Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on our many blessings. As a Christian, it is easy for me to find blessings everywhere around me. Despite the challenges of this year, God has blessed me far beyond what I deserve.
Unfortunately, these are tough times for many people — and for the world as a whole. In fact, many in the world have been hurting and in need for generations. Only in recent years has our country joined the list of those nations experiencing increased poverty, increased crime, and increased fear. The number of Americans turning to antidepressants bears witness to the physical and mental toll of stress. The number of suicides in our country is rising, and the suicide rate among our military men and women now exceeds the national average.
The statistics are sobering. The prognosis is grim. However, we know that trouble is no stranger to this world. In writing to the church at Thessalonica, the apostle Paul instructed:
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess. 5:16-18)
Let’s be honest for a minute or two. Most of us struggle with this notion of being joyful always. Western society is so focused on happiness, which is invariably dependent upon our circumstances at the moment. We understand with our heads this thing called joy, but we fail at many points to somehow separate our situation from our status as Christians, often falling prey to the prevalent message of the prosperity gospel that tells us God blesses us because we do good. I’ve been unable to locate the basis for that message anywhere in the pages of Scripture; perhaps that’s because it doesn’t come from there at all.
As Christians, none of us are exempt from the problems of this life. Just think about the many troubles that plague us:
- Health issues
- Family conflict
- Financial stress
- Moral ruin
The list goes on and on and on. Whether you realize it or not, this collection of issues poses a very real threat to life as we know it. While the news media tries its best to put a positive spin on the world situation (particularly the US economy), the facts just continue to mount up, pointing to the grim reality that the ‘new normal’ will require us to live with less. And less, I believe, is not in and of itself a bad thing; that is, so long as our faith is not in the stuff of this life.
I contend that the majority of people in our nation, Christians included, have become so enamored — if not consumed — with the trappings of this world that we just can’t imagine having to surrender some of the things we enjoy most: our smart phones, our designer coffees, our big houses, our fancy cars, etc. The truth is that for many of us, we probably won’t have to surrender them; they’ll just become irrelevant to us as our need for the essentials in life becomes greater. Ultimately, we’re all going to have less trouble distinguishing between our wants and our needs.
As I ponder our world situation, with its perpetual drumbeat focused on globalism, I’m reminded that God is bringing everything under His purpose and plan. He does not forget His people. He is not surprised by the corruption of man. He is not perplexed and in a quandry as to how to make things better. Quite the contrary! He provided a plan for us many years ago, a plan that would result in the sacrifice of His only begotten son, Jesus Christ. And God is not the least bit concerned with making things better for us — at least not as we so often think of ‘better,’ in terms of wealth and material possessions.
The imminent collapse of the US economy will present a myriad of challenges for us all, the likes of which have not been experienced since the Great Depression. I believe the impact will be much greater though, because the gap between our debt-driven standard of living and our eventual fall will be absolutely unparalleled. The difficult days ahead may indeed find those who profess Christ persecuted as well. These days will serve as a fire through which the hearts of true believers are refined and their loyalties laid bare for all to see. We can expect to more closely relate to those who have sacrificed the stuff of this world in order to share the message of salvation with people whose standard of living actually allowed for an openness to the Gospel. In the end, it will be the missionaries who may experience less distress from the fall-out of the global economy because they never became hooked on the insatiable cravings for more that so characterize the American way of life.
Of course, this post is really supposed to be about Thanksgiving. When Thursday comes, we’ll have all witnessed the President pardoning the turkey. We’ll have scouted out the best places to get deals on the latest greatest foreign-made gadgets. And we’ll have stuffed our bellies with a feast fit for a king. Let’s enjoy it — and give thanks to the One from whom all blessings flow. Just do so mindful of the fact that you might not realize just how grateful you really are until that bounty of blessings begins to disappear.
Perhaps we should practice now what we should have practiced all along — a steady dose of thanksgiving for all the things that really do matter most: our family, our friends, our health, our freedom, and most of all, our salvation through Jesus Christ. These are the intangibles of life, the blessings that demand our gratitude.
As you gather together with friends and family this Thanksgiving, I encourage you to take the time to offer heartfelt thanks to God for the blessings you enjoy. Prayerfully remember those who are hungry, homeless, and hurting in a multitude of ways. Consider the ones who are serving their country far from those they love, and pray for the missionaries who are working tirelessly to share the message of salvation to a world very much in need.
I am more grateful this year than I’ve ever been. And that is as it should be every year, no matter what.
IT’S YOUR TURN!
What are you most thankful for this year? How do you distinguish between happiness and joy?