Thursday, November 22, 2018

Being Thankful – Even When You’re Not

Since this blog post is appearing on Thanksgiving Day, I hope you’re reading it with a tummy filled with turkey, dressing “and all the trimmings.” What exactly are “all the trimmings”? Last time I checked, we don’t put Christmas ornaments on our turkeys, mashed potatoes, green bean casseroles, or pumpkin pies. And gorging on the holiday feast certainly doesn’t lend itself to “trimness.” So what’s up with all the trimmings?

Anyway, I want to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving and trust you have already done so, or soon will take time to reflect on your reasons for being thankful. 

For many people, there’s lots for which to feel and express thanks. A good job, strong and growing family, enough money in the bank to pay all the bills (that could change in the weeks leading up to Christmas Day), personal health, and a place to call home. Unfortunately, for more than a few folks, some of those reasons for thankfulness are missing.

Over the past year I’ve learned of several friends confronting grim cancer diagnoses, or dealing with other serious health challenges. Unemployment, we’re told, is the lowest it’s been in years, but there still are those out of work – or unable to work due to some disability. Almost everyone faces family issues at one time or another; some are quickly resolved, others aren’t. Even during a strong economy, which many experts say we’ve been experiencing of late, financial help practitioners and bankruptcy attorneys aren’t agonizing over how to keep busy.

So if you’re among those feeling abundantly blessed and exceedingly thankful, good for you. But if your situation is very different from that, if you want to give thanks but don’t feel thankful, how do you respond?

The Scriptures offer help, since thankfulness is one of its central themes. In fact, one of the first Bible verses I learned – a very short one – speaks to it directly. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 we’re told to, “give thanks in all circumstances,” adding why we should do so: “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I understand. Saying to be thankful “because God says so” isn’t particularly helpful. Unless we tie our thanksgiving not only to what He has done, but also what we trust He’s going to do. In times of trouble and stress, I’m often reminded of Philippians 4:6-7, which urges, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

So when we’re praying, asking the Lord for direction, provision, intervention, or simply peace and hope in the midst of the turmoil we may be facing, we’re to begin giving thanks even then. Kind of like making a down payment on something we expect to acquire at a future time.

Ultimately, that’s what faith is all about. As Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” At the end of the same chapter, after citing numerous examples of people who maintained strong faith despite overwhelming circumstances, it states, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:39-40).

I close with this biblical admonition which precedes the command to give thanks in every circumstance: “Always be joyful; pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17). If today’s a day when you couldn’t feel more blessed, rejoice and pray. If, however, today’s a day when we’re still anxiously waiting for God to “show up,” we should do the same – rejoice and pray. 

And give thanks. If not for present trials, then for the promise that He is faithful. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will bring it to pass” (Psalm 37:4-5). 

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