Can We Give Thanks in 2020?

I don’t know where I got this story – so I can’t give proper credit to the writer but it really makes me think as we approach another Thanksgiving season – one that is full of chaos and difficult decisions. Do we keep our gatherings small? Do we ignore warnings and enjoy our family and friends?

“One afternoon a shopper at the local mall felt the need for a coffee break.  She bought herself a little bag of cookies and put them in her shopping bag.  She then got in line for coffee, found a place to sit at one of the crowded tables, and then taking the lid off her coffee and taking out a magazine she began to sip her coffee and read.  Across the table from her a man sat reading a newspaper.   After a minute or two she reached out and took a cookie.   As she did, the man seated across the table reached out and took one too.  This put her off, but she did not say anything.

A few moments later she took another cookie.  Once again the man did so too.  Now she was getting a bit upset, but still she did not say anything.  After having a couple of sips of coffee she once again took another cookie.  So did the man.  She was really upset by this – especially since now only one cookie was left.  Apparently the man also realized that only one cookie was left.  Before she could say anything he took it, broke it in half, offered half to her, and proceeded to eat the other half himself.  Then he smiled at her and, putting the paper under his arm, rose and walked off.

Was she steamed!  Her coffee break ruined, already thinking ahead of how she would tell this offense to her family, she folded her magazine, opened her shopping bag, and there discovered her own unopened bag of cookies.”

I like that story – it makes me think about how well God treats me even when I am not thinking all that kindly about him. It also makes me think about how, sometimes, I do not really appreciate what I have or act like I know where it has come from.

Our country has been so blessed – but I think we have forgotten to be thankful and to remember the God who has blessed us so.

It reminds me of the story of the Israelites as they came to the land promised to their ancestor, Abraham, years ago. Moses warned them that after they had prospered in the land they were about to enter, had eaten their fill and had fine houses and large herds with silver and gold, that:

Do not say to yourself, “my power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.”  But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, and as he swearing to you today.”

Not so long ago famous people all over the world were polled by a magazine which asked them the question – “if you could be granted one wish that will come true right now – what would that be?” There were some very interesting responses – but one response impressed the magazine’s editors so much that they commented on.   That response was this – “I wish that I could be given an even greater ability to appreciate all that I already have.” 

It is an interesting answer and an interesting thing to wish for.  What do you think would happen if each one of us suddenly became a more thankful person?  If all of us suddenly became a more appreciative people?

This year as we gather for the holiday, many of us will not enjoy the large family gatherings of the past. Some may have lost loved ones to the virus – or their income. For them, it may be hard to be thankful. Most of us are so tired of the restrictions and the arguments that have even split families as we argue about whether or not to wear a mask, follow the restrictions.

It would be so easy to focus on what is wrong while we overview much that is good.

For me, while I hate being limited to where I can go – I am thankful that I have a beautiful, comfortable home to be stuck in.

While I hate that I can’t be with more of my family – I am thankful for the small gathering I will have.

While I hate that my church has gone back to on-line services for the next three weeks – I am thankful that I have the internet and can still hear my pastor share the Word.

While I grieve over friends that have died from the virus – I am thankful that we have a hope of being reunited some day.

While I grieve over friends who have lost jobs – I am thankful for the community that has reached out with food banks and gift cards and other ways to help.

The Early Church suffered affiction and persecution beyond anything we know here in America. Yet the norm and the standard of the early church of the disciples and the apostles was really incredible and it had incredible results in the lives of those disciples and apostles, and in the lives of all those around them.  They rejoiced even when they were being afflicted and persecuted, and their fellowship continually grew until it reached the ends of the earth.

Give thanks in all circumstances.   Give thanks for everything.  Give thanks at all times.  This is a step beyond remembering God and thanking God for all the wealth that we enjoy in this our promised land.  This is a step beyond remembering God and obeying his commands because he has given us fine houses and filled our bellies. 

This is “thanks living” – and it is demanding – and it is rewarding.  I say it is demanding – because quite frankly when I am feeling pressed to the wall I find it difficult to fulfil the word that says:   “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

When I am feeling struck down by some affliction or angry at someone for doing something that seems to me to be thoughtless, I have difficulty feeling grateful to God.

Instead of wanting to praise God – or to pray to him about the situation with thanksgiving, I want to feel sorry for myself and the trouble I am in. Giving thanks blesses the person who is thanked and it transforms the person who gives thanks.  It works the same way everywhere, with everyone when we remember.  When we forget – hard things get harder.  When we allow the situation we are in to swallow us up and to swallow all thought of God’s power and goodness up; when we begin to think we have earned and deserve all the good things we have, and when we forget that God is able to help us in the midst of all the bad things that occur, life becomes bleaker, and true virtue becomes harder to find.

God wants us to celebrate his love.  God wants us to give thanks in everything.  God doesn’t want this because he is greedy for praise, the Lord doesn’t want it so that he will feel better about himself.  He wants it because it will bless us  and because it will bless the world he has made.

He wants us to remember what He has done so that we will not be afraid when we are in need of help, and so that we will not grow arrogant or rude when we are prospering.  He wants us to remember and give thanks to him, and to those around us so that our lives will be full of light and hope and so our actions full of tenderness and love.

As the psalmist declares – “It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to his name”

More Thoughts on Complaining

A few days ago I wrote about how easy I find it to complain instead of being thankful.  A friend responded some of the problem might be all the input we get today from media.

I thought about that and realized much of the information we get is geared to the negative.

  • We call a traffic light a “stop” light even though it is green as often as it is red.
  • The weather man says we have a 40% chance of snow instead of telling us we have a 60% chance of no snow.
  • The news channel reports the kids who commit a crime but seldom report all the many kids who make the honor roll, who help the elderly across the street, who visit the kids in the cancer ward, who teach the children on Sundays or participate in the worship team.
  • Most of our news is about the negative events taking place in our community instead of the multitude of good acts being committed every day.
  • And to wade into the dangerous area of politics, our political candidates run less on the positive things they have done or will do than on telling us how terrible their opponent is and all the negative things he/she has done or will do.

As I admitted I complain too often and I am too quick to see the negative.  I told my friend that when I get too carried away on the negative I found singing or listening to a good praise song really helps me get my focus back on the many positive things in my life.

These words from the prophet Habakkuk have helped me often when in a complaining mood:

Though the fig tree does not blossom
And there is no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive fails
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock is cut off from the fold
And there are no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will [choose to] rejoice in the Lord;
I will [choose to] shout in exultation in the [victorious] God of my salvation!
The Lord God is my strength [my source of courage, my invincible army];
He has made my feet [steady and sure] like hinds’ feet
And makes me walk [forward with spiritual confidence] on my [a]high places [of challenge and responsibility].

I’m Good at Complaining

My husband and I are reading through the Bible this year in our devotions.  Right now we are working our way through the book of Numbers.

This morning I was thinking how the Israelites complained their way through the desert on their way to the Promised Land.  They would face a difficulty, God would intervene and meet their need, then when the next problem arose, they started complaining again.  My first thought was:

“How could they keep complaining?”  Had God not met each need?  What was wrong with them?

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Then I thought of how easy I find it to complain.

Example:

We have had a few weeks of bitter cold and lots of snow.  What is my first response?

Complain:

  • I can’t get out in this bitter cold
  • I’m afraid I’m going to fall on the slick side walks
  • The cloudy days are depressing

But why not be thankful:

  • I have a warm house with warm clothes, warm car
  • My backyard is beautiful – like a winter wonderland
  • I’m retired so I don’t have to get out in this terrible weather

Example:

We recently moved from a nine-room house to a five-room house wanting to downsize as we age.

Complain:

  • The closets are so small there is not enough room for our clothes
  • The bedrooms are so tiny
  • I don’t like electric stoves

But why not be thankful:

  • Having everything on one floor has meant not having to cope with stairs
  • Thank God I have so many clothes
  • Thank God I have a modern stove and other modern appliances

Why is it so easy to see the negative instead of the positive?

Looking at the story in Exodus and Numbers I think they complained because they were so quick to forget what God had done.

Is that my problem?  I quickly forget what God has done for me.

“Lord I know you have saved me from the consequence of my sins and you have promised me your presence and guidance in all circumstances, but it’s cold outside, the sun is hidden behind the clouds and my favorite TV show has been cancelled for tonight.”

Let me remember:

  • the wonderful children you have given me
  • a husband who is also my best friend
  • I’m still living almost 17 years after being diagnosed with advanced, aggressive cancer
  • you protected me when the car I was driving was hit head-on by a young man driving way too fast
  • how many friends you have given me through the years
  • how you provided financial help when my husband was out of work
  • how you allowed me to be born in a family where I was taught about God at an early age
  • that you loved me so much you gave your only son that I might be saved

How about you?  Do you see the glass half full or half empty?

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Do you find it easier to complain than be thankful?