As Thanksgiving knocks on the door, memories pour in. Thoughts of 'back then' and 'when' tug at heartstrings and fill me with longing as I find myself in a mixture of homesick and wishful thinking. Yet, turning back clocks just isn't possible and, fact is, I am grateful for the years of experience and tradition which have built to form a varied and rich remembering.
Current history has its own mixture of sweet and bitter. Midlife is not as I expected it to be and the turns and challenges leave my heart aching deeply at times. However, with every diversion and twist I seek to draw deeper into God's Word for both comfort and guidance. After all, if He could..... I can....
This is one of the many reasons I treasure a gratitude study during the Thanksgiving season. Not only does it prepare our hearts for Advent ahead, but it nourishe deficits from any hangups and set-backs from the year behind. I desire to ring in the new with lessons well learned and the slate readily prepared... wrapping up this gratitude season has been no different.
In the midst of deep struggles over recent weeks, I had an even deeper reminder:
How many times have I 'preached' this to family, friends, and even strangers? There is no gray area here. No, "rejoice when you feel like it..." no "pray when it suits you"... no "give thanks for the good things but complain about the bad things". Why? Because God's will for us is so much bigger than our momentary afflictions.
As I dug, a Crossway article (which I have since lost) pointed out:
"Joy in Paul's letters is a basic mark of the Christian and a fruit of the Spirit. It is often associated with the firm hope of the Christian.... [and] Christians are to be marked by Thanksgiving."
I think it is easy to ignore these simple facts. Being "joyful" and "grateful" in ALL things is a great idea but not a realistic one. I mean, come on...
... when there isn't enough money to pay bills, I am suppose to be joyful and grateful? Yeah right.
... when people are rude or mean to me, I am suppose to be joyful and grateful? That is a challenge.
... when people I love aren't getting along, I am suppose to be joyful and grateful? Seriously?
... when I am having relationship problems, I am suppose to be joyful and grateful? How?
... when a child is wandering or pushing me away, I am suppose to be joyful and grateful? Does God even understand my hurt????
As a matter of fact, God does understand our hurt and challenges. Jesus came as a man, He felt what we felt, He endured what we endured and in the end, in His final words to his followers, He said to have peace because He overcomes the world... the trials and challenges. This isn't a 'in the good times' kind of peace, joy and thanksgiving - it is an all.the.time kind of posture. How? Why?
Because we are not grateful for trials and challenges, successes or blessings - we are grateful for a savior who is Lord over it all.... for a God who is relational and present, no.matter.what.
We rejoice always because...
This verse is actually a snapshot of heaven! It isn't about debates are hard times or challenging people... it is simply;
righteousness - peace - joy
Philippians (also written by Paul in the Spirit) goes on to mirror Thessalonians:
Why? So that...
righteousness, peace, joy
rejoicing, praying and thanking...
no matter what
This is God's will for us... why... because this rejoicing, praying, thanking in ALL things kind of lifestyle keeps us rightly focused and places the peace of God as a guard over our hearts... a no matter what beyond understanding PEACE. This is how we bear the mark of "Christian"... this is how we make God known... this is how we find comfort in the hard times and richer celebrations in the good.
When the 72 returned in Luke after having been sent by Jesus to minister, they are rejoicing because they saw the power of Jesus' name over demons. While Jesus agrees that through Him there is power and protection, He refocuses their attention to a more important point:
We can rejoice and pray and give thanks in ALL circumstances because our names are written in heaven. Through our salvation and Christ's sacrifice, absolutely nothing can change that. Not our worst day... and not our best. We don't hold an attitude of gratitude because something is bad, we hold an attitude of gratitude because we belong to a God who covers and pulls us through it.
How can we not rejoice?
My memories are richer and my challenges dimmer when I think on these things. I'm ready for Thanksgiving... and not just for a 4th Thursday in November, but for all days, in all months, all year long. Are you?
By the way... it's not too late to be ready for Thanksgiving! On our "Resource" page here on this site you can find these great downloadables to help you plan and prepare (it is never too late to be ready for a big holiday dinner!)