It’s one of my favorite Thanksgiving memories…
My cousins and siblings and I singing the Pilgrim hymn “We Gather Together” at the top of our lungs… and not just in our classrooms, where we were learning it for the annual elementary school Thanksgiving Feast, but in the car both to and from school, and in the backyard as we played together. Everywhere we went.
It had such a beautiful little melody. And the words were simple enough:
We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.
The gathering together part was lovely – and my little heart loved singing praises to His Name. That “He forgets not His own” was one of those truths that seemed so obvious then.
Of course God never forgets us, never forsakes us, never relaxes His hold on us. He’s GOD. God is good. And God is love.
I remember being vaguely aware that “chasten” was an old-fashioned word for discipline. I’m sure my teachers (who were also my aunts) and my parents would have explained to us that sometimes out of love for us, God disciplines us for our good. (That’s the kind of thing they taught us, even back then.)
But my seven year-old self could not have really understood the kind of pain and suffering implied in the discipline that is “chastening.” The hardship, the heartache.
I do now. So did the first Pilgrims. Thinking of the persecution they suffered – and what they suffered to escape it – seems especially poignant this year, when so many of our brothers and sisters around the world are suffering persecution for their faith.
God allows the hard things to teach us, to strengthen us, to purify us, to refine us.
To make us into the image of His Son.
We learn so much about Him and about ourselves through the process. Both when our suffering is totally “undeserved” – when it has nothing to do with the natural consequences of our choices – and when it is or does.
Sometimes we’re learning from our own mistakes and sometimes we’re learning from other people’s. Sometimes we grow as a result of realizing where we’ve gone wrong. Sometimes we grow when we see how easily we could go wrong, when things don’t go our way.
The Scripture says, “For whom the Lord loveth, He chasteneth.” (Hebrews 12:5)
In Revelation 3:19, Jesus Himself says, “Those whom I [dearly and tenderly] love, I tell their faults and convict and convince and reprove and chasten [I discipline and instruct them]. So be enthusiastic and in earnest and burning with zeal and repent [changing your mind and attitude].”
It would be wonderful if love alone – His for us and ours for Him – could spontaneously produce virtue in us. But too often we have to learn the hard way. It’s how we’re wired.
Our spirits triumph over adversity, not pleasure. We rise to meet challenges, not comforts. We act courageously in the face of death, not in the face of parties and feasts.
We’ve grown in spiritual maturity – in our hope, in our faith, in our trust, in our utter dependence on God, because we’ve been in situations where we’ve had to!
We’ve fallen to our knees often, because we’ve been driven to.
And so we can be thankful for our thorns. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Thankful for our trials, our tribulations, even our disappointments, our failures, and our frustrations. Thankful that in our ever-present troubles, we have an ever-present Help:
Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!