Finding Gratitude at Thanksgiving

In just a couple of days we will once again be gathering with friends and family to celebrate a day of Thanksgiving, an annual tradition.  For many this is merely the first official day of the Christmas season, but for more traditionalists, it is its own unique and timeless holiday.  It should be a time when we reflect on all we have, and to be grateful for our provisions and blessings.  But we live in a culture of hurt, brokenness and loneliness, and even with the most gracious of attitudes, can find it difficult to count the positives in our lives when weighed against the negatives.  For those who have lost loved ones though the year, this may be the first holiday without their presence and they may be revisited by the grief they thought had been fully processed.  Some may find themselves alone after failed relationships.  Many will have difficulty preparing enough food or the family due to loss of income or jobs.  The weight we place on the hardships in our lives will often overwhelm the positive in ways that make it challenging to recognize our blessings.

As I grow older I have developed an appreciation for the older hymns we sang in church and the timeless integrity of sound doctrine they contain.  One of those hymns is appropriate for Thanksgiving as it addresses the state of the human condition some of us deal with, but yet gives encouragement that there is always good and hope to be found in every situation.  The hymn is Count Your Blessings and the lyrics follow:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Refrain:
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by. (Refrain)

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
Count your many blessings, money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your home on high. (Refrain)

So, amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

It’s easy to fall for the mind games our adversary likes to use against us, because unless you are narcissistic you always question your worth.  I know this well.  But if you really want to, you can turn this game into a tennis match where the last volley wins, something like this:

I wish I had more money/I’m grateful I can buy those things I need when I need them.

I wish I owned a home/I’m grateful for shelter, a warm bed and a controlled climate.

I wish I weren’t so heavy/I’m grateful to live where there is plenty of food and I never go to bed hungry.

I wish my car was newer/I’m grateful for transportation to come and go as I please.

I wish I wasn’t in pain all the time/I’m grateful for mobility and agility and that I’m not confined to a wheel chair.

I wish I had a companion/I’m grateful to have known love and that I have good friends who watch out for me.

I’m sure you get the idea here.  None of us have perfect lives, and few of us have the lives we thought we would in our advanced age.  Life is full of detours, road closures and washed out bridges.  When the easy paved road we were on disappears, we need to learn how to four-wheel our way through the rough until we find the road again.  This can only happen with a determination to remain grateful and find blessings among the trials.  If you are reading this blog, then things could always be worse!  There is always hope within despair.  Count your blessings even in the rain.

If you find my writing encouraging and would like to read more, please consider buying my book, My Soul Cries Out, available on Amazon and Kindle.  You will find many very transparent articles about holding fast to hope and faith in the midst of life’s darkest hours.  And if you do buy my book, reviews on Amazon are always appreciated!  Happy Thanksgiving.

 

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Giving Thanks When Feeling Not So Grateful

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How does one offer thanks when they are in the midst of less than thankful circumstances?  How can someone sing praise when everything inside them screams for help?  Tomorrow across America most families will come together in what has largely become the first day of the Season of Consumerism, yet some still set it aside as a day to reflect on the many blessings they have received.  For believers it is just one more occasion to acknowledge the never ending provisions we are granted as children of God.  But for many it may be difficult to find a grateful heart due to personal situations or circumstances for which they are anything but thankful.

It’s hard to gather around a table that first time when one chair sits conspicuously empty due to a recent death.  It’s difficult to act gracious when the latest medical report was anything but positive. It’s hard to enjoy the day when you are wondering how you are going to get your bills paid, let alone shop for Christmas presents.  It’s hard being single for the first time around friends and family after a broken relationship.  We are falsely led to believe by some that Christians should give thanks for any and all of their circumstances like zombies on an acid trip as if nothing can touch us because of our faith when in fact most would be shocked to know the pains and concerns our Christian siblings harbor secretly.

1 Thessalonians 5 tells us to give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. To this day I cringe whenever I hear someone say that everything happens for a reason. That is simply not true!  God is not the author of disease, calamity, broken hearts, unemployment or loneliness.  It is His desire that we avoid these things when possible.  And yet it is correct to say that He can make magic from a mess, wholeness from brokenness.  Only He can truly turn our sorrows into dances of joy but our approach to God has to be one of a grateful heart.  Sounds a bit contradictory.

The heart of gratitude is something that goes much deeper than the surface circumstances. In one of my favorite movies, National Treasure there was a map on the back of the Constitution that was not visible on the surface but could be seen with a special pair of reading glasses.  Those who successfully maintain a grateful heart have learned how to read the whole of their lives with special glasses that see and understand things hidden from all outward appearances.  They understand the old but proven cliché that bad times don’t last but good people do. They know the meaning of “count it all joy” when considering present situations in light of the much bigger eternal picture.  They realize the temporal nature of this earthly life and set their minds on a much higher reward.  I can’t say that I am quite there yet, but I know how to get there.

This Thanksgiving Day I want to offer words of hope, comfort and encouragement to those who are struggling to find any spirit of gratitude. This may come across as a bit lecture-ish but as you gather tomorrow, consider the food that thousands of others only dream about. Look across the table and see the smiling faces of your kids, grandchildren and family and be grateful for their presence and safety. As you bless the gathering, take a moment to consider where you might be if not for a loving Father who provides all that we could ever need if we sincerely seek and acknowledge Him. Consider the dwelling you are gathered at in light of the thousands of homeless families with children right in your own communities. I know, it sounds easier than it really is, but there is a peace that comes from an earnest attempt to come before God with a heart and a spirit of Thanksgiving even in the midst of life’s troubles.

The following is just a compilation of various Psalms written by a man named David even as he was in the desert running for his life.  His comfort was his knowledge and recollection of God’s goodness.

“I will give thanks to the Lord due to His righteousness and I will sing praises to the name of the Lord most high”.

“I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount his wonderful deeds”.

“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify Him with thanksgiving”.

“Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise”.

“And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and tell of His deeds in songs of joy”.

“Give thanks unto the Lord for He is good.  His mercies are everlasting”

I hope and pray each of you have a wonderful, meaningful and grateful Thanksgiving Day.

 

 

 

 

For These and All Thy Blessings…

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It is sad to me that the traditions and celebrations of Thanksgiving have been folded into the Christmas holiday and has lost its uniqueness in many aspects. We are all guilty.  Each year I debate over whether or not to have the Christmas tree up and the house decorated in time for the Thanksgiving gathering.  We use the occasion to discuss the details of Christmas, who’s hosting, who’s buying gifts for who, what the menu should be, etc. Don’t get me wrong-I absolutely LOVE Christmas and all it means to me, and am an advocate of making Christmas last all year.  But the beauty of Christmas begins with an appreciation and an understanding of the incarnation of Christ, and that epiphany should be ushered in with great Thanksgiving and rejoicing rather than Black Thursday shopping deals.

Perhaps the older I get the more reflective I become. Or maybe it’s a maturity of faith that sheds a greater light on just how blessed we are as a people and as a church, that with all our faults we can be referred to as Children of God. In the midst of all our struggles, in view of all our differences, in spite of the divisions and barriers of our own making, we still have more to be grateful for than we could ever express in the short time allotted us here on earth. This is the week we look back on where we’ve been, what we’ve endured and what we are left with, and raise our voices to say Thanks God. So in the spirit of the day, I have a list of my own. I trust you do as well.

*I don’t have perfect health-I’m out of shape and maybe just a little overweight, yet God has granted  my fifty three years of a good life. 

*I experienced a painful divorce long ago but God blessed me with an angel that I’ve been with now  for eighteen years.

*Our kids aren’t perfect-they are all alive and doing well and a blessing to our family.

*Our grand kids are perfect! They can’t comprehend how precious they and their love is to us. 

*I lost a business this year-painful, but ended up in a perfect situation orchestrated by God alone. 

*Our house needs repair and updating but our home is strong and blessed and welcoming.

*We have to drive twenty miles to and from work. In twenty two years in Las Vegas we’ve never been      involved in any serious accidents. 

*Our church isn’t perfect because we attend there. But we found a home where we can mature and be a  blessing as we grow up in our faith and salvation.

*Our country is not what it used to be but we are still free to disagree, free to pursue happiness, free  to worship as we please, free to peacefully demonstrate and free to move about in relative safety.

*I’m not wealthy by the world’s standards, but I couldn’t ask for anything more than I have. What price  can a man give in exchange for his soul?

I love  Psalm 103 taken from the Message Bible.  It drives home the point, lest we forget, of just how truly blessed we are by God.

 O my soul, bless God.
    From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name!
O my soul, bless God,
    don’t forget a single blessing!

 He forgives your sins—every one.
    He heals your diseases—every one.
    He redeems you from hell—saves your life!
    He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.
    He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal.
    He renews your youth—you’re always young in his presence.

As high as heaven is over the earth,
    so strong is his love to those who fear him.
And as far as sunrise is from sunset,
    he has separated us from our sins.
As parents feel for their children,
    God feels for those who fear him.

What can anyone add to that?  What more can we ask for in order to be grateful-we already have it all!

There is just one more thing I’m grateful for this year. Since I was a young kid in school I’ve always loved to write.  Now through the technology of social media I am a blogger, writing each week about my experiences as a man striving, sometimes unsuccessfully, to live the Christian faith. The greatest praise one can receive is for another to want to hear what you have to say.  I am but one of countless millions of internet bloggers contributing to the ever growing blogosphere each week. If five of you wanted to follow me and my posts, I’d be truly blessed and would feel like I was making a positive contribution to your state. However I have a few more than five.  To have your posts read by those in countries like the UK and Italy and the Netherlands is humbling beyond words. I am thankful for each of you who have chosen to follow papaswords.com since its onset, and for those who have shared the posts and offered comments and critique. My prayer is that you find commonality in our struggles, our doubts, our fears and our victories as we live out our faith in a world unfriendly and sometimes even hostile toward the Gospel. You are among my greatest blessings-a heartfelt Thank You. May God bless you and your family with joy, laughter, memories and a revelation of these and all thy blessings!

Papa Joe