Maintaining Thanksgiving

give-thanks

The holiday of Thanksgiving has passed. Our stomach’s might be still full, or at least our refrigerators still have some remains of turkey and gravy. We are about to close on this “thankful month” all together. So. Now what?

Black Friday slammed us in the face, and the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season is already upon us. Our minds have shifted from the central point of thanks, to the thoughts of what’s next on our to-do list, our shopping list, our Christmas card list. As we approach the Christmas season, I want to encourage each of us to maintain, at least try to maintain, a heart full of thanksgiving.

Last blog I mentioned sacrificial thanksgiving, the kind of thanksgiving that is uttered even in our darkest moments. But how are we able to get there, if in our everyday life, thanksgiving is not towards the front of our minds, or the echo of our hearts’ cry?

A beautiful thing about thanksgiving is it puts us in our place. My favorite musical of all time is Fiddler on the Roof. The dancing is entertaining, the music is superb, the love stories are unforgettable…but the reason why I can watch this movie over and again is because Tevye’s relationship with God fascinates me. (Heartbreakingly, he is missing the Gospel because he and his family are still awaiting the Messiah’s coming.) However, what Tevye does know about God, and how he relates to God, is truly inspiring. You see Tevye, often looking towards the sky, talks to God. I love how symbolic that is (whether it’s meant to be or not) as Tevye knew God’s place and he knew his place. He realizes how majestic God is and that God is in control, and in turn how lowly he is and obedient he must be in comparison. Yet, with seeing who God is, and in turn who he is, Tevye still has a remarkably close relationship with God. His family was poor, he never bore a son, yet he was content.

If we approach life with a proud heart and the idea that we are entitled to certain things, then the roots in our hearts will not be ones of thanksgiving. So, project. Go outside and look at the sunset. Or play with your dog. Or do something that takes your mind off of, well, you. As we step back from being in the center of our world, and look up, we realize the distance between our Maker and ourselves. A phrase that I live by almost daily is, ‘God is God, and I am not.’ But oh, how freeing that is!

The more we look to God and see Him for what He is, and in-turn look at the Scriptures to see ourselves for who we are, and then who God says we are, then what I find overflowing in my heart is thanksgiving. Because wow. Oh wow. What a huge difference between our infinite and perfect God and ME a finite and imperfect human! But the Story does not stop there – because Jesus bridged the gap between God and me so that we can have a lifelong and eternity-full relationship together.

I don’t know about you, but this truth causes my heart to be filled with thanksgiving. This Christmas season, in the midst of our celebrations and stresses, let’s remember who God is, and in turn, who we are. Let’s let this truth be the reason that we can maintain hearts of thanksgiving…even in the midst of our to-do lists, shopping lists, and Christmas cards lists.

Verses to mediate on this week:

Who God Says He Is:       

Psalm 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Jonah 4:2 “O Lord…I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”

1 Timothy 6:15-16 “[God] who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”

1 John 1:9 “ If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Romans 8:31-39 “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Who God Says We Are:

Psalm 139:14 “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.”

Ephesians 3:10 “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Ephesians 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

Colossians 1:9-14 “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

My prayer for you is that everyday, no matter how mundane or stressful it can be, that your hear will be filled with thanksgiving – continual thanksgiving which can only come from remembering who He is, and who we are. And especially remembering how good and gracious God is to bridge the gap between the two, in order for us to have continual fellowship with our Maker!

Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

Tail of Humpback Whale

So often thankfulness is seen as an overflow of happiness. But if that were the case, where is the depth? If we only gave thanks to God during seasons of bliss, what does that make our relationship with God look like?

Looking at Scripture, and looking back on my own life, I’ve learned that thanksgiving isn’t only an attitude we are to posses when life is going well and when we can “pin the feather on the turkey” without thinking too long and hard. Thanksgiving isn’t when we have a Pollyanna approach to life, and pick and choose the good stuff to focus on. If we think it is, then I want to challenge you with the thought that genuine thankfulness of heart is so much more.

True thanksgiving, and the kind of thanksgiving that I believe gives the most praise back to God, occurs when we’ve come to the end of our rope. Or, like Jonah, am trapped in the belly of a whale. I’ve heard the story of Jonah many times, and have read this passage many times. It wasn’t until last week that the depth of thanksgiving struck me from what is here. This passage is when Jonah after saying “no” to God and running in the opposite direction, found himself sitting in the belly of a whale. Jonah believes he is going to die, and that this would be his last prayer.

Jonah 2:1-9 Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying,

“I called out to the Lord, out of my distress,
    and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
    and you heard my voice.
 For you cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas,
    and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
    passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
    from your sight;
yet I shall again look
    upon your holy temple.’
The waters closed in over me to take my life;
    the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
   at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
    whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
                                  O Lord my God.                              

   When my life was fainting away,
    I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you,
    into your holy temple.
 Those who pay regard to vain idols
    forsake their hope of steadfast love.
 But I with the voice of thanksgiving
    will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
    Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

Thanksgiving, true thanksgiving requires sacrifice. Thinking of all the “easy things” to be thankful for is a good thing. This jump starts our hearts and minds into being attentive to the gifts God gives us. But once we’re able to get there, there’s a farther step that typically requires a step of faith. If we don’t take this step, I’m going to say then we are willingly missing out on deepening our relationship with God, and falling more in love with Him than possibly ever before. This, my friend, is the step of giving thanks go God in the midst of pain, stress and heartache. And that step leads to us being able to actually thank God for the pain, stress and heartache that life throws our way.

I feel like Jonah is a Biblical character that we often pick on. But the passage, and his story, is pretty deep. Jonah went through a mess of a time and then of all things, got swallowed by a whale. But when Jonah got to his lowest low, he looked to God. Jonah knew that God could do a miracle, and save him. But Jonah was human, like you and me, and I’m pretty certain that Jonah thought his life would end by being digested by a fish. (Uh, nasty.) So looking back upon all that God had done for him, he is moved to thanksgiving. Now that’s an amazing heart-change that took place! And guess what?

Johan 2:10 “And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.”

Jonah’s life was spared. When we get to the end of ourselves, and look to God, it should stir our hearts to thanksgiving. I’m not going to tell you that your pain will end, or your prayer will be answered in the way you want. But I will say, thanksgiving allows God to work in our hearts and change our perspective in order help us accomplish the tasks God sets before us. (Remember, Jonah lived, but God still had him go preach in Nineveh.)

Living in chronic pain is something that just doesn’t go away. It’s my “thorn in my flesh” I guess you can say. The pain fluctuates, but it’s always there and it has been since I was twelve. Not being able to do normal activities when I was younger like dance or sports was hard. I tried to not let it bother me when I sat on the sidelines of my friends’ soccer games. But I’m human. And it did. But through the years, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I leaned to a greater degree, what being dependent and relying on God means.

As pain greets me every morning, it’s an opportunity to turn towards or away from God. Many years ago I decided to not let this turn me away from God, but I allowed God to work in my heart and turn me towards Him. Looking to God has made me be able to say with genuine thankfulness, “Thank you, God, for this pain that allows me to see my constant need of you!”

“Because of it, I have learned to cry out to You all hours of the day and night. Because of that, I have a deep and abiding relationship with You that I would never want to trade for anything…even a pain-free life. Because of that, You have opened doors for me to share with others what true joy and lasting gratitude looks like, and that it’s possible for them to find it too.”

You may not live in chronic pain like me, but I can almost guarantee that there’s something in your life that threatens to take away your genuine thankful heart and rich relationship with your Father. Obviously, my story is nothing like Jonah’s (and I doubt yours is too) but I think there is something from his story and journey to thankfulness that we can all learn from.

Life has never been picture perfect since the moment Satan entered the Garden of Eden in the form of a serpent. If you think that following Jesus will lead to a bed of roses, then I am going to tell you that it’s not. It’s going to lead you to something far greater. A life with Jesus means that pain will happen. People will die, and sickness continues. But Jesus enters into our mess and draws close to us if we let Him. And when we let Him, He will ever so gently, but persistently, reveal Himself to us in the midst of our pain, stress and heartache. Then He will stir within us simply the wonder of Himself and all that He has done for us. This my friend, opens the door for our hearts to be filled and overflow with thankfulness. The richest kind of thankfulness comes with sacrifice. Are you ready?

~~~~~~~~~~

And yes, I realize Jonah’s story doesn’t end with an exclamation of thankfulness. But, really, am I there 100% of the time? No, I am not. But I want to be. Oh yes, I want to be….

Thank You

Thank you

It’s almost Christmas! Christmas memes are popping up all over the place and the battle between Christmas and enjoying November for what it’s worth has begun. Although I’m all about Christmas myself, this month of blogs I want to help prepare our hearts for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Day and the month of November, for that matter, are ‘socially acceptable’ times to dedicate time for gratitude and reflection on the good things that have come our way. So, using that is my inspiration, this month I want to look at gratitude and how God can grant us the eyes and hearts to see His goodness in our lives and how we can be grateful to Him for the good as well as in the struggle of our lives.

A two little phrase has tremendous power. It has the power to soften hearts, uplift others and change our whole perspective. These two words are so important that babies are often taught how to sign before they can utter the sounds: “Thank you.” That thought makes me pause and wonder. We are so quick to teach infants ‘thank you’ but how many times do we as adults utter those sounds? Do we say them too often where it’s second nature, and the words fall quickly yet empty from our mouths? Do we write a note and go the extra step of saying ‘thank you’ in order to show someone how much you appreciate them, their deeds or actions? Better yet, how often do we look towards Heaven and genuinely say ‘thank you’ to God for all that he has and has not given us?

Colossians 3:17 says: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Psalm 9:1 “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.”

Psalm 95:2-3 “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.”

1 Chronicles 16:34 “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”

Just by glancing at Scripture, we see the theme of gratitude and giving thanks to God is woven all throughout the Old and New Testaments. Telling someone thank you because they opened the door for us is nice. Sending someone a “thank you” note is seen as a gesture of kindness. But gratitude goes far beyond either of those daily examples. You see, as believers, gratitude should be our platform we stand on, and foundational to our everyday life.

When we see that God is God and we are not, something happens. When we see God in His holiness, and then look at ourselves, something stirs within us. When we connect with fellow Christians or see the work of God displayed in our life, something rouses our soul. All of these resound a deep sense of gratitude.

You see, when we look at ourselves as we are, we are reminded that nothing is accomplished by our own strength. There is little room or entitlement or consumerism when this happens. Our lenses on how we see the world around us shift from our own wants and desires, to viewing everything from the perspective of what God has and continues to do for us. And this is freeing.

The rest of this month we’re going to look at gratitude and wrestle with what genuine gratitude means when life is going well, and when it is not. But for starters, I want us to get up on firmer ground and change our lenses. The Lord has saved us and redeemed us. Really, if that is all He did, wouldn’t it be enough? This truth alone gives us reason to rejoice and give thanks to God.

So, this week I invite you to pray and ask God if your perspective needs to change at all. Ask Him to give you a heart of gratitude that sees the world around you as a gift directly from Him, and not gifts that you think you deserve. As you face each new day this week, search for reasons to be grateful. The more practice you get in having an attitude of gratitude, the easier it will be maintaining a heart of gratitude…even as you thank God for what he has not given you.

Scripture is pretty clear. I’m just here as a friendly reminder. In everything we do, we are to give thanks. I’ll be honest and say that I want to be here. I want to be the person who thanks God 100% of the time even when I don’t get my way, or when a situation quickly goes south. But I am not. It’s a goal I strive for, and these upcoming blog posts will likely be ‘preaching to the choir’. But continual gratitude is my heart’s desire. I pray it’s yours too. I’m looking forward to journeying with you this month as we search for thankfulness within our hearts and homes during this season of thanksgiving.