Seneca, the great philosopher of ancient Rome (4 bc–ad 65), was once accused by the empress Messalina of adultery. After the Senate sentenced Seneca to death, the emperor Claudius instead exiled him to Corsica, perhaps because he suspected the charge was false. This reprieve may have shaped Seneca’s view of thankfulness when he wrote: “. . . homicides, tyrants, thieves, adulterers, robbers, sacrilegious men, and traitors there always will be, but worse than all these is the crime of ingratitude.”
Leisa wanted a way to redeem the season. So many of the autumn decorations she saw seemed to celebrate death, sometimes in gruesome and macabre ways.
Determined to counter the darkness in some small way, Leisa began to write things she was grateful for with a permanent marker on a large pumpkin. “Sunshine” was the first item. Soon visitors were adding to her list. Some entries were whimsical: “doodling,” for instance. Others were practical: “a warm house”; “a working car.” Still others were poignant, like the name of a departed loved one. A chain of gratitude began to wind its way around the pumpkin.
Psalm 104 offers a litany of praise to God for things we easily overlook. “[God] makes springs pour water into the ravines,” sang the poet (v. 10). “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate” (v. 14). Even the night is seen as good and fitting. “You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl” (v. 20). But then, “The sun rises. . . . People go out to their work, to their labor until evening” (vv. 22–23). For all these things, the psalmist concluded, “I will sing praise to my God as long as I live” (v. 33).
In a world that doesn’t know how to deal with death, even the smallest offering of praise to our Creator can become a shining contrast of hope.
Michelangelo’s works explored many facets of the life of Jesus, yet one of the most poignant was also one of the most simple. In the 1540s he sketched a pieta (a picture of Jesus’ mother holding the body of the dead Christ) for his friend Vittoria Colonna. Done in chalk, the drawing depicts Mary looking to the heavens as she cradles her Son’s still form. Rising behind Mary, the upright beam of the cross carries these words from Dante’s Paradise, “There they don’t think of how much blood it costs.” Michelangelo’s point was profound: when we contemplate the death of Jesus, we must consider the price He paid.
The price paid by Christ is captured in His dying declaration, “It is finished” (John 19:30). That term for “it is finished” (tetelestai) was used in several ways—to show a bill had been paid, a task finished, a sacrifice offered, a masterpiece completed. Each of them applies to what Jesus did on our behalf on the cross! Perhaps that’s why the apostle Paul wrote, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).
Jesus’ willingness to take our place is the eternal evidence of how much God loves us. As we contemplate the price He paid, may we also celebrate His love—and give thanks for the cross.
When Tee Unn came down with a rare autoimmune disease that weakened all his muscles and nearly killed him, he realized that being able to breathe was a gift. For more than a week, a machine had to pump air into his lungs every few seconds, which was a painful part of his treatment.
Tee Unn made a miraculous recovery, and today he reminds himself not to complain about life’s challenges. “I’ll just take a deep breath,” he says, “and thank God I can.”
How easy it is to focus on things we need or want, and forget that sometimes the smallest things in life can be the greatest miracles of life. In Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 37:1–14), God showed the prophet that only He could give life to dry bones. Even after tendons, flesh, and skin had appeared, “there was no breath in them” (v. 8). It was only when God gave them breath that they could live again (v. 10).
This vision illustrated God’s promise to restore Israel from devastation. It also reminds me that anything else I have, big or small, is useless unless God gives me breath.
How about thanking God for the simplest blessings in life today? Amid the daily struggle, let’s stop occasionally to take a deep breath, and “let everything that has breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).
A post-surgical stroke had robbed Tom of his ability to speak, and he faced a long rehab journey. Weeks later, we were pleasantly surprised when he showed up at our church’s Thanksgiving service. We were even more surprised when he stood up to speak. Searching for what to say, he jumbled his words, repeated himself, and confused days and time. But one thing was clear: he was praising God! It’s possible to have your heart break and be blessed at the same moment. This was that kind of moment.
In the “pre-Christmas story” we meet a man who lost the gift of speech. Gabriel the archangel appeared to Zechariah the priest and told him he would be the father of a great prophet (see Luke 1:11–17). Zechariah and his wife were elderly, so he doubted it. That’s when Gabriel told him he would not speak “until the day this happens” (v. 20).
The day did happen. And at the ceremony to name the miracle baby, Zechariah spoke. With his first words he praised God (v. 64). Then he said, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them” (v. 68).
Like Zechariah, as soon as he was able, Tom’s response was to praise God. Their hearts were inclined toward the One who made their tongues and their minds. Regardless of what faces us this season, we can respond the same way.
In the seventeenth century, Martin Rinkart served as a clergyman in Saxony, Germany, for more than thirty years during times of war and plague. One year he conducted over 4,000 funerals, including for his wife, and at times food was so scarce that his family went hungry. Although he could have despaired, his faith in God remained strong and he gave thanks continually. In fact, he poured his gratitude into “Nun danket alle Gott,” the song that became the well-loved English hymn, “Now Thank We All Our God.”
Rinkart followed the example of the prophet Isaiah, who instructed God’s people to give thanks at all times, including when they had disappointed God (Isaiah 12:1) or when enemies oppressed them. Even then they were to exalt God’s name, making “known among the nations what he has done” (v. 4).
We might give thanks easily during harvest celebrations such as Thanksgiving, when we’re enjoying an abundant feast with friends and family. But can we express our gratitude to God in difficult times, such as when we’re missing someone from our table or when we’re struggling with our finances or when we’re locked in conflict with one close to us?
Let’s echo Pastor Rinkart, joining hearts and voices as we give praise and thanks to “the eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore.” We can “sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things” (v. 5).
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