Entries in Thanksgiving (43)
There are two ways to be thankful, and one of them is deadly.
On the surface all thankfulness sounds good, but the path we take toward thankful words makes all the difference. The deadly path is gratitude based upon the lack of others. We look around and discover our place on the scale of good luck and think, “I’m glad I’m better off than them.” This is thanksgiving relative to someone else’s situation in life. It is Relative Thankfulness.
Relative thankfulness sees the world as a zero-sum game. It’s grateful the score is tilted in its favor. Perhaps you’ve heard the sound: “There are so many people struggling, but thank goodness I’m not among them.” Relative thankfulness has a thousand expressions: “we have bounteous table in a world where so many are hungry; I got the promotion over the other five candidates; I may have only one pair of shoes, but there are people in the world with no feet.”
Tune your ear to its nuance: the sound of relative thankfulness is everywhere, even in the houses of the holy: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18:10-11) After praying prayers of relative thankfulness we discover we’ve only been talking to ourselves. We also find ourselves ranking the other people at the temple.
But there is a path that leads to life, thanksgiving that enters the gates of God’s estate. Healthy thanksgiving is absolute. Without qualification. It has no need to look about. Absolute thanks focuses on the Giver and the gift. Absolute thanks understands that the gift says everything about the Giver—and next to nothing about the one who receives it, other than the receiver is the object of perfect love. Relative thankfulness looks around; absolute thanks looks up. Absolute thanks yearns for everyone to know such joy. Absolute thanks is the little boy who hits a home run, and wishes every other boy on the team will get the same chance to experience the thrill of taking the victory lap.
Here is the danger, the destination, of relative thankfulness: it is tempted confuse the goodness of God with the goodness of the recipient. Relative thankfulness has favorite verses in the Bible: “Tell the righteous that it shall be well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds.” Or, “No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” And as true as these verses are, relative thankfulness thinks the kindness and mercy of God somehow validates its own lifestyle. From there it’s only a short step to wondering out loud why in heaven’s name God would show kindness to others or why the rain would fall on the unjust as well as the just. It is dangerously close to envying the good fortune of others. It is incapable of rejoicing with others, or mourning with those who weep.
When the scripture reminds us of gratitude that leads to life, let’s turn our gaze where it belongs, and discover again the pure joy of absolute thanks.
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Enough with the rants and the whining: we have taught ourselves the habit of discontent. We are a people gone crazy with complaints. But the good news is habits can be dropped and new ones can be learned. We can update our software. We can see the world with fresh eyes.
Today A Month of Thanksgiving goes live at Amazon.com. It’s my attempt help reset our baseline and see gratitude as the “normal” God intended for each of his children. I wrote it because I believe our greatest need is to return to a “creaturely” relationship with our Creator. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. Did you know that last sentence is a verse of scripture? Visit our stern brother James and you’ll discover one of his foundations.
It’s a short daily devotional—you can read each one in a minute or two. After the devotion you’ll find a question worth asking, an action worth taking, and a quote worth repeating. Here’s a sample from day one. Get on board for the thanksgiving train: it’s underway in just a few days.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Paul’s words in Thessalonians have something to teach us about the will of God: he wants us to be thankful from the heart. Why torture ourselves over discovering God’s will when the obvious first step is right in front of us?
The Father knows thankfulness is the best thing for us—if it flows from the heart. When our hearts respond with prayers of joy and gratitude to the situations of life, we are responding out of Christlikeness and not simply parroting the company line. One way to "pray continuously" is to develop the habit of giving thanks in all things. Gratitude is a mighty prayer in the Spirit.
Ask Yourself: Do I believe it is possible to give thanks in all situations? How could every circumstance contain the seeds of thanksgiving?
Live Into It: Each day, identify three thanks-worthy things. Use the notes App on your phone, or the white board on your refrigerator, or your bathroom mirror. It doesn’t matter if you repeat yourself some days—some things are worth giving thanks for every single day.
A.W. Tozer ~ “A thankful heart cannot be cynical.”
This devotional is available at Amazon 99 cents as a Kindle book, or just a bit more in paperback. Gather your wits each morning. Become sane again. Select “Restart” and you will find the world God wants you to see.
The thankful heart is awake to God’s goodness. It lives in the constant wonder of his first judgment about the world: “it is good.”
Sometimes words change faster than Bible translations. Some words morph faster than politicians change positions. Worse still, some words are taken captive and forced into the labor of deception. They end up communicating the very opposite of their truest meaning.
For example, the simple word hope has come to mean something unsure and doubtful. Everyone hopes for the best, but prepares for the worst. When we talk about hope in everyday language we are really talking about our insecurities: who knows how things will really work out?
It’s not always been that way. The word hope used to do some pretty heavy lifting. The Biblical notion of hope is the opposite of un-certainty. It’s a word filled with expectation: expectation of God’s powerful intervention. The word hope describes the in-breaking of joy capable of showing fear to the door. When the Spirit of God speaks of hope the word means “confident expectation,” or quite literally a life-line from heaven. It is an overflowing word, intended to be contagious, changing lives and cultures. Hope is the engine of a thankful heart.
Hope is an abiding thing. It hangs out in the company of faith and love. It will outlast this world.
We could spend the next decade plumbing the depths of Biblical hope. We could explore the pathways of hope until we draw our final breath, only to discover that the half has not been told. Godly hope is the rebirth of divine certainty in us, and it does not disappoint.
Hebrews describes hope as an anchor, thrown--not into the sea--but into the heavens. The preacher of that message suggests hope should spur us to diligence, not out of desperation but rather confidence.
Hosea discovered the "gateway of hope" in the "valley of Trouble."
The Psalms reveal that hope is the antidote for depression and turmoil. Not wishful thinking or a positive mental attitude, but instead drinking deep from springs of hope the way a deer searches for streams of water.
In Romans, the Apostle Paul promised us that hope does not disappoint. Hope is the conduit through which God’s love pours into our hearts.
I’m beginning to re-tool my vocabulary, and more importantly my heart. What has God said? What has he promised? I will lash myself to his revelation, because hope abides. Our ability to give thanks from the heart depends upon hope: the hope of God’s goodness and the hope of his constant presence. The greatest of these may be love, but faith and hope are love’s fellow travelers. I suspect there’s room for you in the traveling party.
Abraham was as a stranger in a foreign country. He lived in tents and sought a city whose builder and maker was God. Still, in an attempt to save the detestable cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, he bargained with God for their good.
Daniel took the words of Jeremiah to heart and sought the prosperity of his exile city, a city responsible for the desolation of Jerusalem. Daniel gave the best of his counsel and wisdom in order that a pagan capital would thrive.
The Son of Man wept over the very city that would rise up and kill him. He drank the cup of wrath that was due to the privileged—and unfaithful—people of Israel.
From these examples I have learned to love my country, not because it is the truest, best, or perfect, but because this love is part of living as God’s agent of mercy among his people. Love of one's country, its cities, people, and customs is work of God. It is the middle way between two more common approaches to any society.
The first approach is judgment, and today is an easy day to judge America. Today is Black Friday, the Bacchanalia of consumerism that strangely follows Thanksgiving Day. The Twitterverse and blogosphere brims over with distain for this American excess, and Christians lead the way in critical remarks. Believers chastise others for so quickly abandoning the grace and gratitude of giving thanks in favor of buying and getting more, more, more. Yet even the critics have quickly abandoned another kind of gratitude, that of loving your neighbor. How can we show mercy when today we heap judgment?
The second approach is less prevalent in America today but it still exists: “My country, right or wrong.” Just a generation ago large segments of Evangelical Christianity enjoyed confusing the American Ideal with the Kingdom Stone. We loved America blindly and described her as “the last, best hope for the world.” This, too, is excess, practiced in the post-war decades in a way that substituted our calling to be strangers in a strange land for the hope that America would establish God’s kingdom on earth. It was foolish, too.
For Americans, Black Friday is as good a day to love America as any other day, because this is where we are planted. I am thankful my country, freedoms and flaws together, like Nineveh, the Father has mercy on the lost.
The Pilgrims’ daily existence was a life-or-death battle to overcome constant hunger, sickness, and exposure to the elements. Crudely assembled houses made of mud daub were their only shelter from the icy New England weather. Because they were not yet knowledgeable about their new environment’s agriculture, planting gardens in the hostile conditions proved virtually fruitless. Every meal was portioned out meticulously. The death toll, a constant reminder of their fragility, rose steadily. At one point only five men were well enough to care for the sick.
Despite their tribulations, the Pilgrims thanked the Lord every day, petitioning Him for rehabilitation. One morning, during an ordinary Sunday worship service, the Lord sent tangible evidence that He had heard their prayers. Their church service was interrupted by an unexpected guest, an Algonquin Indian chief who assessed their hopeless situation and returned with a helper named Squanto. The Pilgrims, who had warred with Indians before and lived with a continuous fear of being attacked by them, were astonished by their new friends’ eagerness to provide much-needed assistance. Squanto, a Patuxet Indian who spoke perfect English, taught the Pilgrims how to hunt game, trap beavers, and plant Indian corn, a staple that would eventually save their lives.
When the harvest yielded more than the Pilgrims could eat, Governor William Bradford, their elected leader, declared a day of public thanksgiving. He invited the chief of a friendly neighboring Indian tribe to join in their tribute of Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims were excited to celebrate with their honored guest, but were completely shocked when he arrived with ninety other Indians.
Although God had provided abundantly, their food supply would not accommodate a group of this size, and they had no idea how to feed their visitors. Despite their quandary, all worries were soon dismissed. To their amazement and ever-increasing thankfulness, the Indians had brought with them five dressed deer and a dozen fat, wild turkeys. Over time they taught the women how to make pudding, maple syrup, and an Indian delicacy — roasted kernels of corn called popcorn.
But the Pilgrims’ trials were far from finished; their plentiful autumn was followed by a particularly treacherous winter. Unfortunately, the weather proved to be the least of their ailments. In November a ship called The Fortune dropped anchor in their harbor. Aboard the ship were thirty-five more colonists who had brought with them no provisions — no food, no extra clothing, no equipment for survival. Additionally, the oppression of the physical environment had become almost unbearable after a twelve-week drought dried up their crops and withered their spirits. The newcomers’ arrival had drained already inadequate food rations and there was no obvious resource for sustenance. At their lowest point, the Pilgrims were reduced to a daily ration of five kernels of corn apiece. In utter desperation they fell to their knees and prayed for eight hours without ceasing.
Again God heard their supplications; fourteen days of rain followed. A second Day of Thanksgiving was declared. The neighboring Indian chief was again their honored guest; he brought with him one hundred and twenty braves. The Pilgrims feasted on game and turkey as they had during their previous celebration, only this time one dish was different. The first course, served on an empty plate in front of each person, consisted of five kernels of corn, a gentle reminder of God’s faithful provision for them.
(Adapted from Peter Marshall and David Manuel's account in The Light and the Glory)