Editor’s Note: This sermon was originally preached during World War II by Walter A. Maier.
“He kneeled upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God.”
Back in November, 1930, when unemployment was high, farm prices low, bread lines long, shelters for the homeless full, the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism sent a petition to the President asking that the annual Thanksgiving proclamation be omitted. How, these deniers of truth argued, can anyone give thanks with so much suffering and want throughout the land? How can people praise a God who permits such widespread anguish?
The A.A.A.A. petition has not been repeated this year, for the present-day evidences of outward prosperity are many and striking. From coast to coast Thanksgiving orators have called attention to America’s unparalleled blessing even in war time; and today many have applied the Psalmist’s words, “He hath not dealt so with any nation’ to our unequaled prosperity. Thanks be to God! ours is the greatest and, in point of habitable, useful territory, the largest country in the world. We have immeasurable natural resources hidden in treasure houses beneath our soil, spreading in almost unlimited extent over its surface in forests, fertile farmlands, bounteous orchards. We now have more gold and silver than the rest of the world. While diseases ravaged large areas in Europe, this country has escaped serious epidemics. Eleven thousand were destroyed by a single typhoon in India, but no such disaster has swept through our States. Millions in China and Greece hover on the very edge of starvation; yet the past year, despite restriction and rationing, has not deprived our people of necessary and wholesome food. We have had bounteous harvests.
Even in war’s afflictions God has been good to us. No enemy troops have landed on our shores. No enemy planes have bombed our cities. No enemy invasion has even threatened our borders. True, we have blackouts, but only for practice. With all our casualty lists, we have suffered less than any other country actively engaged in the war.
Add to these material blessings the liberties that are ours- We have a democratic government, while other peoples are crushed beneath the heel of tyranny. Freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of education all these, though now necessarily restricted, are still ours in principle, while other nations are regimented by destructive dictatorships. Above all, we still have religious freedom, the personal privilege of worshiping the Almighty according to His Word without state direction. No wonder, with all these material and spiritual advantages, the President of the United States this year has asked for two days of prayer to God instead of one! Yet despite these reasons for gratitude, many among you are seized with bitterness because of financial reverses, family losses, personal afflictions. You read in the newspapers that a New York department store records a profit five times larger than last year’s; that a fur store advertises, “We have sold more mink coats this year than in any previous year,” and you know that you will never have even a small piece of mink in your home but must be satisfied with enough fuel and food to keep your family warm and properly fed.
You hear of happy Thanksgiving reunions, when soldiers on furlough sit around the holiday table; yet some of you soldiers and civilians are far from your families today, downhearted, inwardly distressed; and some of you parents know that you will never see your sons again. They lie buried at Bataan, in North Africa, on the Solomons, or even un- buried in the sea, beneath Alaskan snows, or in a New Guinea jungle. Again, Thanksgiving finds many of you in hospitals, on sickbeds, or in a house divided against itself, with growing fear concerning the things that are to come. Crepe may hang on your door; tomorrow you may stand at the cemetery to pay the tribute of your love to a departed one. Every time you hear the word “thanksgiving,” a feeling of resentment may well up within you. Now, I would speak to you, the lonely, distressed, spiritually shaken, destitute, bereaved but also to you, the satisfied, secure, socially prominent, financially firm with larger incomes than you have ever before received and the heaviest prosperity you have ever enjoyed. To all of you I say in the name of Jesus Christ: Take as your example heroic Daniel, of whom it is written in our text (Daniel, chapter six, verse ten), “He kneeled upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God.”
Heart-shaking sorrow must have gripped Daniel at the time to which these words refer. He was in exile in Babylon, far from his beloved Judah and Jerusalem, a stranger in a strange, hostile nation. Many of you know the pangs of that loneliness right here in your homeland, separated as you are today from your husband or wife, your parents or children. Keep in- mind, however, that Daniel lived among a pagan and perverted people!
Besides, many personal enemies surrounded him. By maintaining strict allegiance to the Lord, he who had come as a captive slave had risen to a high position in the Persian kingdom; and the greater his achievement, the more numerous the jealous opponents who sought to dis- credit him before King Darius. Many of you have like- wise suffered from slander and envy. You know by ex- perience the indescribable agony caused by lying, deceitful individuals who smile when they face you, but who loose foul, slanderous tongues when they leave you.
Yet few, if any, I am sure, have ever felt the brunt of an attack as steady, evil, and systematic as this assault directed against that young Israelite when, as the verses preceding our text declare, “all the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counselors, and the captains . . . sought to find occasion against Daniel”
Daniel’s heaviest burden, however, was imposed by Darius* decree, demanding that all people in his realm pray to him, the king. This meant that, if Daniel continued to kneel before the true God, he would be thrown to hungry lions. Can you imagine how that weighted his heart and mind? He loved his Lord and had consistently prayed to Him; but to continue this loyalty meant public disgrace, the sacrifice of his high office, the loss of any influence he might have wielded in restoring his people to their homeland, and above all, death in the jaws of ravenous beasts. No hope could be held that the royal edict would be changed, for it was officially sealed and signed. Such laws of the Medes and Persians were un- alterable. Therefore Daniel had to obey either God or man, do or die. It takes much less than this to make people renounce their faith today. None of you except some of our missionaries has ever been placed before the danger of giving up your life for your religion, but many of you have denied Christ under the slightest pres- sure. You thought that it would cost you business or popular favor to remain loyal and the price was too high to pay. It meant foregoing sinful pleasure, andyou were unprepared to make such sacrifice. It required breaking off destructive friendships, and you did not love the Savior enough for that. Then, when adversities swirled down on you, unfaithful and disloyal, you screamed and shook your fists at God.
What did Daniel do? Knowing that every movement of his was being watched by his enemies, he did not swerve even slightly from his daily prayer habits. He went, as was his custom, before the open window, where official spies could easily see him. As our text tells us, “He kneeled down upon his knees,” not in a single hurried gesture, but “three times a day and prayed.” And now comes the climax although his public career, his reputation, his happiness, his very life were at stake, he “gave thanks before his God.” What magnificent courage! And how gloriously it was rewarded by the Lord!
You know the rest of the story. His enemies stealthily watched his house, found him on his knees worshiping God, accused him at the royal court, and insisted that Darius sentence him to death. Unwillingly the monarch obeyed, and before the day closed, Daniel was cast into the lions’ den. Yet, instead of being torn to pieces by the bloodthirsty beasts, he was miraculously protected. An angel shut the lions’ mouths. The Lord’s servant was rescued and returned to his position. His deliverance provoked another decree, directing men throughout the kingdom to bow before Jehovah, since, as King Darius declared, “He is the living God and steadfast forever” What a glorious Thanksgiving* Day that was for Daniel!
- WE WILL BE BLESSED IF WE, TOO, PRAISE GOD DESPITE OUR SORROWS
What a blessed Thanksgiving Day this can be for you if with all your heart you follow Daniel by turning to the Almighty in Christ and, despite war’s sorrows or personal hardships, thank Him for His marvelous mercies! No matter how hard the past has been, how uncertain the future, if you have accepted the Lord Jesus as your Savior, the twenty-four hours of Thanksgiving Day will not be long enough to express your gratitude for His mercy in redeeming you from sin and its sentence of eternal death. Can you say and believe sincerely, “Jesus died for me”? Then thank God without ceasing for the greatest gift even His love can give you this assurance of your salvation! What if you have financial problems? Through the Redeemer heaven is yours. Are you born again into a new, Christ-centered life? Then join the Psalmist in declaring, “O give thanks unto the Lord, -for He is good, because His mercy endureth forever!” What if you are seized by worry and fears concerning your Christian son in Tunisia or the South Sea Islands? Praise the Almighty that he is under divine protection, that nothing can happen to him except by Heaven’s good and gracious will. Do you own a Bible, the errorless Word of redemption, “which is able to build you up”? Thank God for this sacred truth which can direct you safely in every dark hour, along each uncharted path! Even if you have been guilty of many and serious sins, read the promises of Sacred Scripture to learn, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shatt be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” all through the complete, assured grace of the Savior who gave Himself for you! Do you know the power of prayer uttered in Jesus’ name, accompanied by the confession of all your sins, spoken with grateful acknowledgment of divine mercies? Then, before tins day closes, kneel, as Daniel did, before God to glorify Him with all your heart and soul for this privilege of communion with Him. What if doubt of divine goodness tries to invade your heart? Rejoice because you have Christ’s promise, “All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive”! That pledge never fails.
Are you tempted to refuse thanking God since your happiness has been small? When the Plymouth Pilgrims observed their first Thanksgiving, they had harvested the yield of only twenty acres of corn, six acres of barley and peas. Their world was but a few square miles surrounded by the perils of pathless wilderness, yet they set aside a special day to praise their Lord. How much more you have for which to sing your gratitude to the heavenly Father! Count your blessings, one by one, and believe that the almighty Creator and Sustainer, with whom “nothing shall be impossible” can, if it be for your eternal good, multiply your earthly benedictions overnight.
Do not think that your voice must be raised in lament instead of praise because you have suffered repeated afflictions! If you have Christ as your Savior, you know the secret of human suffering, for at the cross you understand that the Lord of love, far from punishing His children in His wrath, only corrects them in His mercy. What seems a crushing blow may. in reality, through Jesus, prove a marvelous, uplifting power. The other day I read of a shipwrecked man who managed to reach an uninhabited island. There, to protect himself against the elements and to safeguard the few possessions he had salvaged, he painstakingly built a little hut from which he constantly and prayerfully scanned the horizon for the approach of a ship. Returning one evening after a search for food, he was terrified to find the hut completely enveloped in flames. What a crushing disaster that seemed! Yet by divine mercy this hard affliction was changed into a mighty advantage. Early on the following morning he awoke to find a ship anchored off the island. The captain stepped ashore and explained, < We saw your smoke signal and came.” Everything the marooned man owned had to be destroyed before he could be rescued.
Some of you have likewise had to face complete loss of your pride, your overconfident self-reliance before you could be saved and realize this glorious comfort, “All things work together for good to them that love God.”
Do not be discouraged when you find opposition on all sides I Remember Daniel! When his enemies sought to destroy him, he turned to the Lord in thanksgiving for His mercies. If you show a similar loyalty to your heavenly Father, if with the Apostle Paul you learn to rejoice in your afflictions and thank God for your infirmities, as they reveal Christ’s power more clearly, then the Almighty will stand by you, as He supported Daniel. This help may not come in the spectacular deliverance by which that Prophet was rescued from the lions. Indeed, it may often seem that your faith brings you too much of the cross, too little of the crown; but finally, in your Father’s good time, in His perfect way, you, too, will be preserved for His celestial kingdom. You will be able to rise over all obstacles and opposition, all trials and temptations, all agonies and afflictions, to challenge, “If God be for us” and He is for us, because He gave His only Son to redeem us from sin then “who can be against us?”
Do you not see, therefore, that for full Thanksgiving blessings you should dedicate your souls in unswerving loyalty to Jesus? Acclaim Him your Savior, and He will proclaim you His eternally redeemed. His promise is, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life” If the Holy Spirit now grants me the privilege of speaking into the souls of some of you who up to this Thanksgiving Day have spent your own lives apart from the Lord and against Christ, only to realize that your plans have been battered in the past and your hopes shattered for the future, then may the Spirit help you make this a day of the truest thanksgiving a time of rejoicing even in heaven as you stop your rebellion against the Almighty and turn to His Son for pardon, joy, salvation! We read of Saint Paul that in one of his many difficulties “he thanked God, and took courage. May you, my fellow redeemed, on this wartime Thanksgiving praise God for the Savior and take courage in Christ for whatever may confront you! In true courage stand beneath the cross and, with your arm raised in the oath of allegiance to the crucified Redeemer, cry out, “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!’ The Lord grant you that supreme Thanksgiving joy for the Savior’s sake! Amen.