The Contrarian Practice of Thanksgiving

What are your thoughts about Thanksgiving this year, a year filled with uncertainty, loss, fear, and political turmoil? Have you decided to fast-forward to Christmas and forget turkeys and giving thanks completely?

Whether you are striding or limping toward this holiday of gratitude, it’s worth remembering that thanksgiving is not a response to our current circumstances! It is a practice that draws us into the spirit of Christ; a practice that is even more necessary when our hearts are heavy.

Let me briefly share three soul-lifting principles on thanksgiving:

Over the past several months, the Lord has strengthened me by considering God’s perspective on my circumstances. His perspective can set me up for an attitude change:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away,

yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NIV)

Soul-lifting principle #1: Thanksgiving leads to hope! It is rooted in God’s view of the world, not in our circumstances! The eternal realities of the gospel remind us that we are redeemed and accepted by God in Christ. We have a hope of sharing in his glory, being transformed into his likeness, and spending eternity in his presence. In Christ, we also have power for living a good life.

Have you felt anxious or more depressed during the past eight months? I sure have! At times, it has felt like an emotional wet blanket weighing me down! And yet Scripture reminds us:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)

Soul-lifting principle #2: Thanksgiving leads to peace. When we are prayerful with thanksgiving (remembering all that God has blessed us with), it leads to peace that transcends our current realities and understanding. I’ll never forget walking the streets of Porte-Au-Prince, Haiti and interacting with people who had peace despite desperate poverty. They were thankful people despite having little.

Consider what the writer of Hebrews, reflecting on the sacrificial life of Jesus has to say:

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus … who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:2-3 NIV)

Jesus Christ, because his entire life was aligned with the will of his Father, lived a life of thanksgiving. In spite of circumstances, his thankful, God-perspective allowed him to see right through the circumstances to …. joy!

Soul-lifting principle #3: A God-oriented, thankful heart leads to joy. When our heart, will, and behavior are oriented around God’s will we grow as thankful people because we care about the right things!

During a teaching time with brain scientist, Jim Wilder, I learned about the effect of thanksgiving on our brains. Did you know that taking time to intentionally spell out what you’re thankful for affects our brains and thereafter, on our emotions!? The chemicals released in our bodies because of thanksgiving help us to experience joyfulness despite what is going on in our lives.

So when you are cutting the turkey this year, I hope you will remember that thanksgiving is not just “grin and bear it,” but an opportunity that God has designed to lift our souls into hope, peace, and joy.

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