All good gifts around us

Farmers have safely gathered in the harvest for another year. The early season was very dry and during the harvesting period there has been a lot of rain. One farmer said that out of a harvest period of 70 days only 10 were good days for using the combine harvester because the ground was so wet. Some crops have been harvested when they were damp and will need to be dried out. A new strain of blight has also caused problems so that crops in the barns will need to be carefully monitored over winter.

Most of us are almost totally unaware of the challenges farmers are facing. Supermarkets source produce from many parts of the world so we are less aware of the seasonal nature of our food. In the Western World we are protected from the vagaries of uncertain harvests. We expect to be able to buy many things all the year round.

But it’s not like that for millions of people in the world. In East Africa this year there has been a severe and prolonged drought, made worse by ongoing conflicts, that has caused a major food crisis. As crops have failed and animals have died people, including many children, are seriously malnourished and some have died. The shortage of safe water has also led to deaths from cholera-like diseases. It is estimated that in South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, 20 million people are in urgent need of food supplies.

In many places around the country, in churches and in schools, Harvest Thanksgiving services are being held. Many will remember our dependence on God for our daily bread and give thanks to him as they sing, “We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand. All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord, for all his love.”

We must also remember those who are in great need and are starving. The Apostle John wrote, “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”

O thank the Lord for all his love

This weekend I led a Harvest Thanksgiving service in a nearby church. These services have changed over the years. Today harvest displays are mainly comprised of tins and packets rather than fresh fruit and vegetables. This is more practical when the harvest gifts are distributed because the food lasts longer. The food at the service I led was given to the local Foodbank. Such gifts give a boost to the Foodbanks around the country and provide much needed food for poorer families.

In the Western world today we are less conscious of the importance of the harvest than we were. Throughout the year our supermarket shelves are filled with a massive variety of different kinds of food from all parts of the world. Most of us don’t know, or even think to ask, whether the farmers have had a good harvest. The people in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, however, are experiencing severe food shortages because of a sustained drought. People are dying because the harvest has failed.

The Earth is a tiny planet in a vast universe and is, as far as we know, unique. We have an abundance of water and much of the land is fertile and can be cultivated. Enough food is grown every year to feed all the people in the world, but there is an unequal distribution. Many have more than they need and others go hungry. The World Food Programme says that one in nine people in the world don’t have enough food to lead an active and healthy life and the number is growing. Children, women and rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia are in the frontline of hunger.

It is important to remember God and to give thanks to him. He is the One who created the earth and the abundance of good things that sustain our lives. In the Old Testament the people were told, “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” One of the best known harvest hymns says, “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all his love.”

Always giving thanks

Being thankful is a great blessing. At this time of year many churches hold Harvest Thanksgiving services. We have enjoyed a wonderful summer and so the harvest has been really good. The farmers have done well and we have enough food to eat for another year. There is good reason for us all to rejoice and give thanks?

One of the problems, however, of living in a secular society is, “To whom do we give thanks when things go well?” The politicians would like us to thank them, but few of us find that an attractive option! In an atheistic society like North Korea the people are commanded to give thanks for everything to their tyrannical President, Kim Jong-un. If they are not enthusiastic enough in giving thanks they are in serious trouble. Thankfully, we are under no such pressure.

The Bible gives us many exhortations to be thankful. The Psalmist says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” The Apostle Paul says, “Sing and make melody from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.”

A modern hymn by Bishop Michael Baughen expresses thanks for simple daily blessings and for God’s amazing love in Jesus. “Thank you for every new good morning, Thank you for every fresh new day, Thank you that I may cast my burdens, wholly on to you. Thank you for every friend I have Lord, Thank you for everyone I know, Thank you when I can feel forgiveness, to my greatest foe. Thank you for leisure and employment, Thank you for every heartfelt joy, Thank you for all that makes me happy, and for melody. Thank you for free and full salvation, Thank you for grace to hold it fast, Thank you, O Lord I want to thank you, that I’m free to thank.”

It makes a great difference to our lives when we realise that there really is a God who is good and the Giver of every good and perfect gift. When things go well we can gladly thank him and when hard times come we can trust him to be with us and to help us. In one of his hymns Joseph Hart expressed his delight in his God and Father, “How good is the God we adore, our faithful unchangeable friend, we’ll praise him for all that is past and trust him for all that’s to come.”

All good gifts are sent from heaven above

A wet spring and a hot summer have meant that Britain has enjoyed one of the best harvest seasons for many years. Dry weather in late August enabled farmers to harvest many of their crops and gather them into their barns. They have been able to “make hay while the sun shines!”The autumn harvest is also very good. British apples are sweet and colourful because the warm summer weather has increased the sugar levels in the fruit.

In many churches harvest thanksgiving services are being held. They remind us that “all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above.” God has made this little planet on which we live a place of wonderful abundance. The past 100 years have seen a massive growth in world population; from 2 billion in 1927 to more than 7 billion today. Yet despite this massive growth more than enough food is produced around the world to feed everyone. In Britain the major supermarkets offer a bewildering variety of foods from all over the world.

It is so important to be thankful for all that God gives us. This is true whether we have a lot or a little. Real life and happiness is not found in having wealth and lots of “stuff”. Children and adults who have everything may learn the value of nothing. Sometimes those who have least are most appreciative of what they have. When my wife was in hospital for an operation there was an elderly lady in the bed opposite hers. One day my wife noticed that the lady was not able to reach the food that had been left on her bedside table. She went over and offered to help her. As my wife held the cup the lady sipped the soup and said “O that’s lovely, thank you so much!”

I have met Christians in very poor countries whose daily life is very simple, but who are a great example to me in the wonderful spirit of contentment they display. Each day they pray to God, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It is a prayer we can all pray. Day by day God does provide our needs. We can bring all our anxieties for today and for the future to him and ask him to provide – and he will. God is also able to give us a spirit of contentment. The apostle Paul wrote, “If we have food and clothing, with that we will be content.”

Do not forget the Lord your God

Last weekend my wife and I picked the last of the apples from the trees in our garden. It has been a good year for fruit. We have enjoyed cherries, plums, pears and apples in abundance. It reminded us of the fruitfulness of planet earth. Our little planet is unique. It is green and well watered and has a staggering abundance of life; animals, birds, fish, plants and trees abound. Despite the best efforts of space exploration very little signs of life have been found anywhere else.

We were conscious, too, that not everyone on earth enjoys the same abundance we do. In some places there have been droughts and the harvest has been poor. In other places, like Pakistan, the floods have destroyed the fields and the crops. The people have not only lost their homes but also the food to supply their needs for the coming year. They need help from those of us who have so much.

In our country we are used to shopping in supermarkets which offer fine products from all over the world. The choice is sometimes bewildering as we struggle to find where the things we want in the endless aisles. A stream of shoppers leaves the supermarket with trolleys overflowing with good things.

Yet, sometimes, we can be very ungrateful. We take for granted what we have and assume it is our right. We lose sight of the great privilege we have in a world where most people struggle to survive. We continue to accumulate possessions and our desires may have no limit.

When Moses was preparing the Israelites to enter Canaan, after wandering for 40 years in the desert, he gave them a warning. “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”

These words speak to us today. Some people proudly profess their atheism but many more live as if there is no God. As we enjoy the many good things God has blessed us with it is so important to remember him and to say “Thank you!”