Thank you for the thorns

By Gerry Lewis | Published Wednesday, November 27, 2013

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I saw this quote on Facebook: “75 percent of Facebook quotes are made up.” – Abraham Lincoln

While I’m pretty sure he didn’t say that, I saw another Lincoln quote that seems to be legit based on what little research I did.

“We can complain because rosebushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”

I have used that quote to help people (and myself) gain perspective in the middle of a “whiny” time. It’s good to look for the blessings in the middle of the challenges of life. But is it possible to thank God for the challenges of life?

In 1891, a young Swedish Salvation Army worker wrote the following hymn:

“Thanks to God for my Redeemer, Thanks for all Thou dost provide!
Thanks for times now but a memory, Thanks for Jesus by my side.
Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime, Thanks for dark and dreary fall!
Thanks for tears by now forgotten, Thanks for peace within my soul!

“Thanks for prayers that Thou has answered, Thanks for what Thou dost deny!
Thanks for storms that I have weathered, Thanks for all Thou dost supply!
Thanks for pain and thanks for pleasure, Thanks for comfort in despair!
Thanks for grace that none can measure, Thanks for love beyond compare!

“Thanks for roses by the wayside, Thanks for thorns their stems contain!
Thanks for home and thanks for fireside, Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!
Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow, Thanks for heavenly peace with Thee!
Thanks for hope in the tomorrow, Thanks through all eternity!”

In 1899, eight years after writing this hymn, August Ludwig Storm suffered a back injury that crippled him for the rest of his life. He continued his Salvation Army work and maintained a thankful spirit until his death in 1914. His thankful spirit in times of trouble gave even more credibility to his work and ministry.

It is one thing to be thankful that thorn bushes have roses. It is another level of thankfulness to say, “Thanks for roses by the wayside, Thanks for thorns their stems contain!”

My dear friend, Lew Shaffer, suffered a massive stroke in 1989. Many of the folks who are blessed by his constant encouragement and letter writing ministry now don’t know what a powerful preacher he was before the stroke. He tells a story of the dark days of rehab after the stroke when he was completely immobile and God told him to be thankful for his stroke. It was a hard prayer to pray, but once he did, his perspective on everything changed.

God has not removed the results of the stroke. He can’t get around without help. His speech is incredibly difficult to understand. Those dozen-word letters he writes look like a kindergartener’s unsteady script. And yet, I don’t know another person who encourages me more. His life matters as much now as it ever has.

For what thorns are you thankful in this Thanksgiving season?

Dr. Gerry Lewis, author, blogger, church consultant and leadership coach, serves as executive director of the Harvest Baptist Association headquartered in Decatur.

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