A true episode in a new autobiography by a Chinese Christian prisoner in China stirred me to hurry and get my yellow legal pad and devote today to GIVING THANKS. It was reminiscent of the stories of many precious, suffering Chinese Christians who my late husband Ted and I had the honor and privilege of meeting personally in China.
Confined as a political prisoner but for the more accurate reasons of preaching the gospel and training Christians to evangelize, the young author of this book was beaten, starved, and tortured mercilessly. Along with fellow prisoners, scantily clothed in bitter winter, he was forced to sit motionless, neck, back, and legs completely straight, an excruciatingly painful position, on the perpetually wet cement floor of his prison cell for ten hours daily. Absolute silence was enforced. The atheist, cruel, Communist guards especially forbade anyone to say the word “God” or attempt to evangelize fellow prisoners with what the government considered “superstitious and inflammatory religious propaganda.”
In spite of his horrendous circumstances, the young Chinese Christian felt so overwhelmed with thankfulness to God for his faith and the privilege of suffering for Jesus, that one day, he wrote, “I cleared my throat and began singing a song from my underground house church days. “Give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One, give thanks, because He's given Jesus Christ, His Son....”
Suddenly one after another of the prisoners dared to break form, risking beating or pain inflicted with an electrified baton by the sadistic guards, and joined in the singing filling the atmosphere by their defiance. No one ever dared speak as they were forced to sit silently like statues during those ten miserable daily hours; certainly no one ever sang! Whether they believed the words or not, hardened criminals, murderers, drug dealers though most of them were, they sang on with the young Christian. Then the cells on both sides of their cell began to echo with other inmates also singing to God. Most had never heard of God and possibly sang simply as an act of rebellion. Nevertheless, the prison that day was turned into one huge worship center.
After the guards swooped down and beat the prisoners into subjection, the following day our courageous young Christian prisoner simply hummed the tune to “Give Thanks.” He kept the letter of the regulation forbidding speech or religious propaganda. Once again the other men joined in with humming until the prison sounded like a gigantic beehive of praise. It must have been reminiscent of Acts 16:25, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”
Anyplace, anytime, for anything and anyone, under any circumstances, and for every reason, in season and out of season is the Scripture context for giving thanks. (Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thess. 5:18) Thanks includes praise to the Giver of all gifts, acknowledging God as our prime Source and the One to whom we direct our thanks. (James 1:17) We should give thanks without ceasing for that is the explicit will of God. We should “forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:2). The Psalter is a handbook saturated with thanks and praise. It is the way we can enter into God's presence. (Psalm 100:4)
Many of us at one time or another in life experience living in “prisons,” whether literal incarceration of some kind beyond our control or figurative. It may be circumstances that constrict us, jobs or situations in which we feel trapped, suffering in less than ideal marriages, living in bodies that are acutely or chronically ill, or in aging bodies with growing limitations. We may be immobile on hospital beds, in care centers with downsized living quarters and subject to a regimented life to which we are not accustomed, or perhaps in prisons of our minds. We can settle simply for complaining, coping, or surviving—or we can SING.
In any and all circumstances God expects us, invites us to give Him the sacrifice of thanksgiving. If we are suffering, it is nevertheless under His love and care and for a purpose. No matter how adverse we believe our situation is, or how unique we think is the suffering we are going through, to “give thanks with a grateful heart” is the key that frees our minds and spirits from our particular prison or place of incarceration, confinement, or captivity.
Especially in our advanced calendar years, in our summit season, in our vintage years we tend to focus on so many things which we can no longer do, to recite all our lacks, total up our losses, and bemoan our deficiencies. That is a downward, backward slide. The way up, the way out is with the hymn writer to “Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done!”
I'm going to slip out of my daily routine today and “take a day out of the office” with my yellow legal pad and start counting, itemizing, enumerating, to identify those multiplied blessings large and small (actually, there are no small ones!) which the Lord has showered upon me.
And I will thank Him for each one!
Of this I am sure—I will SING or HUM or UTTER IN MY SPIRIT if not with my lips audibly my “THANKS with a grateful heart!” Perhaps I will even whistle!