Being a meat and potatoes kind of guy, I have always enjoyed celebrating Thanksgiving. I have some cherished memories of family get-togethers. I also remember how Thanksgiving was brought home to me in 1992. I was on a mission trip to Luhansk, Ukraine in late November. It was bitter cold the whole time we were there (and I was a Floridian at the time; not a great combination… Brrrr!). That Thanksgiving day we were sharing with folks in a neighboring town who had walked in sub-zero temperatures to the former Communist Meeting Hall, only to sit for maybe 3 hours in an unheated, frigid building to hear from these Americans. Taking a break, I enjoyed a Thanksgiving “feast” of a small can of Tuna, some cheese and peanut butter crackers, and some fruit cocktail. Yeah… I really missed my wife and my family; and thought about what they were enjoying back home. But compared to what we had witnessed, and the hunger we saw for truth in so many Ukrainians, it ended up being one of my most memorable and cherished experiences.
The holiday of Thanksgiving is but a reminder of what a Christian should be living out each and every day, throughout the year. And I do get it… sometimes it is sooo hard to be thankful. Sometimes I just want to give in to my depressed feelings, let my sadness and frustration have their way, and throw a pity-party… but then let’s get real… I’d be the only one showing up.
Have you read much about the Apostle Paul’s life in the Bible? I am thinking if anyone had a so-called “right” to being conflicted before God… of perhaps complaining about why life had to be so hard, and people so mean, it was him. Shipwrecked, persecuted, hungry, cold, jailed, beaten, stoned… oh man, the list goes on (c.f. 2 Corinthians 11:22ff). But in his letter to the Thessalonians he closes with some key thoughts he wanted to pass on: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV) Note the “always” and “in all circumstances”. I have every reason to believe that Paul lived this out. But…
Then he ratchets the attitude of gratitude up another notch: Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:20 ESV) That’s right, IN everything - FOR everything. No loopholes, no exceptions, no “if’s”, “and’s”, or “but’s”. We are to be grateful in and for everything, period. So… how does one do that???
First of all you must know that you are His child; that you have an eternal home with Him no matter what happens in this present life. Do you know that? Are you sure? It is hard to be truly grateful when have you have no real hope or assurance of what is to come at the end of life. Secondly, you need to trust Him, take Him at His Word—in His Word, no matter what happens in this present life (why the Bible is so critical - you start cutting stuff out, ignoring some things, and running fast-and-loose with others… what are you left with? Nothing you can trust God with, that’s what.). It is why faith is called “faith”. There is more; much more, but this is the place to start.
What happens when we don’t? Verse 19 of 1 Thessalonians 5 warns us: Do not quench the Spirit. Failing to be grateful, thankful, quenches God’s voice and work in us. Feel empty… abandoned? Feel useless… hopeless? Maybe, just maybe you can trace it back to an attitude of ingratitude. To be sure, we all have our moments; but we cannot live there.
Right now, as you are reading this, some of you are going through something that quite likely could employ the adjective “hellish” in describing it. It hurts, it stinks, it is miserable, and awful… And here is a biblical truth: The God who loves you, the God who knows you, has allowed it into your life. Why? How could a God who loves you do that??? There might be many reasons; but here are couple of quick thoughts. Everyone suffers misery, loss, pain, bad days, hideous moments, and deep, dark valleys and the such. Everyone. Everyone. No exceptions. None. The question is who they go through these seasons with. Do you have God’s help, or are you on your own? God promises that He can bring beauty out of ashes, that He can bring good out of something bad (Romans 8:28). Can you do that? Who else can do that? And besides, it is very, very true: God is love. But the Bible also teaches us that He is righteous, and holy, and what He allows in your life is to make you more and more like His Son and get you fit for Heaven. Remember, the Christ who saved us, suffered for us, died for us… horribly.
In God we can have hope, comfort, peace, sense true love, and find purpose and meaning. You don’t get that from a science book, good-feelings, religion, or anything else manufactured by man or his imagination. It is found in faith in the God of Scripture. A grateful heart is a heart that knows God… as in truly knows Him, as He is revealed in His Word. And the heart that truly knows God; is a grateful heart.
Let me close with this juxtaposition… In Romans 1, Paul writes of God’s judgment upon unbelief. Here is what he says in verse 21: For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. The saved never act more lost than when we fail to honor our God for who He is, and have an attitude of ingratitude. Dear brother and sister in Christ, God did not call you to act lost, He called you to be His very own child (c.f. Romans 8:14-18).
Happy Thanksgiving! Are you truly Thankful? I do so hope and pray that you are!