With Thanksgiving To God
November 23rd, 1986 @ 8:15 AM
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
WITH THANKSGIVING TO GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
11-23-86 8:15 a.m.
And we welcome the great throngs of you who are listening to this service on radio. You are a part of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor delivering the message entitled With Thanksgiving to God. It is a different kind of a sermon; it is a personal testimony. And as a background text I read 2 Corinthians chapter 12, beginning at verse 7; 2 Corinthians chapter 12, verse 7:
There was given to me a thorn in the flesh . . .
For this thing I besought the Lord, that it might depart from me.
But He said, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
[2 Corinthians 12:7-10]
And to add to it one small verse in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
When we gather for a thanksgiving service, all of us think in terms of those marvelous, infinitely gracious good blessings of God. Out of the life that God has given to me I take pages, leaves, and things that I bitterly resented when I was growing up, now I bring before God in deepest thanksgiving and gratitude. When I lived through them I thought God was harsh and unfeeling; but now as the days have passed and the years have multiplied, I’ve come to thank God for them.
First: I grew up poor. My family was the poorest of the poor: lived on a farm in the dust bowl, lived in a tiny town. We had nothing. And as a youth growing up, I’d see other people that seemed so affluent. They had a car; we never had a car, never had anything. And I used to think, “This is such a harsh assignment, and God must be unfeeling and unmoved.” Now that the years have passed, I praise God and I thank God that I grew up poor. I notice that we have lights in our house; all the days of my upbringing I studied by a coal oil lamp. I notice we have running water in our house; we drank water from a windmill. We have a bathroom in our house; I bathed in a galvanized tub all the days of my upbringing. I notice I have a car. I notice I have some money; I so well and poignantly remember counting seven buffalo nickels—as a boy I thought, “I must be rich,” I had seven buffalo nickels! If children today notice any of those things, I’m not aware of it. If they even think about turning on a light, or turning on a faucet, or going to the bathroom, or riding in a car, if they even think about those things, I’d be surprised; I’m conscious of every one of them.
And growing up out in the country and in a tiny town, I am sensitive to the whole wonder-world around me. I see it and I marvel at the great God who made it. How many are sensitive at all to the great, marvelous masterpieces of God’s artistry exhibited every day of our lives? I was in a city in the West; the plane was late, a storm went through. And after the storm, there was the most beautiful rainbow, vivid, I had ever seen. And it was double; there was a double rainbow from horizon to horizon, that beautiful spectacle of God. I looked at the throng at the airport. I never saw one somebody look at that rainbow, not one. Maybe I was double sensitive to it because of that plane that fell in the Amazon jungle; and when we were rescued there was a rainbow that preceded us all the way back to Yarinacocha. Anyway, I stood there and wondered at the artistry of God that could paint such a beautiful arch in the sky. I thank God I grew up sensitive to these simple things of the Lord’s own hand.
Suppose that people had to pay
To see a sunset’s crimson play,
And the magic stars of the Milky Way.
Suppose God charged us for flowers and rain,
Put a purchase price on a bird’s glad strain
Of music, the dawn, mist on the plain.
How much would an autumn landscape cost,
Or a window etched with winter’s frost,
And the rainbow’s glory, so quickly lost?
How much, I wonder, would it be worth
To smell the good, brown, fragrant earth
In spring? The miracle of birth—
Suppose we paid for a glimpse of the hills,
Where the song of rippling mountain rills
And the mating song of the whippoorwills
For curving green breakers on the sea,
For grace and beauty and majesty?
And all these things God gives us free!
Ah what a poor return for these!
We yield at night on bended knees,
Forgetting thanksgiving, mumbling, “Please”’
Ignoring the moonlight across the floor,
The voice of a friend at the open door;
We just beg the Master for more and more.
[“Sunsets for Sale,” Carmen Judson]
I thank God I grew up poor.
Number two: I thank God I grew up in a Baptist church. Growing up in a small crackerbox of a church house, those years have burning memories to me of a different kind and of a different sort. I remember as a boy seated there in the congregation, and the preacher, the pastor seated here in the pulpit, the people out there bitterly accused him of everything under the sun and fired him on the spot. I never felt so sorry for a man in my life as I did that humble pastor, even though I was a boy.
In our little church we had one affluent man—we had one little bank in that village—and they turned him out of the church for dancing. That was one of the most violent confrontations in the church you could ever think for. And the vote to turn him out exceeded and succeeded.
When we had the Lord’s Supper, the preacher would say, “All of you that are worthy and in good standing, why, you stand up; and all the rest of you, you remain seated.” And they served the elements to those who stood up. Sometimes the preacher would say, “All of you who are worthy and in good standing, you move here to this side of the church; and the rest of you, you move to this side of the church.” And they served these who said they were worthy and in good standing. As a boy I used to look at those who remained seated or who were on the other side of the church, and it seemed to me these were better than those that were standing and taking the Lord’s Supper.
They paid the preacher a penance; and didn’t even pay the small salary that they were promised. I can understand why my mother, for the years that I persisted as a boy in wanting to be a preacher, inveighed against it. Her father was a physician. She had it in her mind she was going to educate me to be a doctor. Oh, she was disappointed that I persisted in wanting to be a preacher! I can understand that.
But now that the years have passed, and I have learned the priceless gift from God’s hand of a democracy—in the church we stand before a people who can speak and who can choose and who can discuss. Our property does not belong to a hierarchy; it belongs to us. And our church is governed not by a prelate; it’s by us. And we belong to a freedom, God-given and God-bestowed. And for that the martyrs laid down their lives. I asked one time to be taken to the place in Zurich where Felix Manz was drowned the fifth day of January in 1527. I asked to be taken to the place in Vienna where Balthazar Hubmaier was burned at the stake on the tenth day of March in 1528. Then I asked to be taken to the Danube River, where his faithful wife was drowned in the water.
I read of our Baptist forefather, Thomas Helwys, who, in 1611, said, “The king is a mortal man, and not God. Therefore hath no power over ye immortal souls of his subjects, to make laws and ordinances for them, and to set spiritual lords over them.” And James I replied, “They will conform, or I will harry them out of the land.” And Thomas Helwys rotted and died in a prison. And I think of Roger Williams, 1631, coming to America, banished out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and founding in Rhode Island the first state in human history with a free church. What was to me as a boy so opprobrious, I thank God for today the freedom in our Baptist church and in our nation.
O God! beneath whose folded hand
So long hidden away
The secret of this wondrous land
We glory in today.
We thank Thee that in faith profound,
Our sires, their sails unfurled,
And claimed as henceforth hallowed ground
This unsuspected world.
That here they suffered, toiled and bled,
For leave to keep Thy laws;
That here pure martyr’s blood was shed
For freedom’s holiest cause.
Our faith hath made us what we are,
Beneath these skies so broad,
From Southern cross to Northern star,
Our people worship God!
[“Our Nation’s Faith,” Margaret J. Preston]
I thank Thee, Lord, that I pastored little country churches and then county seat churches for years and years.
I was a country pastor for ten years. I was single practically all that time, and I lived with the people. And then began in a county seat town. I hate to confess this, I am ashamed of it; I’ve been ashamed of it ten thousand times as I confess the weakness before God. But in those days of my beginning years, and then having finished my education, I saw my roommates and I saw my seminary mates, I saw them called to famed pastorates, and to executive positions in the denomination. And I felt that God had forgotten me, He had overlooked me, He had passed me by. I was left in these humble pastorates. And these men with whom I had gone to school were pastors of great, famous city churches, and executive leaderships in the convention. Never did I struggle with anything in my life as I did in my heart feeling that God had passed me by, had forgotten me, had left me behind. I am so ashamed of that today. I cannot think that I could have ever fallen into such a weakness as that. Anywhere is a good where to preach the gospel; and any little church is a throne in which the preacher can stand to proclaim the message of Jesus.
Anyway, as I look back over those years and years that I spent as a country preacher, and then as a county seat town pastor, I thank God for every day of it. For one thing, I lived with the people. It was in the Depression. I have wept with them as they lost their farms, lost their homes, lost everything they had, put out in the lane of the country or in the street of the town. I grew up with them, loved them. I only have one regret, being pastor of a large church in a great city: I won’t be able to be in the homes of all of my people. I wish I could. I have as much of that country preacher in me today as I did then. I would love to be in the home of every church member in this congregation, whether they wanted me or not, wouldn’t make any difference to me. I’ve been to those homes world without end, just come. And when time to eat, I’d just sit down with them when they didn’t throw me out—they feel bad to throw me out—I just loved being with them.
And another thing, I learned all of the work of the church, all of it. In one of my little churches, I remember there was not a man that would lead in public prayer, not one. There’s no part of the life of the church that for years I did not work in, direct, share in; and it was good for me.
A twig where clung two soft cocoons,
I broke from a wayside spray;
And carried it home to a covered place
Where, long through the days it lay.
One morn’ I chanced to lift the lid,
And lo, as light as air,
A butterfly rose on downy wings
And settled above my chair.
A dainty, beautiful thing it was,
Orange and silvery gray,
And I marveled how from the withered bow
Such a fairy stole away.
Had the other flown? I turned to see
And found it striving still
To free itself from the swathing floss
And rove the air at will.
“Poor little prisoned waif,” I said,
“You shall not struggle more.”
And I tenderly cut the binding threads
And watched to see it soar.
Alas, a feeble chrysalis,
It dropped from its silken bed.
My help had been the direst harm,
The little butterfly was dead.
I should have left it there to gain
The strength that struggle brings,
‘Tis stress and strain with moth or man
That free the folded wings.
[“Gaining Wings,” Edna Dean Proctor]
I praise God now for the years and the years that I struggled as a country and county seat pastor. I thank God for it now.
I thank God for all of the things that have taught me to bow my head in His presence.
Great God of understanding love, I have joined in these days past with the throngs in giving thanks for all the wonderful things of life; and I found it easy to count such blessings. But today, this hour, I come humbly, thanking Thee for that part of life that hurt. I have not been willing to stand there on the hill beside the Crucified. I have cringed from accepting the gifts from His nail-pierced hand.
But now, dear Lord, I come to thank Thee for these gifts: one, the feel of want and the hour of need that have quickened within me sympathy for others; my own miserable failures that have taught me tolerance for those who fail; disappointments and discouragements that saved me from thoughts of easy success; humiliation and rebuff that keep me from false pride.
I have come to be grateful for criticism, and even for misunderstanding that makes me more careful not to judge others. I thank Thee for pain and for suffering, because they have put patience in my own heart. I thank Thee for my mistakes that prod me to be more perfect; for hard tasks that have taught me endurance; for tears that have made me more understanding; and even for the sense of sin within my own heart that keeps me from the pride of boasting.
It is thus that I pray, dear Father, that my gratitude be not become an easy and thoughtless thing. Make me ever more willing to stand beside Jesus, my crucified Lord. For these gifts I am grateful, O God.
I asked for strength, that I might achieve,
He made me weak, that I might obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things,
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy,
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men,
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life,
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I received nothing that I asked for—
I was given everything that I hoped for.
My prayer is answered . . . I am supremely blessed.
[adapted from “Answered Prayer,” Edgar A. Guest]
“In all things give thanks: for this is the will of God for you” [1 Thessalonians 5:18]. So when hardship comes, and defeat and discouragement and despair, just remember God has some better thing prepared for you [1 Corinthians 2:9].
Now, Brother Denny, let’s sing us a song. And while we sing the hymn, to give your heart to the blessed Jesus, or to come into the fellowship of our dear church, or to answer a call of the Spirit in your heart, in this quiet moment, make that decision now. And when we stand to sing, on the first note of the first stanza, welcome, come. In the balcony round, down one of these stairways; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “This is God’s day for me, pastor, and here I stand.” Welcome, while we stand and while we sing.