Make the Most of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day calls us to reflect and give thanks to God and others. But, many charge through the day without a single thought of gratitude. Missing the point of Thanksgiving Day is tragic. Failure to give thanks stymies us — not just on Thanksgiving Day but every day. 

Here are five things that happen when we fail to give thanks.

  1. We miss out. After healing 10 lepers Jesus asked the one that returned to give thanks, “Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Was no one found to return and give thanks to God?… Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:17-19) All ten were healed physically, but only one received a second and greater blessing — faith that made him well. All ten appeared fully restored, but only one was heart-healed. It’s a tragedy when circumstances improve and yet our hearts remain sick. We miss out on total healing when we fail to give thanks.
  2. We harm relationships. Socially, ingratitude is like horribly bad breath. People avoid complainers whenever possible and endure them only when necessary. Energy drains out of a room when grumblers enter. Nothing alienates like failing to thank others who help along the way. Trust breaks down. Resentment builds. Ingratitude makes a person ugly, shallow and annoying.
  3. We sabotage our joy. Psychologically, thanklessness is self harming. We blame circumstances for stealing contentment but often another thief (ingratitude) was already inside and allowed to loot first. We get mad at others for assaulting our peace but don’t recognize how we may have already subverted it.
  4. We grow extra weary. Physically, ingratitude has the same effects as starvation. Health requires a steady diet of thanksgiving. But when we starve our heart of the nourishment it needs our body feels the effects — tiredness, muscle pain, head aches, clouded thinking and lowered immunity. (Medical studies show that practicing gratitude has many benefits including: heightened immunity, increased alertness, improved sleep, and decreased pain.) 
  5. We endanger our soul. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…[they] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for [idols]” (Romans 1:21,23)  Godless ingratitude, let unchecked, will consume our soul with darkness and eventually disintegrate our humanity.¹

It’s good to feed your stomach delicious food, but this Thanksgiving commit to feeding your heart gratitude.

  1. Remember Small Blessings: Take time to notice benefits, large and small. Thank God for food, shelter, health, relationships, modern conveniences and pleasant experiences.  By getting specific you’ll realize the innumerable blessings you take for granted. Recounting them will change your perspective from a restless emptiness to a serene fullness.
  2. Don’t Wait to Encourage: Take initiative to tell loved ones and friends at least one thing you appreciate about them.  Lead an “encouragement game” where participants are required to answer thoughtfully about others.  Start with these questions or develop your own:
    • What do you appreciate about _____?
    • How have you seen ______ care for another person?
    • How has ______ grown over the past year?
    • What special memories did you create with _______?
  3. Comfort Pain, Reflect Gain: Invite people to share about the year’s lows and thank them for their honesty. Offer grace by listening. As people share their pain be on the look out for positive character traits (strength, honesty, perseverance, wisdom, grit, grace, humor) and reflect them through encouragement. When you don’t know how to respond admit it.  Tell them you care and ask how you can help.
  4. Pass Forgiveness Forward: In Matthew 18:21, Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus’ answer was unexpected (He replied seventy times seven times.) He raised the bar and told a story that illustrated the lavish forgiveness of God toward us. The moral of the story was — since God has forgiven you extravagantly, you can (and must) forgive others. Only when you’ve experience forgiveness can you pass it forward.  Thank God for the total forgiveness granted in Jesus Christ and let that melt your heart toward those hard to forgive.
  5. Enjoy Divine Peace“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) Only Jesus Christ is capable of winning the war with anxiety. Jesus overcame the worst of our broken world. His life proved God’s unending perseverance with you and his power transformed even death. You can trust God. Thankfully anticipating God’s goodness toward you and you will enjoy a divine peace, which surpasses your understanding.¹

Don’t blow another Thanksgiving. Make the most of the day. You won’t regret it and others may even thank you.

Featured picture credit

¹Special thanks to Tom Hallman for suggesting I add a fifth danger and blessing.

Hope Builder #8: Work Thankfully, Rest Regularly

People respond differently to suffering. Some disengage from work and all activities because they find it difficult to do anything that requires effort or focus. They want space to be alone and think. Others cling to their business in an effort to distract themselves from their pain. They don’t want to think. They want to move on but then are frustrated when they can’t.

During the season of suffering both work and rest are beneficial. If your recovery has stalled, reconsider the value of each and then make adjustments.

Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” We often think work is a necessary evil. But work is a gift from God. In paradise God gave humans work so that they could uniquely reflect His work of creating.  Humans image God, and align themselves to paradise, when they work.  When we follow God’s lead and work, we are re-creating. (Notice the same prefix and root for recreation.) Without work, we will never feel renewed or refreshed.  While suffering, our hearts desperately long for recreated hope. Getting back to work will help you recover. Maybe all you can work is an hour a day. Whatever you can do… do it.  

But since humanity’s fall into sin, we must not forget that this good gift of work has been cursed.  Genesis 3:17,19 says, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it, all the days of your life…by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food.”  

Under the curse, work became like silver —precious, but quickly tarnished. If we forget work’s cursed condition, we will either overwork or underwork to our own harm. This is especially true during seasons of suffering.  

Overwork contributes to living in denial. If you use work to distract yourself from your pain, it will not help you long term. Work cannot deliver you. Only God can do that. You must set aside time to struggle with God through the pain. Take hope that you are not alone. God’s special name for his people is Israel. Israel literally means: “you have struggled with God and men and have overcome” (see Genesis 32:28). Make time for God, even when you are really upset with Him.  For beginners, I recommend meditating on Psalm 77. 

Underwork contributes to living in despair. If you abandon the work God has for you and ruminate on your pain, you will not find the rest you seek. It will elude you. Your resting will feel increasingly restless. Nighttime will expand beyond the limits God sets, and wear holes in your day.  

Working rightly contributes to hope. When you start working again you will discover that light can pierce the darkness. Like the silver moon that reflects the sun, your work will reflect God’s glory and refreshing light will overcome the dark night of despair. The waves of your suffering cannot pass the boundaries God has set, but the tide can shift lower when engaging in thankful work.

If you are in doubt about the proper boundaries of work and rest, take your cues from nature. The night is for rest.  The day is for work.  Get out of bed when its time. Take one step, then the next — by faith, not sight. As you do, your pain will not disappear, it will transform into something new and energizing… hope sufficient for that day.

Leaking Peace? Plug the Drain with Gratitude

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”  (Phil. 4:6-7)

This verse promises an unfathomable, divinely empowered, peace that guards the hearts and minds of Christians.  Why then, does God’s peace elude so many of us?

First, notice that the promise comes with a prohibition: “Do not be anxious about anything”.  Nothing drains peace like worry.  And nothing is as useless as worry.  That’s why Jesus said,

“Do not be anxious about your life… Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than they?  Who by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Matthew 6: 26-27.

Birds have a lot to teach worrywarts.  This fact sheds new light on the derogatory term “bird brain”.  Some of us should consider the term a compliment.  At least birds have the wisdom to trust God. But a worrywart only trusts himself and that becomes his undoing!

Second, the peace God offers is inseparably linked to gratitude.  Nothing sustains peace better than genuine thankfulness toward God.  Unfortunately thankfulness doesn’t come naturally, and people are as unaware of their ingratitude as they are of their bad breath.

Recently, I was complaining to my wife about having to wait too long on the phone (I mean my new iphone) for the greedy drug company to put me in contact with a real person (The company had developed a new medicine, without bothersome side effects, for our son). And even though I remember sending in correct paperwork twice already, (actually email saved me postage and time) the drug company failed again to update our health insurance information (to reflect the new, cheaper rates).  I could only see every annoyance, so as I lay down that night I offered a vague thanks to God. But, I failed to notice that my “thanksgiving” list was functionally empty.  I was too focused on thinking through my “to do” list for the next day.  Thanklessness and anxiety had drained my peace dry.

2682157559_c49267be69_b-2So how can you keep peace from leaking down the drain?  The good news is that God provides a constant stream of peace.  So, it shouldn’t take long to fill up when you follow Philippians 4:6-7 and plug your leaks.

First get serious about giving thanks to God. If you’ve felt melancholy for some time, its likely you need to change your perspective from worry to thanksgiving. When you fail to appreciate your blessings it will result in only feeling exhausted by them. So, slow down! Pause longer than you think reasonable and thank God for every little thing. Get specific. You’ll discover untapped joy, and renewed energy special gifts God reserves solely for thankful hearts.

Second (and more importantly), remember God is for you.  Jesus is proof!  When he died on the cross, he paid the ultimate price to guarantee your peace forever.  His resurrection establishes that he really is who he claims to be — so there is nothing to worry about. Get busy thanking God for all the good things coming to you, simply because you are connected to Jesus. The more specific you can get in your thanksgiving, the more leaks you will plug.

  • Feeling overlooked, or forgotten? Thank God that He has tattooed your name on his hands (Isaiah 49:16).  You are precious to Him.
  • Feeling overcome with grief? Thank God, Jesus knows what it’s like to suffer intense grief (Isaiah 53:3). He is with you in the darkness and he will bring you through it.
  • Feeling exhausted with anger? Thank God that He endures your anger with patience and he responds with loving kindness (Exodus 34:6). He’ll bless you as you wrestle with Him (Genesis 32: 26-29).
  • Feeling hopeless to change? Thank God you are discovering your need for Jesus. Let your skepticism drive you away from self-reliance and toward a greater dependence on Jesus (John 15:5)

As you plug the leaks caused by ingratitude (and worry) expect your peace to overflow its normal reservoir and become a “peace that passes all understanding.”

Featured Slider Picture Credit and Drain picture credit