Monday, November 21, 2011

Give Thanks (with a Grateful Heart) – Part 1

I. Introduction

Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, a day set aside for us to think of our many blessings and be thankful. Although the meaning of the holiday may seem obvious, Thanksgiving Day can raise a question or two for some people: One question is, why should I give thanks when things aren’t going particularly well? “What have I got to be thankful for these days?” Another question might be, to whom are we supposed to give thanks?

I’d like to explore this issue of being thankful in light of what the Bible tells us. I’m hoping that by doing so, Thanksgiving Day this year might be a little more meaningful for you and your family. This is the first of two posts on the subject of being thankful.

II. Why Give Thanks?

Let’s look at the first question, “Why should I give thanks? What have I got to be thankful for these days?” You might be asking that question:
-if you have lost your job or think you are about to lose it;
-if you have lost a loved one or someone you care about is very sick;
-if you have health, family, or other problems that are wearing you down;
-if you have an incurable disease or some kind of chronic condition; or
-if you are worried about the future because of the bad economy.

So why should we give thanks when there are so many things that aren’t going well, or the future is questionable?

1. Give Thanks in All Circumstances

One reason we should give thanks, even when we may not feel like it, is because the Bible says we should (in 1 Thessalonians 5:15b-18):
Always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. NRSV

This was written by the Apostle Paul, who, as you see in the Book of Acts, didn’t exactly have an easy life.

2. Learn to Be Content

The second reason we should be able to give thanks is because we have learned to be content despite problems, something easier said than done. We can’t do that in our own strength, so God helps us to do so as Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11-13:
For I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. NRSV

Similarly, we read in Hebrews 13:5-6a about being content and trusting God to get us through any difficulties we might be facing:
Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for [God] has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. NRSV

It’s difficult to be content when the future seems to be so uncertain, yet trusting in God’s provision will ease our worries and give us confidence. Jesus gave us this wise advice about our priorities and worrying (in Matthew 6:33-34):
“But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today.” NRSV

3. It Could Be Worse

Another reason we should be thankful despite our fears and worries is that compared with most of the rest of the world, we’re doing pretty well. Many parts of the world have inadequate drinking water, a very limited diet, the constant threat of attack, terrible diseases, and oppressive governments. Even Europe is going through a period of severe financial distress. On a personal level, we aren’t doing so badly when compared to others we know or hear about, such as those:
-Suffering from a serious illness;
-Suffering from severe injuries;
-Suffering with the recent loss of a loved one;
-Dealing with difficult family or relational issues; or
-Having significant financial issues.

Think about those Pilgrims who had the first Thanksgiving, and what they had gone through. They lost many of their own during a very tough winter, yet the surviving Pilgrims still gave thanks for what they did have.

III. Whom Should We Thank?

The second question might be, “Whom are we supposed to thank?

1. Original Thanksgiving Distorted

I think most children today are told in school that the Pilgrims threw a party as a way of thanking the local Indians for helping them survive. Without a doubt the Indians were invited to the Thanksgiving dinner in appreciation for their help. But the reason for the dinner was to thank God for his provision. While Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, people of faith should not lose sight of whom we should be thanking.

2. God Is Our Source

You might ask, “Why should I thank God? I work hard to earn a living.” We thank God because God is our ultimate provider. We may work hard to earn a living, but it is God who gave us that job. A farmer may plant the seeds, but it is God who provides the sun and rain so the crops can grow.

God may not give us everything we want, but God is with us and will take care of us. We will still go through some tough times, but God helps us through them.

More on the topic of giving thanks in a future post.

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