"I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving. ... " These words sound as though they might be from Psalms, but they are not. They are the words of Jonah, (Jonah 2:9), uttered from the belly of the whale.
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God had told Jonah to go to Nineveh to tell the people about God. But Jonah ignored this command and boarded a ship going in the opposite direction.
A great storm arose and the sailors were afraid for their lives. Jonah told them to cast him into the sea and the sea would calm down, "for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you." (Jonah 1:12).
They did, and Jonah was swallowed by a great fish. He was in the fish's belly for three days and nights. It was there that Jonah raised his voice in thanksgiving to God. The fish spewed Jonah out on dry ground. He was saved; and when the Lord again told Jonah to go to Nineveh, he obeyed.
Whether you believe this story to be fact or fiction, the lesson for us is instructive. Even when Jonah was in dire circumstances he praised God and offered thanksgiving. He thanked God before he was saved.
So we, in the depths of our own problems, can be grateful for God's goodness, and be assured that God will show us a way out of the troubles that surround us. In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy writes, "Are we really grateful for the good already received? Then we shall avail ourselves of the blessings we have, and thus be fitted to receive more."
Christ Jesus also thanked God before he raised Lazarus. Jesus was very close to Lazarus and his sisters, and they were sad that he had not been there to heal Lazarus when he was sick. When Jesus finally arrived at their home, Lazarus had been dead four days. The sisters were grateful Jesus had come, but they had no expectation that they would see their brother alive again.
After Jesus had asked that the stone be removed from the tomb, he said, "Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: But because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me." (John 11:41,42). Lazarus walked out of the tomb, alive.
We usually think of Thanksgiving as a time of being grateful for all the blessings that we have received, and that is important. But another way to consider Thanksgiving is to be grateful for the good that is to come. God is good, He loves us, and will provide all good for us, His children, as we listen for and follow His direction.
I see these two approaches to Thanksgiving as being inseparable. I have found that as I acknowledge God's great blessings, I become very confident that the evidence of His love for me will continue, and that I will receive even more blessings.
In a previous Living and Growing column (2004), I wrote about a quick healing of seasickness I had after I took the time to be grateful for all the previous proofs I had had of God's loving care for me.
Since then, I have had several other physical healings by relying on God's all-power and ever presence. I am extremely grateful for these experiences and they form, for me, a sure foundation on which I can rely when once again I am confronted with a need for healing.
At that time, I will with assurance say, "Thank you Father, for caring for me, loving me, and showing me your goodness in the healings I have already experienced. I know that I can trust Your enduring love for me to establish harmony in my life, healing my body, resolving conflicts, satisfying my needs, and filling me with joy.
St. Paul understood the importance of giving thanks before receiving the blessing when he wrote to the Philippians: "in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God."
And I love the promise that follows, "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6,7).
Beverly Smith is a member of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Juneau.