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Monday, 19 September 2016

Can you say it?!

Thank you; Merci; Vielen danks; Dank je wel; Obrigado; Gracias; Grazie.

Well, I don't quite qualify for the title of "Polyglot of the Year" - but I can express my gratitude in, now, seven languages.  It's a useful expression to know, wherever in the world one might be ('Please' is also helpful!).  I recall, a long time ago, hearing someone talk about developing "an attitude of gratitude".

The late Rev George B.Duncan would sometimes share an experience from his early days in pastoral ministry.  He had taken a group of boys to the beautiful Isle of Arran on the west coast of Scotland.  One evening on Goat Fell, he would recount, they were all seated around the camp-fire.  He suggested that, as the evening drew to a close, each one say, quite simply, "Thank you,Lord".  He always commented that it was one of his most moving experiences as, one by one, those young teenagers uttered the words.

A couple of years after my "retirement", I received a Facebook message from a former pupil who, I have to confess, I was perfectly happy to have forgotten!  He had been one of the most difficult pupils with whom I had ever had to deal.  However, I was impressed by what he had achieved in the ten years since I had last dealt with him.  We 'chatted' for a while and then he typed: "Any way, I'd better tell you the reason for me getting in touch".  He went on to explain that he knew that he had been an extremely difficult pupil (his actual wording was somewhat more colourful!) - and that he wanted to apologise!  I assured him that such an apology was totally unnecessary - but so very much appreciated!  

As a disciple of Jesus, I have particular reasons to be thankful.  I am thankful for my salvation - gained, for me, at the cost of the blood of Jesus.  I am grateful for the measure of health and strength that I continue to enjoy.  I am grateful for a loving wife and family.  I am grateful for every opportunity I am given to share the Word of God.  And I am grateful that, as the psalmist put it, "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;" (Ps 16:6).  

My contact with what we refer to as "the persecuted church" merely heightens that gratitude.  I think of Asia Bibi, a young woman in Pakistan who has been in prison since 2009 for no other reason than having offered a cup of water to Muslim women in the field in which they all worked.  I think of Gao Zhisheng, a pastor in China who has suffered great privation and torture and who, although now released from prison, is still unable to leave China to be reunited with his wife and children in the USoA.  I think of Farshid Fathi, an Iranian pastor who has also, finally, been released from prison but who, to the best of my current knowledge, is unable to go to Canada to be reunited with his wife and children. 

Such stories could be multiplied a thousand times over - and another thousand times after that!  I haven't even mentioned those who, every passing day, are murdered because of their faithful allegiance to the Lord Jesus.  Yes, I can be so grateful that "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;"

And what about you?!  Oh, your situation may be difficult; you may have problems that I do not understand; you may sometimes even feel as if you are alone in the world!  Permit me to add one further account.
In the book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom tells of an experience in the WWII Prisoner of War (Extermination) camp at Ravensbruck, where Corrie managed to conceal a Bible and some vitamin drops for her sister, Betsie.  After having spent more than a week in the quarantine compound, she and Betsie were among those moved to permanent quarters, in Barracks 28.  They were directed to their “bunks” – straw-covered platforms.  Corrie records: “Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above.  Something had pinched my leg.

‘Fleas!’ I cried.  ‘Betsie, the place is swarming with them!’

We scrambled across the intervening platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle, and edged our way to a patch of light.

‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed.  ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place?!’

‘Show us.  Show us how.’  It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realise she was praying.  More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.

‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly.  ‘He’s given us the answer!  Before we asked, as He always does!  In the Bible this morning. Where was it?  Read that part again!’

I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch.” (Hodder and Stoughton & CLC, 1971, pps.184-185). 

The passage to which Betsie referred was I Thessalonians 5:14ff.  Betsie was particularly interested in v.18 “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 

“‘That’s it, Corrie!  That’s His answer. ‘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!’”

And so Betsie started – thanking God that she and Corrie were still together; that there had not been an inspection on their arrival, and that they still had their Bible; for the many women who would be sharing the barracks with them who would have the opportunity to hear about the Lord Jesus.  Then she continued:

“‘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 tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas.  But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.” (op cit, p.185).

Later, the two sisters found themselves able to conduct worship services for the women in the barracks.  What surprised them was that no guard ever came near them.  Everywhere else, they were always present – but not in Barracks 28!  The guards didn’t want fleas!!

Why don't you give thanks, right now.  It doesn't matter which language you use - Father God understands them all!  If you haven't done so already, why don't you develop that "attitude of gratitude"?  It's not a 'magic pill' - but I truly believe that you will be better for it!

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