During the coming week, most Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. This is a traditional harvest festival, stemming from the early settlement period of America by Europeans, where natives and newcomers communally celebrated God's provision. Nowadays families gather around a wonderful feast. Following the biblical mandate to be thankful, many people use this time to reflect on all the blessings of the past year. They recount wonderful memories with loved ones and express their thankfulness for material blessings and good health.
But what if, when looking back, the past year seemed dominated by sickness, financial struggles, perhaps even the death of a loved one. How do we find the resolve to be thankful, when we are feeling all but thankful? To me, the most challenging example of thankfulness in the face of trials, is found in a Bible passage, which also centers around a meal. This feast takes place in the upper room of a little house in Jerusalem. Here, Jesus is celebrating the Passover with his disciples, usually referred to as "the last supper". Jesus, knowing that his betrayal is underway, picks up bread, thanks God for it, and breaks it. This goes far beyond the grace we speak before a meal. In this simple act, Jesus is thanking God for his own physical body, symbolized by the bread, and acknowledges God's right and control over it. He is thankful for being part of God's amazing plan, willingly giving his body to be broken for mankind, knowing that this brokenness will be for the healing of many.
Jesus is thanking his father for pain, suffering, humiliation and grief, believing that God is good, faithful and trustworthy. In this, Jesus is challenging me to thank God for entrusting me with painful experiences, knowing that they are part of his good plan. He is challenging me to value my thorns, knowing that they are part of the path which leads me to him. Anything that makes me need God is a blessing.
Thankfulness doesn't just happen. We must make a conscious decision to "give thanks in all circumstances" (1. Thess. 5:18), asking the Holy Spirit to remind and strengthen us to "give thanks always and for everything" (Eph. 5:20). It is not easy to break the habit of focusing on ourselves, fretting, complaining and resenting, but it is well worth it! Not only are we obedient to God by practicing gratitude, but we will also reap contentment, joy, resilience and freedom.
So, when you gather around a feast with your loved ones, what will you thank God for?
For further study, read Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh De Moss