Thanksgiving is upon us once again. Families all across America are busy making plans that involve getting together with loved ones they seldom see throughout the year. Food is being prepared and last minute details are taking shape. Thanksgiving is a national holiday set to remember some of the founding moments of our nation. Yet, as we make plans to gather and remember, many people are doing so with a heavy heart.
The last year, and maybe even the last number of weeks, has brought loss of loved ones or other tragic circumstances that make celebrating quite difficult this time of the year. There will be empty seats at the table and precious memories that linger in the past. As Christians, we are called to celebrate Thanksgiving every day of the year but how do we live a grateful life when our hearts are hurting so deeply?
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Philippians 4:4-7:
"Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Paul's words here speak volumes to the perspective in which the Christian is called to live. Paul is not speaking from some lofty tower where everything is going his way. He is writing this as he is in prison for the Gospel and being treated in less than ideal circumstances. We know that once Paul became a Christian he began to loose everything of earthly value. He faced beatings, ridicule, and many losses one after the other. Yet, Paul is writing to us to remain joyful, prayerful, and thankful no matter the situations of life.
The longer I walk with Christ the more I pray to have the boldness and perspecitive of Paul. I want to have the chief desire to please Christ no matter the outcome and to funnel all that happens in life through the lens of knowing and being known by Christ. I want to live on earth with the perspective of heaven. When we look at our circumstances on earth we will find many reasons to wish we did not have to face the holidays and pretend like we are happy but when we set our eyes on Jesus and the hope found in him we will find every reason to praise God in the midst of our deepest hurts.
The Bible does not command us to be happy always but it does tell us to rejoice in the Lord and live in the joy of Christ always. Happiness is based on our happenings while joy is based on the inner reality of the heart. If you are walking with Jesus, the darkest valley can not take your joy away. Through the tears and the hurts you can say - "blessed be the name of the Lord." You have the calm assurance that God doesn't take away the valley's but he does walk with you through the valley.
I had rather have a life full of valleys walking with the Lord than a life of mountain tops without him.
In Phillipians 4:7 Paul gives us the promise of peace that is beyond human comprehension. This comes only from God and serves as a guard upon our hearts and minds. It is what gets us through life when life gets to us. Everyone is searching for this peace but it will only come when we obey the commands of verses 4-6 to rejoice in the Lord, turn our worries into prayers, and give thanks to our God in every situation. When you live with that perspective then God has promised to give you peace that the world can not take away.
I don't know what burdens are on your heart this Thanskgiving week but I do know that if you are a follower of Christ God wants to give you peace through the burdens. We can either let our burdens keep us from being thankful and rejoicing in God's goodness or we can give our burdens to our good God and let his peace reign in our hearts. I will choose the latter.
When life gets you down, remember to remain joyful in Jesus, prayerful in hope, and thankful in God's grace. Living with this perspecitive will give you peace the world will not understand but neither can the world take it away.
After all, the greatest reason to be thankful is for the God who has given us the greatest gift of all in Jesus.
Look to Jesus and let him take care of the rest. You just might find extra grace to get through these difficult days.
May God bless you this Thanksgiving week!