As we enter the month of November, times continue to be hard for many people. The economy continues to struggle. More people are losing their jobs. Our leaders in Washington and Lansing continue to disagree about the best way to handle our massive national debt. There are those who fear that America will suffer a bankruptcy crisis. People have taken to the streets in our cities to protest corporate greed. While we’re all affected by our economic situation, the poor have been hit the hardest. Although our remaining military forces will be leaving Iraq completely by the end of the year, war continues in Afghanistan. The majority of Americans aren’t satisfied with the direction of our country. The younger generations aren’t confident that they’ll be as economically successful as their parents and likely will face a postponed retirement decades down the road.
Living in these hard times, we also will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day on November 24. How do we keep our challenging circumstances from dampening our gratitude? How do we thank God with hearts full of joy when there’s so much bad news? We need to keep our focus on our Sovereign God who is always in control whether times are good or bad. We can be grateful for God’s faithfulness no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in.
I’m grateful for past saints who powerfully demonstrate lives of wholehearted thanksgiving even when things are at their worst. I’m sure I’ve shared with you before the story of Martin Rinkart.
German pastor Martin Rinkart served in the walled town of Eilenburg during the horrors of the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648. Eilenburg became an overcrowded refuge for the surrounding area. The fugitives suffered from epidemic and famine. At the beginning of 1637, the year of the Great Pestilence, there were four ministers in Eilenburg. But one abandoned his post for healthier areas and could not be persuaded to return. Pastor Rinkart officiated at the funerals of the other two. As the only pastor left, he often conducted services for as many as 40 to 50 persons a day—some 4,480 in all. In May of that year, his own wife died. By the end of the year, the refugees had to be buried in trenches without services.
Yet living in a world dominated by death, Pastor Rinkart wrote the following prayer for his children to offer to the Lord:
Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices;
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom this world rejoices.
Who, from our mother’s arms,
Hath led us on our way,
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.
It amazes me that Martin Rinkart so trusted in the loving care of God that he could write the words of one of our most beloved Thanksgiving hymns when his circumstances were about as terrible as they could be. He could see the Lord’s “countless gifts of love” and could continue to confess that this praiseworthy God “still is ours today” because he believed in our Creator and Redeemer’s constant faithfulness. Pastor Rinkart knew that God was in control and demonstrated his incredible love no matter what circumstances he was in.
This same God remains faithful and continues to do wondrous things to this very day. May our difficult days harden our resolve to give the Lord a wholehearted thanksgiving for who he is and what he has done.