A Return to True Thanksgiving

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Living Stones Series: First Published in All Around Old Bridge Publication – November 2017

By Pastor Lloyd Pulley

Have you noticed how stores seem to go from orange and black to red and green with nothing much in between? What ever happened to Thanksgiving? Has this national holiday become a glorified speed bump between two commercial moneymakers, Halloween and Christmas?

As each early elementary school student knows, Thanksgiving has its roots in the earliest days of this nation. The Pilgrims, who braved the unknown and faced disease, cold, and death, gathered with their Native American neighbors to thank God for their first harvest. These courageous men and women acknowledged that divine provision, protection, and providence brought them to and preserved them in this hard, untamed land. So they gave thanks.

Sadly, many of us have lost sight of our rich spiritual heritage, and the true purpose of Thanksgiving. A day once marked by prayer and giving of thanks to God, Thanksgiving is now associated with food, football, Black Friday circulars, and a general sense of overindulgence. We often acknowledge the blessings, but rarely the One who blesses.

Considering last month’s mass shooting in Las Vegas and the storm devastation in Puerto Rico, Florida, and Texas, I wonder if this year in particular, we have a unique opportunity to return to a spirit of true thanksgiving. As I hear survivors tell their stories, I see a consistent theme – many are thanking God for sparing lives and thanking other Americans for helping them in their time of need. In it all, I hear victims thanking God and people, rather than ascribing their survival to shallower constructs like luck, fate, or chance.

Rather than chalking up life events to chance, I personally believe in an Almighty God. I can genuinely be thankful, even amidst turmoil, because I know that as I put God first, He works even the worst tragedies out for some greater purpose in my life. The Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:20 that we can even give thanks not only in all circumstances, but also “for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

At first glance, giving thanks for all things seems ludicrous. I remember thinking how can I possibly be thankful for my dad leaving us, or my mother dying when I was just a young boy. Yet, I see now how God brought good out of even those tragedies. My grandmother raised me, and despite my years of anger, rebellion, and frustration, she took me to church, taught me about the things of God, prayed for me, and instilled in me something that I never would have had otherwise – a strong Christian foundation.

Being thankful challenges our natural tendencies. Giving thanks for all things, especially those things that hurt us, stretches our human nature, and isn’t that a good thing? Aren’t we meant to live above the norm? As proven by those recovering from the recent tragedies in our nation, we often learn to rise above even our most brutal circumstances, particularly when we give thanks.

Ultimately being thankful for all things changes the focus of our lives. Giving thanks requires us to look past what’s in front of us, and to look up, as the Pilgrims did. Perhaps poet Stephen Eardley put it best:

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness,
You are more blessed than the million who won’t survive the week.

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation,
You are ahead of twenty million people around the world.

If you attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death,
You are more blessed than almost three billion people in the world.

If you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep,
You are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace,
You are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.

If you hold up your head with a smile on your face and are truly thankful,
You are blessed because the majority can, but most do not.

If you can read this message,
You are more blessed than over two billion people in the world that cannot read anything at all.

In light of each of these remarkable blessings, perhaps we can join with the great King David of Israel who said:

Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever!

Aaron Salvato