“You guys,” I commented, “must have interesting Thanksgivings.”
“Yeah,” he said, “and I’m really thankful at Thanksgiving…that Thanksgiving is only once a year.”
Everybody can be thankful for at least one thing. In fact, we’re encouraged to make lemonade out of lemons, and to look for the best in situations and in people. We should “count our blessings instead of sheep” as the song says. Then there’s the old joke about the kid visiting a farm and digging through a pile of manure because “there must be a pony in here somewhere.”
A woman once asked Fred Smith, my late friend and mentor, to help her deal with her horrible work situation. She had a boss who was a bully and a tyrant. Her fellow employees didn’t like her, talked about her behind her back, and demeaned her. They kept the air conditioning “meat locker” cold, the parking lot unlit, and the building’s fluorescent lighting harsh. And she couldn’t find another job.
“What do you like about the job?” Fred asked.
“Are you crazy?” she replied. “I don’t like anything about it. Weren’t you listening?”
“Don’t they pay you?”
“Of course they pay me.”
“Then you must like getting a paycheck. What about health insurance and a retirement plan?”
“Well, okay,” she said, seeing where the conversation was going, “I like that part.”
Fred’s point: “There must be a pony in here somewhere.” Learn to look for the pony and be thankful. That’s good advice.
But the Bible goes way beyond that. Paul says that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). And before you point out that Paul says “in” every circumstance and not “for” every circumstance, he also writes that Christians should sing and make melody in their hearts “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 5:20).
This morning in my prayer time I used a liturgy (most of which is a liturgy from the Church of Scotland) that I use two or three times a week. This morning a prayer I have prayed hundreds of times caught my attention in a way that it had not before. It opens with these words: “It is verily meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty and Everlasting God; Through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord…”
So I’ve decided that for the Christian, Thanksgiving isn’t a matter of having a list of items for which we should be thankful (although there’s nothing wrong with that); but rather far more, it’s a matter of the heart—a thankful heart.
I’ve also decided that I don’t have the foggiest idea what that means.
I really am thankful. But frankly, there is a very long list of things for which I’m not thankful…okra, liver, critics, cancer and old age…among a pile of others.
Let me tell you what I plan to do.
First, I want to make sure I have this right. John says that if we ask anything according to God’s will, he will hear us and not only will he give us what we ask for, we already have what we ask (1 John 5:15). So I’m going to pray, “Are you sure this is your will? It sounds kind of crazy to me so before I go off on some tangent, I want to be sure that you want me to be thankful for everything all the time and in every place, no matter the circumstances.”
Second, I plan to ask him to do it for me…that is, to give me a thankful heart. How will I know when he’s done it? I’ll be thankful for okra. There will be no other explanation for that except the miracle of “heart surgery” performed by the Holy Spirit.
I really am thankful. But frankly, there is a very long list of things for which I’m not thankful
Third, once I have a thankful heart, I’ll be genuinely thankful because I have a thankful heart.
And fourth, I’ll get back to you about it. After all, why do something really spiritual and godly (especially for someone like me) and not tell anybody about it? There is a lot to be said for a bit of self-righteousness. And besides that, if one has a thankful heart, one should be thankful for the self-righteousness too.
(I know, I know. Erase #4. I repent.)
What’s the point of all this? God is the sovereign Creator, Ruler and Sustainer of all that I see; he is the sovereign Creator, Ruler and Sustainer of all that is; and he is the sovereign Creator, Ruler and Sustainer of our lives. And just as important is the realization that God is good all the time. That’s what the incarnation of God in Christ is all about.
It means that this Thanksgiving no matter what our circumstances—even if the Thanksgiving cook prepares okra—there is a reason to be thankful. And more seriously, even if the family doesn’t get along…even if I have physical issues and I’m suffering…even if my past abuse haunts my present reality…even if I can’t be as good and as kind as I want to be…even if I don’t have enough money to buy a Thanksgiving turkey, I can still be intentionally thankful.
God gives that to his own, to those who ask him for it.
That’s what I’m asking for this Thanksgiving.
I’ll ask that he give it to you too.