Suppose the fourth Thursday in November wasn’t a national holiday and nobody got a day off with pay. What if the following Friday didn’t have a catchy name and didn’t unleash a retail marketing frenzy? Would it really seem all that special if serving turkey and dressing for dinner was no more than having a really big chicken and being stuck with lots of leftovers? And suppose nobody was around to prod us toward making the concept of gratitude a major focus for our family on that particular Thursday – or for that matter, any other Thursday. Would we just decide on our own to make our most popular fall dishes, decorate our homes and make a special effort to get all our family together? Would we interrupt our regular routines to add a time for everyone to express their gratitude? Would we sit around the table, hold each other’s hand, and tell one another how blessed we feel for the privilege of sharing life with them? Would we pause to contemplate the multitude of benefits we tend to take for granted and thank God for them? I would dare to predict that without the outside prodding of culture and tradition, next Thursday would probably unfold like most of the other nondescript Thursdays that come and go. If that prediction is accurate, other questions need to be addressed as well.
Unintended Larceny ~
First, is our approach to giving thanks primarily a stimulus-response kind of thing? Are our expressions of gratitude held in reserve, waiting for the arrival of some positive event to trigger their release? Must our thankfulness be predicated on the reception of some benefit that comes our way? If so, what impact does that have on us and on our relationships, spiritual and otherwise? Could it be that we are denying ourselves, short-changing others, and worst of all, robbing God of something He treasures? Are we missing out on the opportunity to initiate and experience the kind of joy that is most pleasing to God, most refreshing to us? And in a world gripped with fear and anxiety, are we withholding the kind of joy that has the greatest potential for transformational impact?
Those are questions we ought to consider as we prepare our celebrations, but one affirmation should be included before we continue. When it comes to the subject of thanksgiving, there’s an unchangeable constant we can depend on. That is that it’s never inappropriate to say Thank You to God. He loves it when His benefits are recognized and gratitude for them is expressed, regardless of when, how, or by whom that gratitude is offered. Thanksgiving is suitable in reference to any chronological category, past, present, or future, but there’s a context in which it really stands out.
More than Unnatural ~
Jesus called us to be more than just unnatural. He called us to be supernaturally unnatural. Regarding love, for instance, He pointed out that loving those who love us is natural. It’s an expected response and thus, loving like that garners little to no attention and it’s easily dismissed. So, He sent us into the world with a mandate to love in ways that are so unnatural that people can’t help but notice. He said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you… (Matthew 5:43–44 NKJV)
The same approach applies to thanksgiving as well. For instance, if someone’s car was broken down and someone just decided out of the blue to give them a new one, exuberant expressions of gratitude would be natural. Giving the car might attract attention from observers, but a grateful response would not be seen as anything unique or special. While gratitude in that case is a wholesome and good thing, God calls us to raise it to an unnatural level.
Paul only needed two words to point out a way to implement that idea. Many of the followers of Jesus in Philippi were in dire straits and facing persecution in various forms. In the midst of their anxiety and fear, God inspired Paul to say:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6–7 NKJV)
The Philippians weren’t instructed to withhold their thanks until God delivered them from their present distress and surrounded them with more pleasant circumstances. Instead, in the midst of their anxieties and in spite of the threats that existed in their world at that time, God called them to lift up their gratitude along with their petitions for relief. And that admonition was not intended for the Church in Philippi alone. It is for us as well.
Thanksgiving Day will find a multitude of families and individuals facing circumstances that are the stuff of nightmares. They aren’t always thousands of miles away, and we don’t need to turn on a national news broadcast to hear their stories. One family we know is grieving the loss of one of their teenage sons who took his own life a few days ago. Others are battling life threatening medical issues, and many others are struggling financially because the major breadwinner lost a lucrative job. Another friend is fighting to try to save his marriage, and others are enslaved by one kind of addiction or another. None of them feel like celebrating, and next Thursday won’t feel like a holiday.
A Supernatural Response ~
If those folks decided that instead of a Thanksgiving table this year, they’d just table the whole idea, no one would fault them for it. It would seem like the natural thing to do. But what if something unnatural happened? What if instead of surrendering to despair, in the supernatural power of the Spirit of God living in them, they surrendered the despair itself? Suppose those people rose up in defiant hope and launched a barrage of thanksgiving and praise to God that challenged all of it? Suppose their weary hands were raised in gratitude to the God who promised to give them strength? Suppose they offered their battered hearts to Him in gratitude for the love that would never abandon them? Suppose like the widow who offered all she had, they poured out their thanks to the One guaranteeing treasure in Heaven for them. The Philippians didn’t have peace when they were offering their thanks, but they had the promise of it.
So, whether our Thanksgiving Day will be a time to reflect on our treasured gifts or a time to defy the traumas we face, may our rejoicing be more than a natural response to a cultural tradition. May our praises be supernaturally empowered and may a broken and suffering world be reminded once again that Jesus lives – and because He lives, hope will never die.
~ H A P P Y T H A N K S G I V I N G 2 0 2 2 ~
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “In the midst of anxieties and in spite of threats in their world, God called the Philippians to lift their gratitude along w/their petitions for relief. That admonition wasn’t intended for the Church in Philippi alone. It is for us as well.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Instead of surrendering to despair, what if the Philippians surrendered despair itself in the power of the Spirit living in them? Suppose they rose up in defiant hope & launched a barrage of thanksgiving and praise to God that challenged it all.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Suppose like the widow who offered all she had, the Philippians poured out their thanks to the One guaranteeing treasure in Heaven for them. They didn’t have peace when they were offering their thanks, but they had the promise of it.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Whether Thanksgiving Day will be a time to reflect on our treasured gifts or a time to defy the traumas we face, may our praises be supernaturally empowered. May a broken and suffering world be reminded that because Jesus lives, hope will never die.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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