It’s Thanksgiving and I’m in the kitchen turning dials, trying so hard to get everything just right. If only I spoke of solely the oven dial—but who can forget the relational dials, the conversational dials, the quick repentance dials, and even the simple act of dialing the number just to extend the invitation. At the holidays it seems there are far too many complex layered dials to turn and crank and adjust just so. It can be downright exhausting.
My brilliant neighbor owns and operates her own medical testing lab. (STEM girl, whoop!) At the very beginning of the Covid crisis—you remember, the days when we didn’t understand the first thing about transmission—one of her employees began running a high fever. My neighbor sent her entire staff home and undertook the painstaking process of sanitizing and deep cleaning the lab all by herself. Trouble was, this wasn’t the chemistry lab from our high school recollections. My friend sanitized every piece of precision equipment, each complex apparatus with countless knobs, dials, levers, and pulls. I can still see my sweet neighbor’s face as she described the nature of what had to be done. It was all-encompassing. She had to find and scour every crevice for the protection of all involved.
I’m hard-pressed to think of anything that sounds more like Jesus to me.
Her actions remind me of the Christ who won’t stand for a quick wipe down of our hearts. His holiness and utter righteousness can’t give it a once over and call it a day—his beloved are at stake. For any particle of sin left on us or in us makes us unacceptable to his Father, the God of all cellular levels, protons, elements, and even viruses…
Many of us will soon gather around tables with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. For some of us, the day will be filled with feasting and fun. For others, the day will be one of grief and sadness, especially if loved ones are missing from the table. But regardless of whether we are rejoicing or weeping this holiday season, the Bible teaches us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:16), and Psalm 118 teaches us how and why to do this.
The psalmist calls us to give thanks to the Lord for three main things: His steadfast love, His salvation, and His stone.
Give Thanks for His Steadfast Love
Psalm 118 opens in the same way it closes, highlighting the eternality of God’s covenant love, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever” (118:1, 29). The Lord’s goodness is grounded in His covenant love for His people and God’s people should praise Him for it. The psalmist could not be clearer that all believers should sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, “Let Israel…the house of Aaron…those who fear the LORD say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever’” (vv. 2-4).
Ever since Genesis 3, the account of humankind’s fall into sin, the thread of the covenant of grace has been woven throughout Scripture. God’s covenant love endures because it is based on the obedience of His Son, Jesus Christ. He came as both Lord of the covenant, extending grace and peace, as well as the servant of the covenant, perfectly fulfilling the law of God on our behalf. “All the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Cor. 1:20). This Thanksgiving our hearts should give thanks for the Lord’s steadfast love…
My family and I lived in Brazil for a little over three years. And while I grew to appreciate many things about Brazil, probably the thing I learned to love the most is the delicious food! I love the tropical fruit, the beans and rice, the meat, and the cheese bread. But the best Brazilian food is my mother-in-law’s cooking, and here is the secret to her food: she starts almost every dish by sauteing fresh garlic and diced onions in quality olive oil. It’s the base for nearly everything she cooks, and this flavor combination makes all of her food really delicious.
I think gratitude is the garlic and olive oil in our walk with Jesus. Just as food can still nourish and fill me up, if it doesn’t start with my mother-in-law’s secret sauce, it lacks the deliciousness that garlic, onion, and olive oil bring to a dish. In the same way, gratitude enhances our everyday experience with Jesus by bringing flavor and beauty. We can read our Bibles, spend time in prayer, participate in godly fellowship and partake of the sacraments. Those things do provide spiritual nourishment and are essential to cultivating a love for Jesus and for others, but a posture of gratitude aids us in more vividly tasting and seeing the goodness of God.
This action of giving thanks is captured in the Greek word eucharisteo. The root word of eucharisteo is charis or grace. We also see its derivative—chara— which we translate as joy. Displaying gratitude then seems to imply a connection to both grace and joy. Maybe gratitude is a repeated decision to receive grace which then results in joy. I believe this happens in our lives in three specific ways.
Gratitude provides perspective.
Thanksgiving reframes things for us. Gratitude is a perspective changer. It shakes us up and gives us proper sight in two ways: First, gratitude moves us from a position of ownership to a position of stewardship. It rightly places God as the giver of all things (James 1:17), the one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10), and the one who gives generously without reproach (James 1:5). This necessitates an acknowledgement that we are simply recipients; to receive a gift is foundationally a posture of humility. We do nothing other than stretch out our hands and accept it. Whatever we have, whether that be material goods, children, financial stability, healthy relationships, athletic prowess, or spiritual insight—we receive all of it as an immeasurably gracious gift from God. He created it all and He owns it all. Whatever we have is a gift from him. Gratitude gives us this perspective. Without it, we spend a lot of time hoarding things and even more time protecting them. We approach life tight-fisted, exhausting our emotional energy and the hours of our day fighting to protect the wealth, relationships, status, achievements, abilities, looks, and power which aren’t even ours to begin with.
Secondly, gratitude moves us from a mindset of scarcity to one of abundance…
My friend was telling me the saga of her teenage son’s illness. As a Down syndrome child, he had trouble enough with swallowing and digestion. But then he developed urgent issues that landed him in the hospital, and even after getting home, he could not eat solid food for almost two months. She and her son, both Christians, prayed together for mercy and healing, but it was a tough road to recovery. She described his first taste of normal food: a few potato chips. She told me that with each bite, he murmured, “So grateful. So grateful.”
What she hadn’t expected is that he continues to say the same with each bite, days later. “So grateful, so grateful.”
I carry a humbled admiration at a boy feeling such a sustained yet spontaneous gratitude for the simple blessing of healthy eating. What pleasure that must bring to God’s heart.
As I have studied the conclusion of I Thessalonians 5, I find this little volley of exhortations:
“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Give thanks in all circumstances.” As I have turned these over in my mind the last several weeks, I’ve sensed that they are almost the same command stated three ways. Finding things to rejoice over and thank God for constantly will require ceaseless prayer, not only for expression to God but to seek His voice and vision for the good in all circumstances. If we give thanks in all circumstances, we will rejoice. We will offer those thanks by praying as much as we rejoice. It all goes round in a wonderful wreath of heartfelt communion with the Lord…
This fall I began teaching another Bible study at my church, something I have done for many years. As I addressed the women in the room, I rejoiced at how many had been faithful to study God’s Word over the years and how they had grown in their faith as they applied truth to the hardships of their lives. As I looked out at their faces, I also felt a huge responsibility: How would I invest in these women over the next year?
In writing to the Thessalonian believers, Paul states, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:7-8). As I studied these verses, as well as the surrounding context, I was struck by Paul’s affection for God’s people. Even amid conflict, Paul displayed godly conduct and gave thanks in all circumstances.
In our service to others, you and I are called to do the same.
Conflict in Serving
Paul served the Thessalonians in the midst of his own conflict, or suffering. Think about the last time you experienced conflict or suffering in ministry. Maybe the suffering came from chronic physical pain or maybe a fellow believer discouraged you in your role. Whatever the cause, doing ministry while in conflict is hard. We’re tempted to throw in the towel and call it quits until we feel better, or until the other person stops discouraging us. We might think of taking some time off to recoup and refresh before heading back into ministry work. But conflict, by God’s grace, often becomes the catalyst for declaring Christ. God uses our service in the midst of suffering to spread His gospel.
I have experienced this in my own life. In fact, the first day of teaching this fall I was in tremendous physical pain from a chronic GI complication I have had since 2006. But I have learned over the years the truth of the Lord’s words to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Ministering to others in our suffering is an opportunity to magnify the Lord’s strength.
Conduct in Serving
Paul also displayed godly conduct as he served. God entrusted us with a message and His Spirit empowers us to proclaim it. The Lord refines us as we serve, oftentimes uprooting sinful motives in our hearts, such as gaining man’s approval, and replacing them with gentleness, love, and a heart that seeks God’s glory…
On the night before Thanksgiving 2010, I laid next to my sleeping husband and wondered if he’d wake to find that I’d died during the night. My fear may have been exaggerated, but it wasn’t completely unreasonable. My fever was over 102, and the number of white blood cells available to fight infection in my body was dangerously close to the number of hairs on my head: zero.
One month earlier, I’d been diagnosed with angiosarcoma. This rare, aggressive cancer threatened my hopes to celebrate my 35th birthday, see my three small children grow up, and reach milestone anniversaries with my husband. I was fighting for more Thanksgivings and determined to enjoy this one to the fullest. But it was hard to be thankful.
From the world’s perspective, I didn’t have much to be thankful for. I was stricken with a terrible cancer and facing months of difficult treatment. I was bald, sick, fatigued, and scared. And yet, the truth of God’s Word challenged my thinking: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).
At the end of August, I took my kids to the orthodontist and there were ceramic pumpkins on the doctor’s front porch. That same week, Kroger replaced the school supplies on the seasonal aisle with Halloween candy. Don’t get me wrong. I love fall. However, my first instinct upon seeing all the orange and purple was indeed horror. With it being 90+ degrees outside and with two months to go before the end of October, I just wasn’t mentally ready! It felt like I just unpacked from summer vacation. School may have started, and college football may be have been in full swing, but my sleeveless shirts, white pants, and flip flops were still in heavy rotation, and my kids were still spending much of their weekends at the neighborhood pool.
A Thanksgiving Meal
My how things can change in just a few weeks! In my ladies’ bible study, we studied Leviticus 3, which describes the fellowship offering, and suddenly… I can’t wait for Thanksgiving! The first question in our study guide asked us to reflect on what it is we desire to communicate to our guests when we host a special meal. My thoughts immediately went to Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving for many reasons. The first reason can be summed up in five simple words: Aunt Margo’s Green Bean Casserole. This is THE dish in my family. THE non-negotiable. It’s the only time that my non-veggie eaters will happily shovel forkfuls of something green into their mouths, and unfortunately that includes my husband. The cheesy, tangy, salty, buttery-cornflake-crusted, decadent goodness is impossible to beat. Thank you, Margo. We love you.
The second reason I love Thanksgiving is because…