Daily Devotional: 1 Thessalonians 5:14
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. —1 Thessalonians 5:14–18
In February, 1944, Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were betrayed to the Nazis by a Dutch traitor. The ten Boom family had been hiding Jews seeking refuge from the Nazi occupying force in the Netherlands. The ten Booms helped save over 800 people, hiding them in specially constructed rooms in their home. But that all came to an end. The entire ten Boom family was incarcerated, including Corrie's 84 year-old father, who would later die in prison.
Corrie and Betsie were both eventually transferred to the infamous German concentration camp Ravensbrück. Here they would face their most harrowing circumstances. At this point in her incarceration, Betsie was wasting away due to malnutrition, and was constantly ill. At one point, they were moved to Barracks 28, a run-down building that was always drafty. Designed to hold 400, Corrie and Betsie found themselves packed in with 1400 other women from all over Europe. To top it all off, the barracks was infested with fleas.
Corrie admits in her autobiography, The Hiding Place (which I highly recommend), that this was too much. How could they possibly live in those conditions? Betsie quickly remembered the passage they had read that very morning from 1 Thessalonians 5:14-18. “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 things about this new barracks!” Corrie and Betsie proceeded to give thanks for the fact that they were together, that they still had their single Bible that had survived their time in prison (a miracle in itself), and that they were with many other women with whom they could share the gospel.
They even gave thanks for the fleas! At first, Corrie didn’t understand how they could have given thanks for something as dreadful as biting insects infesting their clothes and bedding. Betsie gently reminded her sister that 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “in all circumstances,” not just “pleasant circumstances.”
As time went on, the sisters grew bold in their evangelism. Each night, they would call together those who would come and listen to the readings out of their Bible. They would sing songs and hymns with the women, and would pray together, using their precious rest time to instead be nourished spiritually. These meetings were forbidden; every night they ran the risk of being caught and possibly executed. Yet each night, they were able to gather uninterrupted by the guards.
Betsie would eventually die in Ravensbück. Before she died, she finally understood why they could give thanks for the fleas. She had been puzzled as to why they had been able to meet night after night in their barracks. She had noticed earlier that day that when knitting socks as part of the camp labor force, the supervisor refused to enter the room where the prisoners were working. Now she knew the reason: “Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: ‘Because of the fleas!’” God gave Corrie, Betsie, and the women of Barracks 28 uninterrupted times of fellowship, encouragement, and worship in God’s word through fleas!
The Lord sustained both Betsie and Corrie in Ravensbrück. He did this not by immediately delivering them out of their circumstances and suffering. Rather, God blessed them immensely by not only providing a copy of the Word to be with them where they went, but he also reminded them of its truth. They were able to “give thanks in all circumstances” because they trusted in a God who is sovereign over all things, and through Christ has already redeemed those trusting in Him. Even though Betsie would eventually lose her life in Ravensbrück, her death only brought her fully and finally to Jesus. Corrie was released from Ravensbrück twelve days after Betsie died. For the next 32 years, Corrie gave her life to the spread of the gospel.
Stories like The Hiding Place are powerful in that they testify to God’s enduring faithfulness in some of the darkest times in history. Through pain, suffering, loss, and even eventual death, the story of Corrie and Betsie ten Boom is one of treasuring Christ above everything else. They treasured Christ above their earthly comfort, above their secure home, above their reputation, and above their own lives.
I pray that God would enable us to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances, for the “fleas” that may be present during this time. Indeed, it may be that these difficulties we are enduring are the very means that God would draw us to himself, cultivating a heart of thankfulness and trust in him, as well as propelling the gospel forward in ways unknown. Let us endure, brothers and sisters, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (verse 18).