Look for Thanksgiving Thorns!
By Pastor George Van Alstine

Part of our church’s Swedish heritage is a simple and wonderful Thanksgiving hymn. The Swedish title is “Tack O Gud.” For some reason the English translator rendered this as “Thanks to God,” but it actually should be “Thanks, O God.” I like that a lot better because it’s really a personal prayer of thanks. Here are the lyrics:

Thanks, O 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 hast 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!

The pattern of this poem is very obvious: a believer is thankful for everything, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad. Some of the contrasting causes for thanking God are the “pleasant, balmy springtime” and the “dark and dreary fall”; “prayers that Thou hast answered” and “what Thou dost deny”; “pain” and “pleasure,” “joy” and “sorrow.” There are “times but now a memory,” possibly a reference to loved ones who have died; but balancing this loss, there is “Jesus by my side.”

The words to this hymn were written in 1891 by August Ludwig Storm, a young Swedish Salvation Army officer for publication in that group’s journal “War Cry.” The poem made its way to the US, where in 1914, John Alfred Hultman, a Christian musician and Mission Covenant pastor in the Chicago area, gave it its familiar musical setting and popularized it through his singing ministry.

Storm was only 29 years old when he wrote the lyrics, hardly old enough to have experienced much of life’s pain and suffering, sadness and loss. But nine years later, when he was 37 years old, his thanksgiving-in-all-circumstances attitude was really put to the test. He experienced a severe illness that left him crippled and with constant back pain for the rest of his life. Was he able to thank God for his debilitating physical weakness? It was probably a struggle at times, but his faith evidently overcame this obstacle. How do we know? Storm emerged to be one of the top leaders in the Swedish Salvation Army movement during the last, painful fifteen years of his life. It must have been wonderful to hear him sing “Tack O Gud” as a frail disabled man who had learned thanksgiving the hard way.

I particularly like the line, “Thanks for roses by the wayside, Thanks for storms their stems contain!” Roses have a special kind of beauty, amplified by a distinctive delicate fragrance. I don’t think any other flower has the same esthetic effect on humans, helping us to express our deepest and most romantic feelings. But those thorns! Why did God have to give us those thorns?

Well, why did God give August Storm that awful, twisted back? Apparently, he became a strong spiritual leader in part because of the lessons he learned through his constant back pain. It was probably hard, but he learned to be thankful for his particular thorn in his flesh, his crippled back.

I encourage you to look for thorns in your life this Thanksgiving—thorns that may become new reasons to thank God, rather than to curse your bad luck. Discovering a Thanksgiving Thorn may revolutionize your life.