If ever there was a time for us to celebrate Thanksgiving, this is it. There is, right now, much to rob us of our expectations for this time of year. It is a time to remember that thanksgiving is not something that happens to us or dependent upon circumstance. It is an attitude. It is a part of the way we view life in every circumstance. It is a lens that alters everything we see. It is not a time for objectivity (which is an impossible lens to acquire), but rather for mature reflection.
Being thankful does not require joy or happiness although it will make those things more likely, even in unexpected situations. It is more closely related to peace and love in the middle of difficulty. The apostle Paul, writing to a church that was struggling with relationships drawn along ethnic, gender (in this case there were two — men and women), and social status, he tells them to sing with grateful hearts to God.
“Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scyth’ian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:12-16).
David Lipscomb (for whom Lipscomb University is named) says in his commentary, “We are to sing in the sunshine of the favor of God, our song being prompted by his great goodness to us. The melody of the lips coming from and filling the heart ... What is sung must be the outgrowth of the rich indwelling of the word of Christ in the heart. The purpose is to praise God and teach the word of Christ. The result of that singing was that they were teaching each other as they raised their voices together. A thankful heart sings.”
A thankful heart also shares with others. I am thankful for all of those who make sharing so easy in our communities. I am speaking of those who manage our food banks, our feeding programs, our school resource centers, and homeless shelters. I am thankful for all the churches and synagogues that are wonderful resources of spiritual and material assistance, here and abroad.
Pope Leo the Great (A.D 400-461) in one of his sermons encourages believers to help others so that they may give thanks, not to the one giving, but to the One who gives to all. “It is but godly and just that we too should help others with that which the Heavenly Father has mercifully bestowed on us. For there are full many, who have no fields, no vineyards, no olive-groves, whose wants we must provide out of the store which God has given, that they too with us may bless God for the richness of the earth and rejoice at its possessors having received things which they have shared also with the poor and the stranger.”
Later in the same sermon he says that giving and fasting aid in our prayers. “When all the ingathering of the crops (is) complete, we might dedicate to God our reasonable service of abstinence, and each might remember so to use his abundance as to be more abstinent in himself and more open-handed towards the poor. For that part of his material possessions with which he ministers to the needy, is transformed into eternal riches, and such wealth is begotten of this bountifulness as can never be diminished or in any way destroyed, for ‘blessed are the merciful, for God shall have mercy on them.’ ”
Being thankful does not require naivety but it may look that way to some. It requires a sober, realistic view of life. A thankful life is seen in the fruit it produces. Thankfulness is not a passive quality. It compels us into action for others, even when there are many reasons to withdraw. This will be a challenging season of Thanksgiving for many of us. Guard your hearts against bitterness and the noise currently robbing many of peace. Keep sharing, keep praying, keep singing. Be thankful.
Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville. You may contact him via email at email@example.com.