Give God thanks in all circumstances, even COVID-19
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/08/give-god-thanks-in-all-circumstances-even-covid-19/
By the Rev. Canon Dr. John Senyonyi
Vice Chancellor, Uganda Christian University
The global COVID-19 pandemic is both unprecedented and baffling. It has locked up countries with the best healthcare systems, and plagued palaces and Presidential houses, just as it has pervaded slums. Churches and schools have been barred from physical gatherings, as well as places of amusement.
As Christians we have not been spared. We bend our knees in prayer pleading for God’s intervention during this crisis. For what can a believer do than cry for God’s deliverance?
In the early 1980’s, the political and security situation in Uganda similarly defied all hope. In desperation people half-jestingly would say, “God lost Uganda’s file,” to mean God had forgotten about Uganda. Had He?
A comparable pestilence struck Eilenburg, Germany, in the 1630s. It is said thousands died. People, including clergy, either fled Eilenburg or died. One pastor, Martin Rinkart, stayed and alone performed more than 4,000 funerals. His wife, too, perished. A famine followed the plague. Yet Rinkart shared his food with all he could. In the midst of this tragedy, Rinkart wrote a hymn of gratitude we know well, Now Thank We All Our God. He thanked God.
In modern Christian parlance, health and wealth have become a human right before God. Acquisition has become a “spiritual virtue,” alongside discontent. We tell God how He should run His world! We give thanks only when we get what we want. We even attribute our welfare entirely to our self-care.
But the Bible is relentless in urging us to thank God. Paul urges, “Give thanks in all circumstances …” All circumstances is not in some circumstances. During COVID-19, and even with bereavement thereby, or with other misfortunes.
Gratitude is important because it is as contagious as ingratitude. Children who grow up in thankful homes develop a brighter spirit toward life. The converse is equally true. The pilgrim children of Israel coming from Egypt demonstrate the infectiousness of grumbling.
The Bible does not command us to thank God for the crisis or misfortune, but in the midst of the situation. It commands and commends giving thanks because of who God is in His nature, and especially to us.
We may not know the circumstances that inspired King David to pen more than 70 psalms, including Psalm 103 (Bless the Lord, O my soul), though we are all too familiar with David’s personal troubles. They were not unlike our own. David endured many personal trials.
He encourages us not to forget all God’s benefits. For when hardships come, present circumstances press so hard that as a reflex, our emotions dominate our response. In adversity, we do not remember the past goodness of God easily.
Now, without a memory it is impossible to give thanks to God. For that reason, David says, “forget not all His benefits.” This is a fundamental statement. There is wit and truth in the statement, “the principal function of the brain is to forget.” If you will not remember, you will not thank God. Gratitude first reflects on what the LORD has done, and that is in the past.
David is teaching us a central truth that our circumstances should not dictate our relationship with God or how we walk with Him. Gratitude comes when we reflect on God’s goodness in our life – not the future, but the past. So, we can be thankful amidst the COVID-19, if we know where we have come from.
Moreover, David gives valid reasons for gratitude that are applicable to all. God forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, satisfies, and each verb is present continuous imputing God’s unending care and blessings. God’s unmerited Grace forgives our sins and heals our diseases and redeems our life from the pit.
That the Coronavirus has no medicine should be telling that God alone has spared His people. In Uganda, with our grossly imperfect health systems, people have not died in hordes as predicted. According to data, only five have died so far. Some friends were down with the Coronavirus and appeared near to death. Yet God’s mercy spared them. Bless the LORD, O my soul.
As David calls upon all people to thank God, he explains the means whereby we should thank Him. Thanksgiving is vain unless it flows from within – that is, from one’s soul. Thanksgiving is not the words we speak or the gifts we bring before God. Unless the heart is thankful, all external expressions are empty public rhetoric and display.
Equally, a thankful heart cannot be suppressed; it must burst out into expressed gratitude. The Psalmists repeatedly talk of thanking God among the people. Their thanksgiving flows from within to without, into Praise and Offerings to God and care for others.
A story is told that a man once stole the famous Bible commentator, Matthew Henry’s wallet. That can be traumatizing. When he reflected on the incident, Henry (1662-1714) had four reasons to thank God.
He was first of all thankful that the man had never robbed him before. Then he was thankful that although the man had taken his wallet and he certainly could have caused more harm, he did not take his life also. Furthermore, although the man had taken all Henry had, there wasn’t much in that wallet. And finally, Henry thanked God that he had been robbed, rather than he, Henry, doing the robbing.
Crises often have a silver lining. In the education sector, COVID-19 has been an eye opener. As human physical interaction receded, the virtual world that appeared distant and optional became urgent and necessary. It also has become more real in connecting the world, as the less fortunate yearn to be included in the new world.
We certainly do not know all the dangers God rescues us from, but we know that the Man who was bruised at Calvary is in control. He will not let you go – not even during the COVID-29 pandemic!
Therefore, we can confidently say with David, “Bless the LORD, O, my soul.” Amen.
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