As you are reading this, your thoughts no doubt have moved from Thanksgiving to Christmas. There is much to be done in the coming season. We may have reserved a day or two to be thankful, but the pressures of Christmas are looming and there is little time to ponder gratitude. What a shame if we think that Thanksgiving was for thanks and that Christmas is about more pressing issues.
In reality, all of the Christian life is about thanksgiving. Yes, Advent, Christmas, Easter, Reformation Sunday, winter solstice, your birthday, and even an average tomorrow cry out for thanks. Whatever day it may be, for the Christian all days are for thanksgiving. As a church, we will soon be studying Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. Near the end of this short letter the apostle gives these succinct instructions. Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. There is not a lot of mystery in these commands.
Thankfulness is to be the breath of the Christian life. Disciples of Jesus are people who have had their lives so transformed and received so many undeserved spiritual blessings that as Ellen Vaughn puts it, we are to be engaged in a perpetual dialogue of gratitude. The Psalmist would agree as he counsels, enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise, give thanks to him and praise his name (Psalm 100:4). Our spiritual vitality, our bonding with God is predicated on cultivating a thankful heart that is filled with gratitude because of his goodness.
What about those of us who are feeling the pressures, disappointments, and the grief of life so strongly that thankfulness seems all but impossible? Is it hypocritical to thank God when you don’t feel thankful in your heart? Can gratitude be forced in spite of one’s life circumstances and emotional state? John Piper has written a helpful little book that addresses these questions (When The Darkness Will Not Lift). In it he says,There is such a thing as hypocritical thanksgiving. Its aim is to conceal ingratitude and get the praise of men. That is not your aim. Your aim in loosing your tongue with words of gratitude is that God would be merciful and fill your words with the emotion of true gratitude (p. 51). What Piper is saying is that when we practice the perpetual dialogue of thankfulness, our heart and emotions may eventually catch up regardless of the difficult life circumstances we face.
The Puritans were more often than not practical and realistic in their writing and preaching about the Christian life. Puritan pastor Richard Baxter preached on the problem of thankfulness and melancholy (melancholy was the word used in previous centuries to describe what today we call depression). In a sermon titled The Cure of Melancholy, he gives this spiritual advice.
Resolve to spend most of your time in thanksgiving and praising God. If you cannot do it with the joy you should, yet do it as you can. You have not the power of your comforts: but have you no power of your tongues? Say not, that you are unfit for thanks and praise unless you have a praising heart and were the children of God: for every man, good or bad, is bound to praise God, and to be thankful for all he hath received, and to do it as well as he can, rather than leave it undone . . . Doing it as you can is the way to be able to do it better. Thanksgiving stirreth up thankfulness in the heart.
What is the dialogue of your life like? In this post- Thanksgiving season, we have finished off the wonderful leftovers of turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes and pumpkin pie. But what about our thanks? This is a great time to remind yourself that Thanksgiving is not just a holiday that comes at the end of November every year, but a perpetual dialogue that is to be on the lips of believers every day.