Giving Thanks


The magic word

Giving thanks is a bulwark against spiritual drift | Andrée Seu


As children we were told it was important to say thank you, but that's not the half of it. It was "the magic word," our betters said, and they spoke better than they knew. "Magic" is the decadent explanation for divine mysteries that the world trips over daily without recognition. The way "thank you" secured lollipops in our nascence is but the faint whisper of the power of thanksgiving.

My mother became a child of God recently, in her 80th year. The circumstances were that the good health she had always enjoyed but never said thank you for was taken away for a season. That was enough to bring her, broken, to Christ, which makes illness a positive thing and not a negative thing. When her strength began to return intermittently—one good day and five bad days—she and I had talks about the importance of thank you. We decided we would always be careful to thank God for the good days. We noticed it felt good to do this.

Now my mother has experienced a string of weeks of wellness, and this is where the danger comes in. We must redouble our resolve to say thank you regularly, lest we drift away. Drift, and neglect of thanksgiving, account for the loss of civilizations (Romans 1:21) and the shipwreck of churches (Hebrews 2-6). We often blame these cataclysmic developments on capitalized "ism" words, like "Liberalism," "Materialism," and "Humanism," but they could not dent the Church if we daily secured the bulwarks with the magic words "Thank you, Lord."

The white, steepled Georgian churches of old New England would not have "Unitarian—formerly Congregationalist" on their lawn signs today if the people inside them had retained, over generations, the simple practice of daily "thank you." There was slippage. Nor would Harvard have clipped its motto from Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae to Veritas. The omission of "thank you" is the house swept clean that the unclean spirits entered and brought seven others along with them (Luke 11:24-26).

The frequent God-ward utterance of "thank you" is the maintenance mode of larger spiritual warfare. The voicing of praise, even by those of least account in the world, sends demonic enemies fleeing (Psalm 8:2). I was asked once at a retreat how to keep the pursuit of a conscious, moment-by-moment faith (as opposed to the voter registration card variety) from becoming morbid introspection. Upon reflection I replied that what helps me is the practice of thanks. If you are thanking God throughout the day, you are walking in the pathways of grace; you need not worry overmuch about your Freudian motives. The presence of God directly relates to your worship, and the aroma of thanks ascending releases His resources into your life.

The same discovery was made in a concentration camp called Ravensbruck in World War II. Corrie and Betsie ten Boon had just learned that their new barracks was infested with fleas:

"'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 realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie."

Corrie remembered the Bible passage they had read that morning. They looked both ways, then read: "Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus."

"'That's it, Corrie! That's His answer. "Give thanks in all circumstances!". . . . We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks.'" They commenced praise for their being assigned to the same barracks; for the Bible they got away with keeping; for the other women who would meet Jesus through that Bible.

"'Thank You,' Betsie went on serenely, 'for the fleas'" (The Hiding Place).

Here Corrie raised an objection. But some time later, the residents of Barracks 28 noted a puzzling phenomenon, that the guards who were so zealous in surveillance of the Lagerstrasse and the center room exerted almost no supervision of their particular dormitory. When a dispute over socks did not prompt official intervention, they learned that the supervisor refused to set foot in the place. She was heard to say: "That place is crawling with fleas!"