Last week, when I read this line in The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, I honestly didn’t believe my eyes. She and her sister, Betsie, were serving time in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany, and on one particularly tough day, they started making a list of what they were thankful for.
Among the list were being in the same dormitory, having access to a Bible, and a few other things that I might’ve added had I been in their shoes. When I read that Betsie was thanking God for the fleas that swarmed in the straw on which they slept, though, I thought, “That poor lady. The malnutrition finally got to her.”
Corrie couldn’t agree with her sister’s controversial addition to the list either, initially. But after a brief protest, she relented:
“And so we stood between piers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong” (210).
But was she? At Corrie’s scrutiny, Betsie quoted 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which says:
“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
The verse doesn’t say, “when you get what you want” or “when everything goes your way, give thanks”—it says to give thanks in every circumstance.
If you’ve read some of the Old Testament of the Bible (or my previous post “Receiving ‘Good Things’ in God’s Timing”), you’ll know that the Israelites, the group of people that God chose to represent His love and character to the world, were notorious for murmuring and complaining. In fact, even after getting what they wanted—freedom from oppression and slavery in Egypt—and seeing miracles performed right before their eyes, they had the audacity to tell God they’d rather be enslaved again. This is the antithesis of thankfulness.
When we reject God’s blessings—as the Israelites rejected their deliverance—I wonder if it’s because we’ve failed to glorify God for who He is. Romans 1:21 explains:
“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
Here we see a direct correlation between an unwillingness to glorify God and ingratitude. When we forget that God is infinitely wise, lovingly sovereign, and helpful to us in times of need (Hebrews 4:16), we question things, and sometimes let our imaginations run wild (or “become vain”), rather than give thanks.
We wonder why our circumstances aren’t ideal, if the inconveniences we face matter at all, and if our hard times could ever be used for a purpose. It’s probably human nature to wonder these things, but we can’t let our curiosity leave us there.
As Proverbs 3:5-6 instructs, we are to trust God instead of relying on our own understanding. That does not mean not to use common sense; that means to believe in the goodness of God even when we don’t understand the ways in which He’s working (Isaiah 55:9), just like Betsie thanking Him for fleas in that concentration camp (210). If we fail to heed this instruction, our continual questioning will lead to continual dissatisfaction. And that’s indicative of an ungrateful heart. Having a heart postured in this way will keep us from being satisfied with and thankful for the blessings of God.
One other verse that highlights the relationship between thankfulness/satisfaction and having the right perspective of God is Proverbs 19:23:
“The fear of the Lord [tends] to life: and he that [has] it shall abide satisfied; he shall not be visited with evil.”
A right fear, or reverence, of the character of God leads to satisfaction. This satisfaction is the fruit of grateful heart, and is expressed through thanksgiving: worship, prayer, gratitude lists/journals.
So, giving thanks isn’t just part of a holiday that Americans celebrate at the end of November. It’s more than cutting out construction paper in the shape of our hands and calling it a turkey. Giving thanks in all circumstances is actually the way we show the world we recognize God’s authority in our lives. It’s the way we show Him respect. And it’s the way we find true fulfillment.
You may not know why you’re in an uncomfortable circumstance this side of heaven. For Betsie and Corrie, though, the reason behind the fleas was made clear eventually. Days after making the list, a few prisoners needed a dispute settled in the flea-infested dormitory, the location in which Betsie and Corrie spent their time encouraging one another in the faith and reading their contraband Bible for themselves and hundreds of their dorm-mates. They had often wondered why there was such intense supervision at every location except for the dorm room. When the prisoners asked their supervisor to come inside to help them settle the dispute, she wouldn’t enter the room. The reason? “’That place is crawling with fleas!’” (220).
Today, if you feel like everything’s going wrong, if you struggle to find something to be thankful for, you could start by thanking God for providing a roof over your head and clean living conditions. As you look around with eyes of gratitude for material things, I challenge you to move to the spiritual too: glorify God as the King of your life, be thankful that He’s working everything for your good (Romans 8:28), and trust that His ways and thoughts are higher than yours (Isaiah 55:9). Claiming these truths takes faith (which is why I started this series with that!), but I promise it will be worth it.
*If you want any of the lock screens from this post, please let me know 🙂 I’d also love to hear three things you’re thankful for! I guess ten was too many to ask for in the last post 😉
ten Boom, Corrie. The Hiding Place. Chosen Books, 2006.