The denomination our church is part of is called Converge International.  I can’t really explain why, except it’s a way of not saying we’re Baptist.  When I came into Converge, it was called the Baptist General Conference.  I learned that this title was the group’s way of not saying they were Swedish in origin.  Until 1945, this fellowship of churches had been the Swedish Baptist General Conference, and Swedish was the primary language in worship. Strangely, the history of our denomination during my time can be seen as a series of attempts to obscure who we are.

As a young pastor coming in from the outside, I loved the Swedish roots I encountered in the churches that were part of this fellowship. There was a positive, affirming spirit that seemed to come from the pietist beginnings of the Baptist movement in Sweden. This included an emphasis on personal spiritual experience, in contrast to the stark rationalism of my background that focused more on correct doctrinal beliefs. In fact, once, when I tried to argue a theological point with a group of ministers, no one would take the bait. Frustrated, I complained to one of the old-time pastors, Rev. Harry Aronson, and he responded with a thick accent, “Wal, ya know, Svedes are luffers, not tinkers.”

It was among this fellowship that I first heard a Thanksgiving hymn that has become one of my favorites. It’s title in Swedish is “Tack Min Gud” (English “Thank My God”). These simple words are set to music that is just as simple:

            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 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!

One of the things I like about this hymn is that it’s so immediate and transparent.  It has to do with real personal experiences that anybody can identify with. You don’t have to go into deep introspection or analyze the meaning of your life to find reasons for thanking God; they’re all around you and within easy reach.

Second, I’m glad the author emphasizes giving thanks in good times and bad times, in pleasure and in pain. I’m familiar with thanking God for answered prayer, but I don’t think I had ever before thought about being thankful for prayers God says No to.

Third, I like the fact that each stanza ends on such a note of satisfaction and serenity: “Thanks for peace within my soul”; “Thanks for love beyond compare”; “Thanks through all eternity.”  This helps me remember that a continual attitude of thanksgiving is its own reward.

Most of all, I like the fact that the hymn’s very first expression of thanks is for God’s personal salvation — “Thanks to God for my Redeemer.”  Without this great truth, the other twenty-three things mentioned as reasons for thanking God wouldn’t matter much.

This hymn was written by August Ludwig Storm (1862-1914), who in his late teens, became a believer through the Swedish Salvation Army and spent his life from then on as an active officer in the Army. He wrote “Tack Min Gud” when he was twenty-nine years old. Eight years later, he suffered a serious back trauma, which left him a cripple for the remaining fifteen years of his life. I wonder what other stanzas he might have added from the suffering he endured. I have a feeling they would have been even richer and deeper.

When the Apostle Paul wrote, “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), he had already gone through many years of physical suffering, believed by scholars to possibly be from a disfiguring eye disease. (You can read about this in Galatians 4:13-14 and 2 Corinthians 12:7-10.) “In all circumstances, for Paul, included some pretty negative realities. Yet he was able to make thanking God a full time habit.

— George Van Alstine