Be Thankful (Whether or Not You Feel Like It)
NOVEMBER 25, 2020
This is the time of year when we will be thankful. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been a little bothered by days devoted to good things. It’s as if the point is: You are a dolt and can’t pull this off all the time, but try hard for just one day.
It’s like Pastor Appreciation Day or Brotherhood Week. Aside from one day, you can abuse your pastor. And fifty-one weeks of the year you don’t have to be brotherly to anybody, but for one day, try to be civil.
It’s like Ancestor Appreciation Day (September 27). That, I suppose, is when you try to forget that your ancestors are drunks and horse thieves. You can do it. It’s only for one day. Close your eyes and pretend.
It’s also like Good Neighbor Appreciation Day (September 28). That’s the one day you have to be civil to your neighbors even if their dog just destroyed your rose garden. But it’s okay…you can shoot the dog and your neighbor the next day.
I suppose we have to be thankful on Thanksgiving. The rest of the year we can “cuss and spit” and complain. For one day, though, be thankful. You can do it if you really set your mind to it.
I know…you can’t believe what I just wrote. I’m not sure that I believe it either.
I repent. After all, I’m driven by guilt. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. (Why do you think I teach grace? It’s because I need it so desperately.)
So if you say to me: “Hey, Steve, I can’t believe you’re so ungrateful.”
“Just look around. God has been so good to you in every way and you’re an ungrateful brat.”
I know. I repent.
“After all that Jesus has done for you? I can’t believe you would ever be anything but thankful. You may not even be saved!”
I know, okay? I repent in sackcloth and ashes. I’m a worm. I’m not only a worm, I’m an ungrateful worm. Now if you’ll excuse me…I think I’ll go and eat dirt.
It is said that when Galileo was forced to recant his Copernican heresy, he was heard to mutter under his breath, “Eppur si muove!” (“But it still moves…”)
Okay. I’m supposed to be thankful on Thanksgiving. I know that.
I know that God is good and good all the time and that he has been incredibly good to me in every way. I know that there are so many (almost everybody I know) who have it so much worse than I do. But Eppur si…
There is my struggle with sin, my fear of the future, my anxiety about my family, their health and mine, my schedule, my fear that people will find out I’m not half as spiritual as they thought, my getting old so that my body refuses to do what my brain commands, my friends who are going through so much pain, the death of people I love and the ongoing fight with people who just don’t understand how wonderful and lovable I am. And that’s to say nothing about wars, the economy, terrorists who want to kill me and everybody else I know, and global warming which may or may not kill us all.
But you know something? I really will be thankful this Thanksgiving and not only that, after the Eppur si, I’ll be thankful almost every day of my life. That’s not bragging or pride. It’s just a fact.
It doesn’t start that way each morning when I go to God. My prayer usually starts with my list of complaints, my fears and anxieties, and my list of things about which I am certainly not grateful. He always listens and waits until I’m spent.
Then God says, “You through?”
He invites me to be quiet and in his presence I’m reminded…
God Likes Us
I’m reminded that God likes me without exception or reservation. God said to his ancient covenant people what he says to you and me, also his covenant people: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples [also sinful, rebellious, stiff-necked, selfish, etc.], but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore…” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). Paul wrote, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:5-6).
We Can See the Light
In God’s presence, after I’m finished with my complaints, he also reminds me that when it gets dark enough, one can see the light. In Luke 21, Jesus gave a long list of bad things…really bad things that we can expect. Then he said, “Repent and it will get better.” No, he didn’t say that. He said, “But if you will be good, faithful and really, really Christian, nothing bad will happen to you.” He didn’t say that either.
This is what Jesus said: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28). In other words, when it gets dark enough, you can see the light. Jesus is right. I think this Thanksgiving I can see Jesus more clearly than I ever have before.
God is Big & in Charge
When I’m through with my complaining, God also reminds me that he is a lot bigger than I ever thought.
“Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it” (Deuteronomy 10:14). The writer of Proverbs said, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1). And then the voices that will be heard at the final celebration during the Marriage Supper of the Lamb: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns” (Revelation 19:6).
I will be thankful this Thanksgiving because I know that Someone—even God himself—who loves us and who reveals himself to us is, even when it doesn’t feel like it, in charge of all this mess.
A while ago, someone sent my wife a little card. There was no return address and we have no idea who did it. She took the card and put it on the refrigerator. It reads: “Dear Anna, Trust me. I have everything under control. Jesus.”
I have a friend who became a Christian because he was so thankful about his newborn son and had nobody to thank. He had been an atheist and I had used every argument that I knew. I know a lot and am quite good at debate, but nothing fazed him until his son was born. He was deliriously happy and thankful.
I asked him, “Who are you going to thank?”
That’s when he became a Christian.
So this Thanksgiving is a good Thanksgiving because we have Someone to thank who loves us, who shows himself to us in the dark and who is in control of the mess. Some of us will have more “stuff” than others. Some will be going through some rough waters and some will be sailing through the calm between the storms. Some will be facing emotional or physical pain, loss of a loved one or the prospect of great failure, while others will be sitting on top of the world.
Those aren’t even the issues though.
The issue is God. Run to him. Thanksgiving will be natural.