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On the Giving of Thanks
October 13, 2008
If you’ve been reading this site for a few years, you may remember the time I wrote about my old van leaving me stranded on the side of the highway. My lease was nearly over and I had to drive across town (about one hour each way) to visit a car dealer and have him put a price on my van. This happened to be a rare occasion that I did not have my cell phone with me. The charger had disappeared, the battery was flat, and I just left the phone at home, setting off without it.
As I was making my way home, zipping along the area’s busiest highway, I heard a strange sound and thought, “I hope that’s not my car.” I looked around and couldn’t see any other vehicles close enough to me that it could be anything but my car. Within a couple of seconds the car began to shake and then it began to vibrate so strongly that it became a chore to hold it straight. It did not take long to realize that I had blown a tire at 100 kilometers per hour. It so happened that I was on a bridge at the time and one that offered no shoulder to pull onto. I threw on the hazard lights and crept along, driving as fast as I dared on three tires and one rim. Trucks, cars and buses were honking and swerving to avoid me on the slick, rainy pavement. But finally the bridge ended and I was able to pull over to the side and stop. While it was not exactly my choice, I could hardly have picked a worse place to stop. I ended up parked in the middle of a triangular area right where two major highways converged—between the inside lane of one highway and the merging outside lane of a second highway. Cars were tearing by on the right and the left, joining the flow of mid-afternoon traffic. I had no phone, it was pouring rain, and this was definitely no place to attempt to change the tire. I knew no passerby would stop, as there simply was not a good place to do so.
And so I did the obvious thing. I said, “God, I’m kind of stuck here. I’d really appreciate it if you’d send along a police car or a tow truck. It would be a long, dangerous, wet walk to a phone and really, the only building nearby is a Kingdom Hall and it doesn’t look like anyone is there, so I’m just going to stay here and wait for you to send help.” And that’s what I did. With cars hurtling by on both sides, I sat and looked expectantly out the back window. Sure enough, it took only ten or fifteen minutes for a tow truck to show up. Handily, it was a flat bed truck—it would have been very difficult for him to get behind my van to tow from the rear. Equally handily, it was a CAA truck (CAA is the Canadian chapter of the American Automobile Club) and, since I am a CAA member, the towing would cost me nothing. Within five minutes he had hoisted the van onto his truck, secured it, and pulled back into traffic. He had a good laugh at me, saying what I already knew—that I really could not have picked a worse spot to break down. He even took the opportunity to call his manager and laugh about it.
I asked him if someone had called him on my behalf or if he had just happened by. “No,” he said. “I just dropped someone off in Georgetown and had decided to take the side roads back. But then I changed my mind and figured I’d take the highway just to see if anyone out here needed a tow.” Imagine that.
This really isn’t much of a story. I was never in great danger and really only suffered a couple of hours of inconvenience while waiting for the tires to be changed. But as I was sitting in Wal-Mart, munching on a McDonald’s burger and wondering what the tires would cost, I thought back to my reaction when the tow truck showed up. I realized I had blurted out, naturally enough, “Thank you, God” as I saw the truck turn on his lights and pull in just ahead of me. I was not the least bit surprised that the truck had shown up and had shown up quickly. God knew I was in a tight spot and I had asked Him to provide for me. He seemed glad enough to do so. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
It occurred to me then that it is really only the privilege of the Christian to be thankful. I spoke about this a few days later with a friend of mine who is ambivalent about the possibility of God’s existence. I asked her how she would feel in a similar situation. Would she be thankful? And if so, to whom would she express thanks? Without God we can only believe in fate or karma. No one offers thanks to fate. Fate is nothing. It is impersonal, directionless. No one asks anything of fate and no one offers thanks to fate. I could be thankful to the driver of the tow truck, and I was of course, but who was it that so ordered things that he was returning from Georgetown just at that moment? And how was it that he changed his mind and decided to take the highway home rather than the faster back roads? Surely not fate, chance or karma. The God who knows the number of hairs on my head is the same God who took care of me that day. And I am thankful.
Today is Thanksgiving day up here in Canada. It is a day set aside specifically to offer thanks. It is sad to think of how many Canadians will sit with their loved ones around tables loaded with food and will be unable and unwilling to thank the One who has provided it for them. They may thank mothers for making food or fathers for providing it, but they will not be able to thank the God who has given them the talents, the abilities, and, well, everything else. My expression of thanks in the car that day was natural. It was really just an outpouring of the faith God that has given to me. It was an expression of worship to the God who proved again that day that He is in control. Where there was faith-based expectation, gratitude naturally followed. I was filled with thanksgiving for thanksgiving. I was filled with thanks for the ability and the privilege of giving thanks. God is good to provide and is good to allow us to thank Him for His provision.