Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
This is a challenging command. Giving thanks in ALL situations alludes almost all of us some of the time. Recently I’ve been doing nearly a funeral a week. These folks have died from accidents, old age, cancer, and other diseases, including COVID. Try telling a grieving family to give thanks in their situation.
Some of our circumstances are just plain horrific. I know because you share them with me. All of our lives have been disrupted in so many ways by this pandemic, the election, and the racial tension we’ve experienced. I’ll just state the obvious – it’s been tough to be thankful in 2020! But as we come to Thanksgiving in this crazy year of 2020, I’ve been reflecting on President Abraham Lincoln and the context in which he instituted our Thanksgiving holiday. In 1863, Lincoln declared that the last Thursday of November was to be a day of thanksgiving. It’s been celebrated ever since.
Think back to 1863. It was a time when our country wasn’t just polarized; we were thick into a civil war. The country was literally torn apart and killing each other. The battle of Gettysburg had just been fought in early July. Some 50,000 soldiers died – the most in any American battle. Then later that same month, there was a massive riot in New York City – the largest urban racial riot in American history. It started as a draft riot that ended up becoming a race riot. Troops from Gettysburg were called to restore peace. What a season of chaos, fear, loss, disruption, and yes, for many, hopelessness!
Our current season of disruption isn’t anything close to the horrors of 1863. Yet, as that year ended, Lincoln reminded us that there was much for us to give thanks. Giving thanks in all circumstances does not mean we are thankful FOR bad situations. Instead, we look for ways to be thankful IN all difficult circumstances. We all have much to be grateful for, even in 2020! Don’t let 2020 rob you of the joy of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a gift God gives us to pull us out of sadness, fear, hopelessness, anxiety, and worry!
This Thanksgiving, take some time to slow down and reflect on all the things for which you are grateful. We can all be thankful for the grace God has shown us. He loves us, forgives us, is merciful toward us, is for us, promises always to be with us, and has adopted us as his children. That alone is cause to be thankful, no matter what 2020 has looked like. Then add to your thanksgiving your family, our freedom, and our faith. 2020 is nothing like 1863 when Lincoln declared a day of thanksgiving. Give thanks!
Happy Thanksgiving! It’s my favorite holiday. Why? The turkey is great. I love family time. There’s usually great football. But the best part is the focus on gratitude. I’m convinced that gratitude is a lost spiritual discipline in American Christianity. There are too few of us that make gratitude a daily practice and choice. If we were to rediscover the art of gratitude, we’d experience a transformation of our attitude that would result in continual satisfaction and contentment.
But our natural response to life is to complain. It has always been that way. The people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years because they just kept complaining against God. Why? They focused on their hardship rather than in all the ways God had and was providing for them. We’ll always have hardships and we’ll always have much to be grateful about. We get to choose which we’ll focus on.
The fact is that we have become experts at complaining – out loud and in our heads. As long as we are ungrateful, we can’t help but complain. And the more we complain, the more we focus on what we lack and find even more to complain about. It’s a cycle and a trap. The very act of complaining and being discontent keeps us focused on what we wish was different. And that ingratitude which leads to complaining interrupts our experience of God’s goodness and grace.
I recently read about a pastor who has A.L.S. – an incurable, debilitating disease. Most of what he used to be able to do, he can no longer do. But he recounted how grateful he was that he could still walk to the bathroom. While he can’t use his right hand, he’s grateful he can still use his left hand to feed himself. Daily he chooses to focus on what he can do rather than complain about what he’s lost. He said his gratitude helps him see God’s goodness and grace in his ordeal.
I’ve tried to make gratitude a planned part of my day. I even have a chair in my backyard that I’ve dedicated to use for my Bible reading and for gratitude. I’ve found that the practice of gratitude changes my attitude. Studies have shown that folks who regularly practice gratitude are healthier both physically and emotionally and a lot happier. I’ve found that the more I intentionally focus on what I’m grateful for the more I discover what I have to be grateful about. The well for gratitude is endless!
And most of all, God commands that we be thankful (Here are just a few scriptures – Ephesians 5:20; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 3:15; 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). So choose to be thankful. May your Thanksgiving holiday be the beginning of a season of gratitude that lasts long beyond the holiday.