Thursday, November 26, 2015

What Are You Thankful For?

This year Thursday, Nov. 26 is designated for our annual celebration of Thanksgiving Day, a festive time for gathering with family and friends, consuming huge amounts of food, perhaps watching a parade or two, as well as a couple of football games, and oh yeah, by the way, giving thanks to God for our blessings.

It’s a great tradition – that is, unless you’re a turkey, in which case you’ve become an endangered species for a season. But pausing to reflect and express thankfulness for our blessings as a people, even at a time of great global and national turmoil, is commendable. The question is: Does it take a special holiday to remind us of our need to give thanks?

Thankfulness should be a perpetual state of mind, every day, from the moment we get out of bed to the moment we tumble back into it. Welsh-born minister and author Matthew Henry, who lived in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, understood this.

Recounting a time when he was robbed, Henry identified four specific reasons for thankfulness despite the frightening and costly experience. He said he was thankful because that was the first time he had ever been robbed. The church leader said he was thankful because even though the robber had taken all that he had, it wasn’t very much. He said he was thankful because the robber took his possessions but did not take his life. And finally, Henry declared thankfulness because even though he was robbed, he was not the one who committed the robbery – his circumstances had never tempted him to steal or rob from anyone.

We could easily credit this perspective to having a “glass half-full” attitude, but the Scriptures say this is how each of us as followers of Christ should view everything we encounter over the course of daily living, both good and bad. One of the first verses I ever learned, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, instructs us to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

The apostle Paul gave a similar admonition in another of his biblical letters, exhorting believers in Ephesus to be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).

When the Bible speaks of “all circumstances” or “everything,” what it really means is…all circumstances and everything. No exceptions. This isn’t to say it’s easy. Nor should it be. When battling illness, especially one that’s long-term and seems to defy medical solutions, it’s hard to be thankful for such an ordeal, whether we’re the one suffering or it’s someone we love. Feeling thankful at the death of someone we care for deeply may seem impossible. And when we struggling with financial problems, difficulties at work, or family strife, thankfulness isn’t the first emotion that comes to mind.

God understands this, far more than our limited human minds can comprehend. Because being thankful for undesirable circumstances, whether annoying or devastating, doesn’t mean having to feel happy about them. On the cross, Jesus could be thankful for the sacrifice He was performing for all who would one day receive Him as Savior and Lord, despite the agony He had to endure.

We can be thankful because of the promise we have in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The Lord can use even the worst circumstances for His – and our – ultimate good.

So on this Thanksgiving Day, hopefully we all have many good blessings for which to give thanks. But even in the midst of adversity, we can be thankful, clinging to the assurance that, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

And let’s not stop being thankful when the day is done. “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15).

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