November is such an awesome month! The holiday spirit begins to fill the air, the stores and our hearts. Of course, in November, we celebrate Thanksgiving; a time to bring thankfulness to the forefront of our minds. We go through the motions and follow the routines of our families or the culture. But how do I allow for a thankful heart when I don’t feel like being thankful? What if I am looking at my life and in this moment, I just can’t seem to find reasons to offer thankfulness?
I think this is a valid thought. While some may never struggle with finding at least one thing to be grateful for, there are others who are so overwhelmed by the storms of life that being thankful is one of the farthest things form their hearts and minds. The waves from the circumstances of health, finances, depression, anxiety, loss, employment (or the absence of), deployment, war, disaster and our overall lacking in some area of our life tends to steal our focus from looking at the cross to looking at the death that happened upon it.
The truth is Jesus did die that day on the cross and immediately after, grief overtook many of his family members and followers as they were seeing only what was in front of them. The physical end of a life on earth. To them, it was final. They did not yet fully understand the purpose in His death, or the fact that in just a couple days something most amazing was going to happen. The idea of being “thankful” in that moment was so far from them. This same attitude and misguided attention pulls at me too when I forget what comes next. There was a purpose in the death of Christ. Certainly something to be thankful for.
On a different scale, the same application can be understood for me and for you. When you or I have circumstances in life that we don’t understand and don’t like, by looking only at the circumstances we forget who God is and what He has already done. Not only that, but the fact that He is not yet done with the situation. For us it is the same in that the work in us is not complete and something much greater is in store.
I speak on this with a very personal knowledge of someone who could easily choose not to see the joy, be unwilling to feel the love, and see my life through the lens of a person who does not want to be thankful. This month is the one-year anniversary of the birth and death of our son, Toby. He was born last year on Monday, just three days before Thanksgiving, and died the following Monday. He never left the hospital. Last year our Thanksgiving was spent at a Children’s Hospital in Colorado. Our son was alive, and amidst all his health conditions and struggles, we were thankful.
So what now? What about this year? Can I still be thankful? And how does being thankful help me in my walk with the Lord? Does it help my wholeness, or my sanctification? I would argue that it does. The Bible doesn’t say to be thankful when you feel like being thankful. It’s like forgiveness. It’s modeled, the pattern is illustrated and arguably even required. Among the fleshly things we are supposed to put away and get rid of, there are also things that we are to put on and do. Things that we trade. The death of our flesh for a new life in Christ. The death of the cross for the everlasting life through salvation.
Colossians 3:14-15 says, “But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”
Have you ever thought about what the opposite of thankfulness is? I know at times I don’t feel thankful. I would even say I don’t want to feel it. I know I can try to find great (false) satisfaction in being unthankful. However, I don’t know that I have considered the flip side of the word.
According to wordhippo.com, the opposite of thankful is to be; dissatisfied, critical, thankless, unappreciative, ungrateful, unthankful.
Wow! When I put words to it and look at them with my own eyes my heart hurts. I don’t want my life to be characterized by any of these things, nor my walk with the Lord to look or feel this way. He has done way too much for me, and you.
Throughout the Bible we see thanks being offered in the Old Testament, praise and thankfulness being spoken in the Psalms and reminders of living with thanks, even in trials, in the New Testament. There is a caution given to us addressing what can happen when we are not thankful; a great risk of hardness of heart.
Romans 1:20-21 says: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
So then what do we do when we don’t feel thankful, and when we are holding on to our flesh? One necessary element is to pray and ask God to fill you with thankfulness. Simply, Jesus, help me to be thankful. Help me to see Your resurrection as a promise that there is life after death and there is relief from my circumstances. Somehow. Some way.
Whenever I don’t feel like being thankful I must pray. God hears the tiniest prayers of the heart. My weakest cries to Him are brought up to His throne like cherished incense. Through the process I can come to a place of being thankful, and find rest. True rest. It’s the rest that we are offered by Christ when He prays and offers thankfulness to the Father while He was fully aware of and understanding His pending death. His rest is offered to us in Matthew 11, by the placement of His yoke, in which Jesus carries the load, around us. Our burdens are placed there and the weight on us is lifted…and we can breathe again.
When we are at rest we can be refreshed. We relax and can regain strength. It’s at these moments that our focus can be put back where it should be, back towards Jesus. The reminder of the cross brings us back to the awareness that even in our circumstances, there truly is a greater work taking place. It is here that my family can remain thankful through the holiday season and at the same time be aware that in our continued grief, God is still working. We are unfinished.
While I can’t say that in every moment I am joyful, or thankful, I do know that I can take every opportunity and situation to remember that I can find that joy and a heart of thanks even when it feels (or truly may be) as if death has come to my door. The circumstances of Christ had and continue to have purpose, and my circumstances do too.
So “continue earnestly in prayer. [Be] vigilant in it with thanksgiving.” (Col 4:2) Offer thanks and shout out your joyful praise to the Lord. In there, there is peace. Look not upon the circumstances, but at the One who knows all about it and is not yet done.
Psalm 100 – A Psalm of Thanksgiving“Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; it is He who’s made us, and not we ourselves: we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.”