At the height of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln formally scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November. He implored all U.S. Americans to ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation” (History of Thanksgiving).
With Thanksgiving just 17 days away, families and friends are making preparations for food, festivities, and football. We excel at making external preparations. But are we preparing internally for Thanksgiving? Are our hearts ready to give thanks?
With the political intensity of the last several months, it’s easy to forget that we have a choice between bitterness and thankfulness. But for the next 10 days I entreat you to shift your focus. I encourage you feel thankful if:
- You have adequate food on your table. (Poverty Facts.)
- You have access to clean water. (Water Facts.)
- You’re able to obtain education. (Education Facts.)
- You’re able to buy feminine hygiene products. As reported in Newsweek, “At least 500 million girls and women globally lack adequate facilities for managing their periods….”
- You have a hospital within 100 miles of your home.
- You’re free and financially able to buy a Bible or other religious materials.
- You’re free to worship at your church of choice.
While the word of our God stands forever, everything else can quickly wither and fade away (Isa. 40:8). So let us look to someone who lost it all—who experienced beatings, imprisonments, stoning, shipwreck, hunger, thirst, inadequate clothing—and yet wrote, “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16–18 NLT). The apostle Paul wrote these words to the church at Thessalonica in the 1st century. He wanted to give encouragement during hardship, as the people of the church at Thessalonica faced:
- Severe suffering and affliction for the sake of the Gospel (1 Thess. 1:6).
- Persecution from their own countrymen (1 Thess. 2:14).
- Significant troubles (1 Thess. 3:3).
What was their response amidst these afflictions?
- Faithful work (1 Thess. 1:3)
- Loving deeds (1 Thess. 1:3)
- Set an example for other believers (1 Thess. 1:6–8)
- Lived lives that pleased God (1 Thess. 4:1)
- Encouraged one another (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11)
What attitudes did they posses amidst their afflictions?
- Enduring hope (1 Thess. 1:3)
- Joy of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 1:6)
- Love toward one another (1 Thess. 3:6; 4:9–10)
- Strong faith (1 Thess. 3:7)
How, in spite of suffering, could they live this way?
- Because of the hope that comes from the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:3).
- By the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 1:5).
- Because of the knowledge that God chose to save them through Christ’s death on the cross (1 Thess. 5:9–10).
- Because of the future assurance that they, along with believers who had already died, would live with the Lord forever (1 Thess. 4:14–18; 5:10).
It’s easy to feel thankful for food on the table and for clean water and for education and for certain freedoms. But Paul instructed the Thessalonians (and us) to be thankful in all circumstances. Notice the difference? In—not for—all circumstances, we are to give thanks. That means our joyful attitude, prayerful lives, and thankfulness continues in spite of our circumstances, not for our circumstances.
The Thessalonians sustained significant troubles and suffering, yet they possessed hope, love, and strong faith. Paul states they “received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:6). Despite living in affliction, their lives shined bright, giving wordless testimony of the Good News (1 Thess. 1:6–8). They knew their current life was not the end of their story.
If at the height of the Civil War U.S. Americans could give thanks, and if during religious suffering and persecution the 1st century church at Thessalonica could give thanks, so can we.
For what circumstances do you give thanks? Make a list. Even more important, in what circumstances do you give thanks? Make a second list. Here’s my attempt:
- I am thankful for a roof over my head, food in my kitchen, family income, university and seminary education, a loving and godly spouse, local hospitals, family and friends who love me, many Bibles of different versions on my shelf, and a local Bible-teaching and believing church.
- I am thankful in the discomfort of old injuries and accidents, because I know that though this body ages, my soul is eternal, and someday he will make all things new. (Rev. 21:5)
- I am thankful in the midst of grief, because I have learned the sustaining power and joy of the Holy Spirit.
- I am thankful in the aftermath of loss, because I now know how to give sincere empathy and understanding to others.
- I am thankful in spite of not having born children, because I know that my lasting hope comes from the child that was born of a virgin in a manger, who lived so that he could suffer and die, to give me not an easy, earthy life, but a heavenly and eternal life with him. And thus, while I am here, he gives me his joy and his strength so that I may proclaim this truth—that he is good and he is loving. (Ps. 136:1)
My first list is great. But my second list? That list will preach. That list will minister. That list will encourage. And that list will inspire others to give thanks for the enduring hope found only in Christ.
I give thanks in all things, “for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12 KJV).
T minus 17 days to Thanksgiving. What’s on your list?
This blog article was originally posted on November 14, 2016.
Photo courtesy of Lightstock.