Thanks For Nothing

By Pastor Andrew Poe


Traditionally we don’t often think about being thankful until about November 21st when we realize we need to start thinking about the pies to bake and potatoes to mash and football game to watch. Then, before we get too carried away with the hecticness of the holiday, our children come home one day with some kind sweet craft – usually a hand outline that is to resemble a turkey; attached to that craft is that faithful little list “What I am Thankful For...”  And for a moment we pause and perhaps think about the blessing of food or our home or maybe even our family. Then we turn around and get back to the seriousness of life – the food to prepare for the onslaught of ungrateful relatives; the Amazon wishlists the children have made for Christmas; the fact that the car’s oil needs to be changed. And, by all accounts, we have missed the very opportunity to thank God for what he really cares about.


There is a silly story about a farmer who sits down to dinner with his family.  He is about to start eating when his wife stops him and asks, “Shouldn’t we pray and thank God for the food?” 


The farmer begrudgingly stops mid-bite and places his fork down.


Everyone folds their hands and wait for the patriarchal farmer to pray a simple, eloquent prayer. Instead, he says: “Well, God, I plowed the field; I planted the crops; I watered the field when there was no rain; I harvested it all; and my wife here cooked it all up.  So, I guess I’ll just say, thanks for nothing, God.” 


How often we live our lives in much the same way! We are those “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” and “God-helps-them-who-help-themselves” kind of people in America. We work hard – too hard – and then enjoy the toys we have “earned”. And when something inevitably happens – a car accident, loss of a job, sickness – our first response is to question God: “Why?” Isn’t that funny? We often forget to thank God for our cars and jobs and health but immediately blame Him for any change that occurs that suddenly jeopardizes their position in our lives. 


How crazy would it be to not only make that list of things for which to be thankful but also learn how to be thankful for the “nothing” in life too!  When we do experience some kind of hardship – is it possible to be thankful for that very hardship in the midst of that hardship? Can we give thanks when we have a flat tire or find our bank account overdrawn? Can we give thanks when we are facing tragedy – thanking God that he will use this to deepen our faith? Can we even thank God for the fleas in our lives?  “Fleas?” you ask?  I am glad you did.


There is a famous woman named Corrie Ten Boom – the daughter of a Dutch watchmaker whose family helped save the Jews from the Nazis during World War II.  Sadly, Corrie’s family was captured and imprisoned for taking this risk.  In the Concentration Camp with her sister Betsie, Corrie came to find opportunities to still worship and serve Jesus.  She started secret Bible studies with the women in her barrack and tried to minister to those who were suffering.  One day, Corrie and Betsie were moved to Barracks 28 where they were horrified by the fact that their smelly straw beds were swarming with fleas.  In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie recounts this experience with Betsie:


It was Betsie who discovered God’s answer: “‘Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’  That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!”


“I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room…”


They thanked God for the fact they were together. They thanked God they had a Bible. They even thanked God for the horrible crowds of prisoners, that more people would be able to hear God’s Word. And then, Betsie thanked God for the fleas.


“The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’


“‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. ‘It doesn’t say, “in pleasant circumstances.”  Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.’”


“And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.”


It turned out that Betsie was not wrong; the fleas were a nuisance, but a blessing after all. The women were able to have Bible studies in the barracks with a great deal of freedom, never bothered by supervisors coming in and harassing them. They finally discovered that it was the fleas that kept those supervisors out.

Through those fleas, God protected the women from abuse and harassment.  Dozens of desperate women were free to hear the comforting, hope-giving Word of God.  Through those fleas, God protected the women from much worse things and made sure they had their deepest, truest needs met. [1]


We are often told to “give thanks” during this next holiday... but we are not often told why.  Have you ever thought of gratitude as one of the weapons against the evil one? Being thankful is a key component to our spiritual lives!  This is what thankfulness does: Thankfulness...


  • Reveals to us that everything is a gift – from the work we do and money we earn to the breaths we take and enjoyment of life we experience.
  • Reorients our hearts – turning them away from the gifts and toward the Giver of the gifts.
  • Replaces and ultimately defeats grumbling and complaining.
  • Reduces stress, anxiety, and depressions... and enhances our overall well-being.
  • Reverses our priorities – freeing us to pursue those people and opportunities in life that really matter.

And while I can say that there are plenty of benefits to giving thanks; ultimately, we cannot change our hearts ourselves and just be more thankful.  No, we need the power of the Holy Spirit to change us and make us more like Jesus – the one who lived a perfect life of gratitude.  Perhaps one way to start the change is to simply thank God for Jesus.  When we see Jesus and his amazing love and grace as the very heartbeat of our lives, we will naturally become more grateful and gracious people!


So, as you near the holiday season – first Thanksgiving and then Christmas – take time to thank the Lord for everything and for “nothing” ... even for fleas!