NOW THANK WE ALL OUR GOD

I saw this the other day – “It’s not happy people who are thankful, but thankful people who are happy.” Great line. What does it mean?

“Now Thank We All Our God” comes to mind, the classic Thanksgiving hymn. The writer must have been thinking of bountiful harvests, a healthy family gathered around an overloaded table, a beautiful landscape of fiery-colored trees and peacefully grazing cattle.

If that’s what you’re picturing, you’d be wrong.

Martin Rinkart, the German author of these lyrics, lived through the Thirty Years’ War in Europe (1618-1648), three decades of bloodshed, famine, starvation and disease. He was a pastor in Eilenberg, a walled city overcrowded with political and military refugees. Several waves of a deadly plague swept through the city, reaching its height in 1637. There were four ministers in Eilenberg – one moved away to somewhere safer, two died of the plague, and Martin was left to conduct between forty and fifty funerals a day, for a total of nearly five thousand. His generosity to refugees was so great that he often had trouble feeding his own family during the famine that followed the plague.

In 1637, while the world was literally falling apart around him, Martin sat down to write this:

Now thank we all our God
With hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom His world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
And blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace,
And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills
In this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God
The Father now be given,
The Son and Him who reigns
With Them in highest heaven.
The one eternal God
Whom earth and heaven adore-
For thus it was, is now,
And shall be evermore.

At our Thanksgiving tables we typically thank God for family, home, health, friends and food. For Martin, all five of those were disappearing.

We have to ask, what exactly was he thankful for?

If you carefully read the lyrics, you will find that Martin was content with God himself – God’s love, peace, grace, guidance, and sovereignty, “the one eternal God, whom earth and heaven adore.” Life was excruciating, but God was enough. Certainly Martin prayed for outward circumstances to change, but his faith was anchored in the God who was present in the incredible human suffering that surrounded him. You could say that in the midst of disaster he was happy.

This Thanksgiving some will have a Hallmark experience, but many others will not. “Now Thank We All Our God” reminds us that nothing can take God from us. Not conflicted or broken families, not financial reversal, not a political and social world in turmoil, not illness, nothing. In our joy he smiles with us, and in our pain and grief he tenderly surrounds us with himself. He is an unshakeable resting place.

“The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Psalm 147:11).

It truly is thankful people who are happy, not the other way around. Thank God for his faithful servant, Martin Rinkart, who showed us how it’s done.

Listen to the hymn here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=321FkZJnP1c

HOW OLD ARE YOU?

Lately my five-year-old grandson has become fascinated with numbers in general, and with my age specifically.

“How old are you, grandma?” begins most of our conversations. He knows the answer; he just thinks it’s amusing to keep asking. He has made the solemn observation that I’m pretty much the oldest person he knows.

The questions are getting more complicated. “How many years until you’re a hundred?” Together, we figure it out. The practical implications of me reaching that level of ancientness dawned on him a couple weeks ago. “What happens if you get to a hundred?” In his mind this is a very remote possibility, but we better talk about it.

“Then it’ll be your job to throw me a big party,” I told him. “I want a parade with a marching band and dancing elephants.” He’ll be well into adulthood by then, with children of his own who will regard him as impossibly old. I hope I’m around to see that.

Whether I’m still here for the dancing elephants or not, I’ve always operated under the assumption that my life will go on for a good long time to come. I’d say we all think that about ourselves. But my church congregation has experienced several unexpected deaths in the last few months, and the assumption of living to a ripe and healthy old age has been revealed for what it is – an admirable goal with no guarantees. It’s not wrong to aim for a long and healthy life, hopefully with body and intellect both functioning well. Life is a gift, and we’re expected to take care of it. But we are reminded that healthy people die, young people die, and that life and death are unpredictable.

We are shaken and grief stricken. Our God understands this and grieves with us. One of the most poignant moments in the life of Jesus is when he stands at the tomb of Lazarus and weeps. He experiences and sympathizes with the pain of losing a dearly loved family member and friend. Sin has unleashed the unnaturalness of death, and it’s heartbreaking.

Maybe “How old are you?” is the wrong question. A better question is “How Christlike are you?” Or “How full of faith are you?” Or “How committed to advancing God’s kingdom are you?” The number signifying your age doesn’t matter, only what you do with the days and weeks and years that are given to you by the sovereign God who holds life and death in his hands. The number is his business; the quality of joy and obedience is our business.

Dear grandson, your youth is a gift to me. I love your bright spirit, your endless (exhausting) curiosity, the way you skip along ahead of me when we walk at the lake. You’re in love with the world, filled with joy.

Guess what? I want to be like you, here and now, and for the rest of my life. However long that turns out to be.

Oh God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
Psalm 63:1-5

A GOOD FATHER

I grew up in a little Baptist church in North Dakota, where we faithfully had Communion, or the Lord’s Supper as we called it, once a month. Just like now. It must be a Baptist thing.

On communion Sundays, when the service was over and the grownups were standing around talking, we kids who were too young to participate in Communion would descend on the table holding the leftover elements. We helped ourselves to the soft, pillowy cubes of white bread, and tiny glasses of grape juice. It was lunch time and we were hungry.

Our parents treated this behavior with a mixture of slight discomfort and benevolent shrugging. On one hand, it seemed a bit scandalous. On the other hand, what was going to happen to the leftovers anyway?

I was reminded of this while reading the story of Jesus’ disciples walking through the grain fields on the Sabbath. They were hungry, Matthew says, and began eating the heads of grain. The Pharisees were outraged at this unlawful behavior. True, you weren’t supposed to spend the Sabbath day harvesting. You were supposed to plan ahead. But neither were you required to go hungry.

Unruffled, Jesus asks them if they know the Old Testament story of David and his friends entering the house of God, on the run and hungry, and eating the consecrated bread. Of course they did; they were Pharisees after all. They knew the Torah inside out. Mark tells us that Jesus defends the disciples by saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

In other words, resting on the Sabbath was for the benefit of God’s people, not the other way around. Far from being a burden, resting one day out of seven was a great mercy for people who had previously been slaves in Egypt, making bricks seven days a week. The motivation behind the Sabbath was to have a day off to worship and rest, not to be fearful that meeting a legitimate need like hunger would incur God’s wrath.

This tells me that God is a very good father. He sees our needs and takes care of us. Maybe you trip over the image of God as a father because you didn’t have a good human father. The thought of God delighting in you and defending you may not be on your radar. I’m so glad the gospel writers included this incident in their portraits of Jesus. It’s important to know that the God who created us is paying attention to our needs, just as a loving human parent wants to make sure his child has a water bottle to get her through the baseball game, or a doctor and medicine when he’s sick. God is delighted to care for his children.

These lyrics from “Big House” by Audio Adrenaline express this idea perfectly:

Come and go with me
to my Father’s house.
Come and go with me
to my Father’s house.
It’s a big big house
With lots and lots of rooms.
A big big table
With lots and lots of food.
A big big yard
Where we can play football.
A big big house
Is my Father’s house.


I love this, and I don’t even play football. Here is God, feeding his kids, letting them run around in the yard, and watching the whole thing with great love and affection. I think that when my friends and I ate the bread and drank the juice after church, God was smiling at us.

Because he’s a really good father and he delights in his kids.