A father in Phoenix calls his son in New York and says, “I hate to ruin your day, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing. Forty-five years of misery is enough.” “Pop, what are you talking about?” the surprised son protests.
“We can’t stand the sight of each other any longer,” the old man says. “We’re sick of each other, and I’m sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Chicago and tell her.” Then he hangs up.
Frantic, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone. “There’s no way they’re getting divorced,” she shouts, “I’ll take care of this.” She calls Phoenix immediately, and shouts at her dad, “You are NOT getting divorced. Don’t do a single thing until I get there. I’m calling my brother back, and we’ll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don’t do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?”
Dad hangs up his phone and turns to mom and says, “Both the kids are coming home for Thanksgiving and they’re paying their own fares.”
Now that’s something for which to be thankful.
Of course, there’s more than this for which to be thankful. Scripture says, “O give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!” And “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”
Even dogs, or at least one dog, knows what to be thankful for.
It’s Thanksgiving Day. Roast turkey aroma fills Charlie Brown’s house. Snoopy, outside, lying on top of his doghouse, smells turkey in the air. He’s thinking, “It’s Thanksgiving Day. Everybody eats turkey on Thanksgiving Day.” He lies there, watching the back door, eagerly awaiting his Thanksgiving dinner.
Finally, the door opens. Here comes Charlie Brown with a bowl of dog food. He sets it on the ground. Snoopy gets off his house. He stares at the bowl with a forlorn look on his face. He begins to grumble. “This isn’t fair. The rest of the world today is eating turkey with all the trimmings, and just because I’m a dog, I have to eat dog food on Thanksgiving Day.”
The final scene shows him looking at the dog food more intently. He realizes, “It could be worse. I could be the turkey.”
Throughout the Bible, thanksgiving is rendering to God sacrifices of praise and worship, expressing gratitude for God’s good will toward oneself or loved ones. We’re to give thanks “always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” it says in Ephesians. We’re to realize God loves us and works all things together for good for those open to God’s grace and will.
Giving thanks is an ancient spiritual discipline and should continue as your present spiritual practice. Of course, sometimes it’s easy to be grateful; others time not, like the first Thanksgiving.
The “first Thanksgiving” in the United States was a simple gathering of friends and families who united to give thanks to God for sustaining them though a very difficult winter and year. Following the Mayflower’s arrival at Plymouth Rock, the Pilgrims suffered the loss of 46 of their original 102 colonists. With the help of the Wampanoag Native Americans, the remaining Pilgrims survived the bitter winter and yielded a bountiful harvest in 1621. In celebration, a traditional English harvest festival lasting three days brought the Pilgrims and Wampanoag to unite in a “thanksgiving” observance.
In 1789, George Washington proclaimed it a National holiday, calling on citizens to praise “that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”
During one of the darkest chapters of our country’s history, the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln declared a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated in 1863, proclaiming that our country had been blessed with “gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.”
True thanksgiving doesn’t wait for circumstances or seasons to change. Thanksgiving is a matter of perspective. In every season of life, we get to choose whether our focus will be on God’s goodness or our circumstance’s gravity, whether we’ll be filled with gratitude or grumbling.
But what if Thanksgiving was meant to be a beginning, and not just another over-fed ending? The great preacher Charles Spurgeon observed, “They are sure to praise God best who serve (God) best.”
The truth is scripture rarely, if ever, makes gratitude the motivation for Christian living. Yet this is almost universally presented in the church as the “driving force in authentic Christian living.” Now there’s no doubt about gratitude’s importance in one’s life. Gratitude is a beautiful and
indispensable Christian affection. But you will search the Bible in vain for explicit connections between gratitude and servanthood.
Thanksgiving isn’t ever the end in the Christian life because gratitude cannot bear the weight of a Christian’s call and duty. Gratitude is good — and a means to something greater. It’s meant to fuel our faith in God and deepen our love for God, the Giver. Gratitude looks back, but it should be only a matter of time before the Christian looks forward.
Listen for God’s call to service. Don’t limit your life with the Lord. Be courageous and faithful, finding your path to a deeper Christian walk.
Most of us are blessed to the point that we’ve received far more than we need. God doesn’t bless you simply so that you’ll be filled with thanks and acknowledge the Lord. We’re supposed to be a blessing, not just be blessed.
When the blessing stops with you, the blessing dies in you.
Don’t let that happen. Multiply God’s blessings by being generous toward others. Seek reconciliation, bestow forgiveness, serve the needy, comfort the distressed.
Our scripture reading sounded a bit cryptic but it’s not. The prophet Isaiah speaks the word of the Lord that says, “I gave you everything. I loved you profoundly. I blessed you completely. I was expecting great things from you. I sought good things from you. But you didn’t do them. You weren’t a blessing even after how much I blessed you. When you stop blessing others, you start hurting them and yourselves. Things have gone bad, very bad.”
One person says, “It’s not enough to just be thankful, you have to do thankful.” We need to do something with the blessings we receive, or things can go wrong.
Happiness’s source in our life can’t only arise from our giving thanks to God for what we have. After all, how different is that from someone who isn’t so grateful? Both people receive but neither one gives. Both parties enjoy what they have but neither one shares nor serves.
Anyone can acknowledge they’re lucky. Isn’t that what we’re like when all we are is thankful for what we have? We’re just lucky, like Bill.
Bill suffered a massive heart attack and while being treated, a drug he was given caused a severe allergic reaction. His heart stopped for fourteen minutes, and he went into a coma. Twelve days later, he woke up and recovered fully. But the story has barely begun.
In the following year, Bill married the girl of his dreams and proceeded to win not one but two lotteries! Then, he won a new car worth $40,000. A TV station wanted to tell Bill’s story. They asked him to go back to the store where he bought his winning ticket to re-enact the event for the cameras. He was happy to oblige. As he was being filmed buying and scratching another ticket, the 37-year-old man registered a stunned look on his face. “I just won $250,000. I’m not joking,” he cried out. Bill was called “The luckiest man in the world”.
I bet he was grateful, perhaps even thankful to God. The question is: What did he do with that windfall? How did he show his gratitude to God?
In life, blessings often come easily, freely, graciously. We don’t work to be born in a certain family. We are given our abilities and strengths. Our brain power is of a certain magnitude that we didn’t deserve, since we’re no different than anyone else.
So many people take the luck they’re given, the life lottery they’ve been handed, and act as if it’s theirs, as if they earned it, as if it’s their divine right to have such ample blessings. They may even point to how they studied for years to get a degree, so they deserve what they get. They may support their contention by focusing on how they had to work hard, even harder than others they imagine, to be where they are.
But that’s not the whole story because there is a seductive and often unrecognized deception inherent in this line of thought: How do you know it was you who studied and/or worked so hard? “Well, because I was the one in the library, or I got up earlier, or I worked later,” we think.
Perhaps, but God had nothing to do with it? Is there no such thing as God’s providence, God’s grace, God will, God’s purpose? Might it not have been God’s grace, God’s will that gave you the extra push to go all the way through college or the slight help when you needed a break and yours came along? Are you so sure that you alone, by your own individual might and sweat are the sole and only reason you’ve got everything you have?
If we look honestly at ourselves, humbly at the past, we can never know completely or fully what it was in us or who it was or how to identify the one who did the work or got the break. Sure, it happened to us, and I sacrificed some things that others may not have, but am I captain of myself always?
Isn’t there a river flowing through me that I don’t direct but on which my life moves? Am I not lucky, or rather am I not blessed because that river
flowed well, kindly, graciously? Don’t I experience my life as if I’m guided at least as much as I am guide? Do I know why I think my thoughts and have my habits and pursue my dreams? Do they not often arise from a place that is beyond my control, deeper than I comprehend?
Am I not a spiritual being whose spirit is just one little flicker of the great holy Spirit?
Blessed be the Lord our God, the benevolent and beneficent one, who blesses us beyond our capacity, beyond our abilities, our might, labors, vision and understanding. But not for our sake alone.
A blessing’s real joy comes when we steward and multiply it for the benefit of others, in honor of the Giver, to the glory of God, for the sake of Christ Jesus, whose life was a gift that keeps giving even today.
Let’s move from thanksgiving to thanksdoing.
Can the church say Amen?