Each Thanksgiving our family laughs about the sermon that turned us into a few muffled gigglers. It happened years ago, when our children were young and we were visiting at the community Thanksgiving church service.
The preacher kept repeating his favorite phrase: "This worship service is for more than Thanksgiving -- it is for thanksLIVING." The children continued to get tickled as he increased his volume each time he stressed the word, LIVING.
The best part of that memory is that it reminds me to look back to see if I have actually had a year of thanksLIVING. Each day was God's gift. It was filled with sunlight, fresh air and the beauty of nature all around me. When the days were full of pleasure, good health, and abundant blessings, it was easy to experience the life of thanksLIVING.
But there are times when everyone remembers only troubles and it is so easy to ask of the Lord, "Why me?" Sadly, that can become our mindset. I believe the biggest hindrance to our thankfulness is our humanness. It is not an uncommon dilemma.
But when I study the background of the hymn, "Now Thank We All Our God," I am astounded to read of the composer, Martin Rinkart He was living through years of bloodshed and suffering when he wrote the words. I am sure his grief was at times overwhelming. However, his faith helped him to move beyond his feelings. As a believer, he went to the Bible to find the reason for trusting in God's presence and comfort.
Rinkart, a Lutheran minister, based the words to this great hymn on 1 Thessalonians 5:18, "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
He lived in Eilenburg, Germany, and faithfully served his people throughout the troubling time of the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648). Catholics and Protestants were in violent disagreement in the countries of central Europe and their battleground was Germany. Since Eilenburg was a city surrounded by walls, the refugee population grew rapidly. During the horrible plague of 1637, Rinkart had forty to fifty funerals a day. And one of those funerals was that of his own wife.
Through his knowledge of God and his relationship with Him, he had the assurance of unfailing love and strength. He continued to lead in worship and to sing praises:
"Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices.
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices.
Who from our mothers' arms, has blessed us on the way.
With countless gifts of love and still is ours today."
Later, when the Swedes were in control of the city, an unjust tax was imposed on the people. Pastor Rinkart's request to lower the taxes was to no avail. History records that he said to his congregation, "Come my children, we can find no mercy with man. Let us take refuge with God." So they knelt and prayed. The Swedish commander was so impressed with the confident Christians that he withdrew the high tax.
Imagine the jubilant response of the people who were at the mercy of warring leaders. It must have happened exactly as the first words of this powerful hymn describe. With their "hearts, their hands and their voices," they were in awe of the wondrous things God was doing.
The story of this great man of God, Martin Rinkart, enables me to put into perspective the day-to-day trials that I might experience. During this time of Thanksgiving, I anticipate our dinner table discussion when we will recount our thanksLIVING for the year. Through joys or sorrows we will share the hymn, "Now Thank We All Our God" as a blessing of praise.
Our loving and powerful God, we come to you with hearts of thanksgiving that we can be victors and not victims in life. Your presence enables us to be overcomers when we feel overwhelmed. Thank You for Your loving touch upon our lives. Thank you that each day can be one of thanksLIVING.
In Jesus' holy name,
Lucy Neeley Adams has always loved music. She began telling the story of hymns on Christian radio WWGM in Nashville, TN, in the '80s. She then wrote a newspaper column titled "Song Stories" for five years. During that time Lucy's book, 52 Hymn Story Devotions, was published by Abingdon Press in Nashville. Each of the 52 stories contained in the book is written in a devotional format, with the words of the hymn concluding each devotion. Lucy, dubbed "The hymn lady," can be heard on the first Thursday of each month when she discusses hymn stories during a telephone interview with Michelle Mendoza of "Living Christian." The program is aired on station KCIS in Seattle, WA. Lucy lives at Lake Junaluska, NC, with her minister husband, Woody. They have four children and fourteen grandchildren. She may be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her at 52hymns.com.