by Laura Johnson
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18)
The holiday of Thanksgiving falls always on Thursday. If it were really about being thankful, the day would be on a Friday or Monday so we’d all get that three-day weekend. But that’s not what the Pilgrims of Plymouth were thinking about when they sat down all those centuries ago to share a meal of thanks.
They were celebrating God’s blessings of a great harvest in a most uncertain time in a brand-new land. (They weren’t worried about having enough turkey leftover to make a sandwich the next day for lunch).
As a national holiday, Thanksgiving is secularized. Yet, in almost every American family tradition, there is a point during the day when talk turns to what people are most thankful for. The cutest responses always come from the pint-sized people who often cite new toys or pets, but for the most part, we humans are thankful for the ones we love. We are thankful because we know that our time with them is precious—and limited.
Holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas, are hardest for those who have lost a loved one. They remember the happiness of the season and feel the hard reality that an important piece of that happiness is now gone. While in his letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul urged Christ’s followers to be joyful at all times,that’s just not always possible.
When terrible things happen in our lives—death of a loved one, a crippling accident, an inability to have children, a break-up—it is only right and just to cry and mourn and scream at God. We ask God, “How could you let this happen?” when we feel like our heart has been cut out. The only way to ride it out is to experience it completely. This ability to feel is what makes us human.
But Paul was not telling his flock to hide their true feelings, so they could always be happy. Instead, he was trying to encourage and reassure the early Christians that Jesus was indeed going to come again. In that knowledge, he urged the Thessalonians to be thankful and to give praise. This is a promise Christians can find assurance in today.
Yes, Paul was correct that we should be thankful in all circumstances—thankful to God for God’s goodness and grace, even if we don’t feel up to the task. Eventually, it will get better. When you have an open dialogue with Jesus about everything you’re feeling—the doubts, the turmoil, the grief—the weight will be lifted from your shoulders and you’ll have even more to be grateful for than before. The ultimate goal is to be able to be joyful, prayerful and thankful to the Lord at all times. With God’s help, this can be achieved.
This year, when you sit down at your Thanksgiving table give thanks for the people surrounding you in love but also give thanks for the creator of love itself. For it is truly right to give God thanks and praise.
Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise. Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you. All the earth worships you; they sing you praises to you, sing praises to your name.” (Psalms 66, 1-4)
1. What is one thing that you are thankful for today?
2. Describe a time you were so overcome with joy and thanks to God you couldn’t do anything but give God praise.
3. Describe a time you were so overcome with grief and despair you cried out to God in anger. Read Psalm 63:1-5.
4. What are some ways of worshiping God in your daily life without being in constant meditation?
Short prayer: Jesus, I cry out to you in thanksgiving and also to ask for your forgiveness. I am in awe of your beautiful creation and my family and friends whom I share it with. I give you thanks for the blessings you have heaped upon me in my life. Amen.