I read the story of a man who was accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and because he didn’t have fancy lawyers, he went to prison.
He spent 19 years there, and although he didn’t do what they say he did, he decided to make the most of it. He learned to speak Spanish and play seven instruments and earned a college degree.
He came up for parole four times, and even though he learned to do these civilized things and behaved well, they weren’t good enough reasons for the parole board to let him go. They didn’t care that he could speak Spanish.
But then someone went digging around the case file and evidence box and convinced a judge to look at them. After the judge did, he realized the man had been telling the truth. After nineteen years, he was free to go.
So he walked out of prison. And even though his kids were all grown up, and he and his wife had missed 19 years of living together, and he had every reason to be nasty and throw a fit, he didn’t. When the newspaper reporter asked what he thought, he said this: “I’m thankful to be home. God is still good.”
How would you act in this situation?
In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, the Apostle Paul said to give thanks in all circumstances. Now, Paul didn’t say to give thanks for all circumstances. Sometimes things happen that are downright nasty. In his lifetime, Paul was imprisoned, shipwrecked, beaten, hungry, run out of town, and abandoned by his friends. But nonetheless, he said to give thanks in all circumstances.
Thanksgiving prayer is simply offering thanks to God.
Paul is thought to have written 13 books in the New Testament, and of those 13, 10 of them include thanksgiving prayer. Yes, 10 out of 13. That’s a lot of thanksgiving!
Perhaps Paul did this because thanksgiving is a choice.
For some of us, being thankful doesn’t come naturally. Sure, it’s easy to be thankful when the sun is shining and the birds are singing a jolly happy song. But life’s not always like that.
In the Bible, the book of Nehemiah describes the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem. When the wall was repaired, Nehemiah led a celebration. He assigned two choirs to give thanks. Yes, he assigned thanksgiving.
He placed one choir at the Gate of the Guard and the other at the Dung Gate. The Dung Gate was where waste was gathered and removed from the city. How would you like to be assigned to the Dung Gate? It wasn’t a pleasant place. And yet, Nehemiah assigned choirs to give thanks there. To him, offering thanks at the Dung Gate was important.
Perhaps if you give thanks in the mess and the stink, you’ll do it anywhere. Perhaps giving thanks releases your heart into joy. After all, thanksgiving isn’t a feeling; it’s a choice of the heart.