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Giving Thanks This Thanksgiving

Bill Bright with Steve Douglass

After the tragedy of the great Chicago fire of 1871, Horatio Spafford, a Chicago lawyer, arranged an ocean voyage to Europe for his family to get away, and he would join them later.

But, to add to the devastation of the fire, the ship, on which the family sailed, the Ville du Havre, never got farther than halfway across the Atlantic. In the dead of night, it was rammed by another ship and cut in two. In the confusion and disaster that followed, Mrs. Spafford saw her four daughters swept away to their deaths. A falling mast then knocked her unconscious, and a wave freakishly deposited her body on a piece of wreckage where, later, she regained consciousness.

When she and a few other survivors reached Wales, she cabled two words to her husband: “Saved alone.”

Gripped with grief, Horatio Spafford took the earliest ship to be by his wife. When his boat reached the approximate spot where the Ville du Havre had met disaster, God gave him the inspiration and courage to write the following hymn.

It is Well with My Soul
When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea-billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say:
It is well; it is well with my soul.

CHORUS:
It is well with my soul
It is well; it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials shall come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

But Lord, ‘tis for thee, for thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
O trump of the angel!  O voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

In the summer of 2003, I had the opportunity to attend the memorial service of Dr. Bill Bright, the founder and long-time president of Campus Crusade for Christ. In the service we had the opportunity to hear from people very close to Dr. Bright talk about his last days before his death.

Three years ago Dr. Bright was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis of the lungs. This disease deteriorates the use of the lungs and for most of the last few years he has had to breathe with the aid of an oxygen tank. In the end Dr. Bright only had the use of 30% of his lungs and lived in intense pain. And yet, whenever he was asked how he was doing, he responded, “I am rejoicing in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

What causes people in the midst of extreme emotional and/or physical pain to respond like Horatio Spafford or Bill Bright? Have these people really lost it, or have they actually found something more than we have ever really hoped for? Obviously, these men did not necessarily feel thankful, but something supernatural had taken place in their lives. What was it?

In Ephesians 5:18-20, immediately following the command to be filled with the Spirit, we are further instructed to be “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” A thankful heart is a natural overflow to a life lived filled with the Spirit.

When the great leader of the Methodist revival, John Wesley, was a student at Oxford University, he had a conversation with one of the servants there which “convinced him that there was something in religion that he had not grasped.” The “janitor possessed but one coat and had nothing to eat that day. Even though he had tasted nothing but water, he was still giving thanks to God.”

Wesley told him, “You thank God when you have nothing to eat, and no bed to lie upon. What else do you thank Him for?”

The servant answered, “I thank Him that He has given me life and being; and a heart to love Him, and a desire to serve Him.”

That troubled Wesley, for though he was a student of divinity, he could not testify to an experience of God. But many years later in Wesley’s life when he could testify to such an experience, he became a catalyst for revival in England.

  • Can you say that you relate to the servant being able to give thanks for all things that God gives you, no matter how small?
  • Or, are you more like John Wesley listening to this man with amazement at that type of relationship with God?

Only a person living by the Spirit can experience such joy and peace and demonstrate such a thankful attitude. It is God’s command for us to be “giving thanks always for all things.” Along with each command which God makes there is a promise, either spoken or implied. In essence, He says, “If you trust and obey Me, I will enable you by the power of the Holy Spirit to do what I have commanded you to do.

“Giving thanks always for all things.” This is one of the key ingredients for the joyful Christian life. So, how do we always give thanks for all things? In the next three posts, I will look at the following three questions that will lead you to a greater experience of God’s joy and peace.

  1. In what ways do we give thanks?
  2. Why is giving thanks important?
  3. How do we give thanks even in difficult situations?

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