By Contributing Writer, Jeannette Paulson
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Eph.5:20.
This past summer I saw The Hiding Place, a play based on the book by Corrie ten Boom. It took place in an old barn that smelled of the sweet hay stored in the lower floor. In the story, Corrie and her sister Betsie live with their father above his watch repair shop in Holland. It is WW II. They have been hiding Jews from the Nazis, but now a Dutchman had betrayed them. They are all arrested. Their father dies 10 days later, and Corrie and Betsie are transported to Germany.
I was especially touched by the scene where Corrie and Betsie arrive at their barracks in the concentration camp and find the beds are full of fleas.
Listen in as Betsie challenges Corrie with this verse from Ephesians 5:
Corrie wails, “Betsie, how can we live in such a place?”
“Corrie!” she said excitedly. “He’s given us the answer!….In the Bible this morning…That’s it Corrie! Give thanks in all circumstances! That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!”
I stared at her, then around me at the dark, foul-aired room. ”Such as?” I said.
“Such as being assigned here together.”
I bit my lip. “Oh yes, Lord Jesus!”
“Such as what you are holding in your hands.”
I looked down at the Bible. “Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all the women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.”
“Yes,” said Betsie. “Thank you for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!” She looked at me expectantly. “Corrie!“ she prodded.
“Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocation crowds.”
“ Thank You,” Betsie went on serenely, “for the fleas and for—”
The fleas! This was too much. “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
“’Give thanks in all circumstances,’” she quoted. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.”
And so we stood between piers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.
When God commands us to give thanks in all things, what is he calling us to?
God is calling us to self-examination.
How are you doing? Is there something in your life that you are not been able to give thanks for? Maybe something you long dreamed about did not happen the way you had hoped.. Maybe someone close is a pain in the neck. Maybe someone who should have protected you left you vulnerable, and you were hurt. Maybe someone or something very precious was taken from you. And for that one thing you cannot give thanks.
Sin, like grapes, comes in clusters. Self-pity, fear, self-centeredness, impatience, a sense of entitlement, judging God’s heart by his hand, and unbelief about God’s deep love and wisdom, are all grapes on the cluster with unthankfulness.
God is calling us to repentance.
When God gives you a glimpse of your heart, it can be overwhelming. It brings you to the end of yourself. You may be tempted to despair. But don’t! Really seeing ourselves is like finding out we have cancer. If we don’t find out about it, we will surely die of it. If we discover it, there is hope for a cure. And in the case of our sin, there is a sure cure. The forgiveness God in Jesus Christ.
As I watched the play, God began to expose ungratefulness in my life and gave me, by the Holy Spirit, a deep desire to be free of it. And so I began to repent.
“Lord, forgive my self-pity, my sense of entitlement, my ungratefulness, my judging your heart by your hand, my unbelief about your wisdom.” General repentance is not very helpful. It is best to name the specific sins in our lives.
Since God tells us not only to put off sin but to put on righteousness, I purposed by the Holy Spirit to find ten fruits in my life from this trial, and to thank God for them. I titled the List: “When God said NO, ten things for which to deeply give thanks.”
Here are five:
1) I am being pressed to pray more deeply and persistently
2) I am learning to loose-hold this earth and to hunger for heaven
3) I am being forced to let go of my perfectionism
4) My jealous, shallow, proud, self-righteous heart is being exposed.
5) I am coming to rest with a quiet trust in a wisdom that is greater than mine.
God is calling us to dependence.
Here I cannot help but think of two Old Testament characters whose lives took surprising turns. Favored Joseph had dreams when he was young, but I do not think he ever foresaw going to Egypt as a slave and doing jail time there.
Daniel, who had grown up in the shadow of the temple, where God dwelt, probably never expected to be living in pagan Babylon. Both were called to serve in, shall we say, less than ideal circumstances. And both served wholeheartedly.
None of us serve in ideal circumstances. John Calvin says that if circumstances were always just as we wanted them, we would be arrogant and independent. We would be strutting around like roosters with no thought of God.
Strutting to hell.
So what does dependence look like? It looks like, amidst the pain and tears, resolving, with the writer of Psalm 131:
Lord, I have given up all pride
and turned from arrogance
I’ll not pry into things too great
or truths beyond my reach
Yes, I’m at rest and peace.
Just as a child weaned from the breast
lies in its mother’s arms,
my heart within me is at rest.
Trust GOD, O Israel,
now and for evermore.
Howard Guiness was a very effective evangelist when he began to lose his voice. He took some time off, but his condition worsened. Because of his difficulties, his wife became very ill. Then he says: “I was puzzled but not cast down, because I HAD LONG SINCE LEARNED TO TRUST WHERE I COULD NOT UNDERSTAND.”
God is calling us to hope.
Expect good to come out of ill. God does this all the time for his children. That is the God we serve.
- How could Joseph have known, while in prison, that he would be the means of saving his family and the world?
- While Daniel was in Babylon, with wicked men plotting his death, God was purifying his people of idolatry.
- I know a lovely family who have a severely handicapped daughter. Today they have an international ministry to handicapped people. How could they have known, as they agonized through surgery after surgery, wondering how long their daughter would live, that God would entrust them with this ministry that affirms the infinite value of every human life in this barbaric culture?
- Corrie, tormented by fleas in the German barracks, discovered later that the fleas were the reason no guards came to their barracks and why they were free to worship, sing, pray and minister as they wished. Their barracks became a chapel and many heard the gospel.
History is HIS STORY. God’s glorious purposes are unfolding through the ages. We get to play in a few scenes of the drama. Will we believe and give thanks or will we refuse to believe, refuse to give thanks, and thus grieve the Holy Spirit? Israel missed the promised rest by murmuring.
May God help us to give thanks for the fleas for the sake of the promised rest.