really trust that God is big enough to help and good enough to care. That’s what you think when you complain. “This God?! I may say that I believe him, sing songs about him, and read a Bible about him, but I don’t really believe that he’s big enough to do anything about it or good enough to care about me.

Who knew a little complaining about the rain and work and delays and aches and pains could betray so much?

That grumbling could be such a hard habit to break?

Fill the house with gratitude.

Habit is overcome by habit. It’s called replacement. Breaking bad habits means we fill the void with something good.

Just stopping up the leak isn’t enough. In other words, Quit yer grumbling, is not the goal. That’s just the empty house. And Jesus warned that if the house stays empty, the final plight might be worse than the first (Matthew 12:43-45). We need to fill the house.

We need to do something hard: replace grumbling with thanks and turn that frown upside-down and, by God’s grace, choose gratitude.

Thankfully, giving thanks breaks the grumbling habit. In fact, it’s what we were created to do (1 Peter 2:9). Declaring God’s praise is why we were made.

So stop up the leaks. Don’t let the blessings drip through. Fill your house with gratitude.

Come, you thankful people, come.

Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall dwell in your presence.

Psalm 140:13

It Really Is Good To Give Thanks

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your lovingkindness in the morning and your faithfulness by night.

Psalm 92:1-2

Good means good. And it is good to give thanks to the Lord.

Good means beneficial and having an advantage for us. As in, Eat your fruits and vegetables- they’re good for you. And exercise is good too. Giving thanks to God benefits us. For starters, it frees us from the prison of self pre-occupation. Giving thanks is good.

But good means more. It also means fitting and appropriate. As in,  It would be good to be on time to the wedding. And not to wear dirty jeans to the dinner party. And, It’d be good to say thanks to the friend who gave you the tickets on the 50-yard line for Packer game . 

It is good to bookend our days with praise. In the morning implies eagerness and promptness and by night, unflagging diligence and devotion. Bookending can be as simple as thanking God for three things before you let yourself roll out of bed each morning and thanking him for three more when you crawl back in at night.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord.

Duplicate Deliciousness

C.H. Spurgeon stretches out the morning to mean the happy seasons of our lives, the bright days of unsullied sweetness.

And the bright morning-like periods of our life-these, too, should be seasons for showing forth God’s lovingkindness… Do not, as some do, who, if they are prospering, make a point of not owning to it. We talk as if, really, we were to be pitied for living, as if we were little better off than toads under a hallow, or snails in a tub of salt. We often whine as if our lives were martyrdoms, and every breath a woe, thus slandering the good Lord.

There are bright days like the morning, and in them we ought to render praise. And see what is to be the subject of our praise–God’s lovingkindness. Was there ever such a word in any language as this word lovingkindness? It is a duplicate deliciousness. There are within it linked sweetnesses long drawn out. It is a kind of word with which to cast spells which should charm away all fears…A Christian ought to be the most cheerful of men. Let the joy of the Lord be our strength.

Do we declare his lovingkindness each morning of the bright days of our lives? Are we the most cheerful of women and men?

It is good to give thanks to the Lord. 

If There Be Any One Topic…

But we are to give thanks in all circumstances (for this is God’s will for you). We are not only to thank Him on the bright days, but thank him always, even the in the dark nights and grim days. Spurgeon urges us on in this too- to declaring God’s faithfulness by night. 

We have a day’s more experience than we had in the morning; therefore we have more power to sing of God’s faithfulness. Notice that the text says “every night,” the dark, drear, cold nights as well as others. Let the old who are nearing the night of life show forth the Lord’s faithfulness. And let us all publish it abroad. If there be any one topic on which Christians should speak, it is this, and they should speak of it bravely, continuously, thankfully and positively. Satan makes a dead set upon it in the minds of many tempted ones, and therefore all the more should you bring the strength of your testimony that God doth not forsake His people.  

So central is this call to bookend our days with God’s praise, that the Psalmist closes Psalm 92  with an astonishing purpose statement. It describes the righteous, who still bear fruit in old age. Then, the purpose statement: they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the LORD is upright; he is my rock and there is no unrighteousness in him (Psalm 92:14-15). 

Did you catch that that causal link? The reason we’re here is to declare that the Lord is upright.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord. 

Here to Declare

You older saints, who are full of sap and green, you’re still around for at least this one reason: to declare God’s praise. But how exactly does an seasoned believer do that?

Spurgeon one more time,

Why, [he] shows that God has kept his promise. He has promised that he will never leave them nor forsake them. There you see it. He has promised that when they are weak they shall be strong. There you see it. He has promised that if they seek him they shall not lack any good thing. There you see it.

We see it when others declare it. Nothing girds up my soul when it’s weary soul than hearing a seasoned saint testify to the upright, faithfulness of God. More than once these words were exactly the encouragement I needed when my middle-aged life responsibilities bore down on me. When I needed some help to count blessings.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord. 

It Is Good To Give Thanks

Words from you older saints have weight. They bring home the goodness of God  home when we might not feel it. They declare that following God’s ways is wise and that he has been faithful to all his promises and that not one word of them has ever fallen to the ground.

So please declare and keep declaring this to us, you fruit bearing saints in old age. (Whatever old age is.) Please. Because that’s at least one reason you’re here: To declare that God is upright.

Yes, giving thanks to God is beneficial and advantageous and appropriate and right.

It really is good to give thanks to the Lord.

Thou that has given so much to me,
Give me one thing  more-a grateful heart…
…I cry and cry again; 
And in no quiet canst Thou be,
Till I a thankful heart obtain 
Of Thee.
Not thankful when it pleases me, 
As if Thy blessings had spare days;
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Thy praise.

George Herbert