With the National Day of Thanksgiving approaching, conventional wisdom calls for everyone to be “thankful.” (‘Conventional wisdom,’ however, is not always wise!) People often make lists of blessings as a reminder to give thanks. I have led congregations to make lists during Thanksgiving worship services. Our family, at times, has gone around the Thanksgiving dinner table and shared reasons each has for thankfulness.
In truth, all of us have blessings in our lives which call for thankful hearts. Some of us do seem to have more blessings than others. But, it is easy to be thankful when we are considering the good times of life. Yet, God has a different standard. God’s direction is not to only “Give thanks when life goes well.” Please listen a couple of verses in which God calls His children to an unexpected heart of thankfulness.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 God calls Christians to, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Did you hear that? God does not just call for thanks when life seems to be going well. God’s call is to “give thanks in all circumstances!” Then, in Colossians 3:15 God instructs us. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (See also Ephesians 5:20.) We give thanks, not just in happy times, but in “whatever you do.” Also, please notice, we do this “in the name of the Lord Jesus!”
So, how do we give thanks when life is difficult? One of my greatest earthly blessings, if not the greatest, is my family. On Wednesday, November 16, I visited the grave of my parents. At the cemetery, I noticed close by the grave of young man who had died at the age of 33. His family had included a Bible verse on his marker. “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore.” (Psalm 125:2)
Yes, life has blessings. But we are also faced with challenges, disappointment, failure, loss, suffering, and much more pain. We are sinful people in a sinful world. The results of sin are empirically evident through the evil in our world. But, this family knew that, not only in the good times of life, but also in the gut-wrenching loss of a beloved family member to death, God is still there surrounding His people. The goodness and love of God are greater than the sin and pain of life. The goodness and love of God in the midst of life’s pain is truly reason for thanks.
Christians can begin to understand this reason for thankfulness even in the midst of life’s trials. Jesus came to earth, not in spite of sin, but because of sin. Jesus lived in a sinful world, suffering death because of the weight of sin. The Lord of Life died to deal with the sin of the world, the guilt of my sin and the guilt of your sin. THANKFULLY, Jesus rose from death, defeating our enemies of sin, Satan, and death. Even when the sin of this world brings injustice and trauma, suffering and pain, Jesus is present in love and victory. So, those who know the Lord and believe in Jesus can “give thanks in all circumstances.”
I do believe that it is a good spiritual exercise on Thanksgiving to name the many blessings God lavishes upon us, partly because the pain of life can lead us to forget the good gifts of our Lord. But, maybe it is also worth naming the trials and the evil of life and to then declare, with St. Paul, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57) That is reason truly for thanks!
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