Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The reason I like it better than Christmas is there aren’t as many expectations (materialism, gifts), and it doesn’t carry the same relative tension (Santa vs virgin birth). Thanksgiving is simply a season of being thankful, and few people have a problem with that. Most of us will gather with family and friends, sharing turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. And yet, can I be honest? People who know me know that I always want to “keep it real”. Truth is I’m really struggling with being thankful this year.
Now, that’s a pretty daring thing for a pastor to write. Most church members want their pastors to be encouraging; someone who models thankfulness in their life. It’s helps them to live more thankfully when they see someone else doing it. So, if one of the pastors isn’t being thankful, why listen to him? We’ve got other pastors who set a better example, right? Maybe we should listen to them instead. Well, I hope you keep reading. Maybe you’ll find that my “trouble” is a help for you as it has been for me.
The Lord and I have been working through my difficulty of being thankful over the past week. Of course, I could blame it on our present circumstances (pandemic, shutdowns, elections, division, and chaos). Fear of the future is the enemy of living thankfully in the present. But that’s not where the Lord has taken me this past week. That’s not the lesson to be learned because I’ve already learned it. All those things, though concerning, have already been overcome by the Lord, Jesus Christ. Victory over our present struggles has already been attained by His death on a cross, by resurrection, by ascension, and the promise of His return. This is where our hope is and the reason to live joyfully and thankfulness. So, my lack of thankfulness is not because I don’t believe. That’s not the lesson the Lord wants me to learn.
So, what’s the lesson? I opened my Bible to see what thanksgiving (not the U.S. holiday) was supposed to look like. Here is where I found some interesting things by going back to the Law of Moses. The book of Leviticus lays out the different sacrifices the God’s people could partake in. Of course, the old system of offering sacrifices has been fully replaced by Jesus sacrifice on the cross, but hang with me here… I want you to show you this principle of thanksgiving. One of the offerings was called the Thank Offering.
Lev 7:11-12 – 11 “And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings that one may offer to the Lord. 12 If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the thanksgiving sacrifice unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of fine flour well mixed with oil.
Here’s three things that I learned as I unpacked these verses.
- The Thank Offering was a sacrifice. The word “sacrifice” means the surrendering of a possession as an offering to the Lord. It means giving something up – something that we value – and we offer it to the Lord, to worship and honor him. The Thank Offering was costly, it required fine flour and oil.
- The words “may offer” (vs 11) and “if he offers” (vs 12). These words indicate that a Thank Offering wasn’t a requirement by God for his people to participate in. He didn’t require them to be thankful (wait… what!).
- The Thank Offering took work to properly prepare the loaves to be offered. If you’ve ever watched someone make bread, you know how much time and effort is put into it, and that’s in our modern kitchens. Imagine the amount of work as they moved around the wilderness for 40-years.
Bottom line – for the people of Israel, being thankful was optional – not that they weren’t generally thankful – but to truly show their thankfulness, it took work and cost them personally. It was a sacrifice to be genuinely thankful.
The Old Testament Thank Offering added dimension to my present struggle to be thankful. It means that in my difficulty, I found it strangely encouraging that I’m really not that far off the mark. God is so good in his kindness towards us!
Let’s apply these 3-points and find some meaning to the struggle to be truly thankful.
First, living thankfully is a sacrifice; it is a personal sacrifice of self. Earlier, I said Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. But why is it my favorite holiday? Is it because I love the meal? My family being in our home celebrating? The start of an extended festive season? Football?
Again, I need to keep it real. As great as those things are, they’re often my idols (family, food, football, etc). Any letdown in one of those categories and I am less thankful. And that’s because naturally, my thanksgiving is based on my wants and desires, instead on the reason for which the holiday was based. Instead of myself, I should base my thanksgiving on Jesus, and all that he provides to me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. That requires personal sacrifice.
Second, living thankfully is optional. God doesn’t require you to always live thankfully. Now some may have a problem with this statement but consider the alternative. If God required you to live thankfully always, then that would be legalism. Instead, God’s desire is that you choose to always live thankfully, joyfully, and peacefully, in every circumstance.
Philippians 4:4-7 – 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Those words “always”, “everyone”, and “everything” are very complete statements. They mean exactly what they say. Rejoice always. Be reasonable to everyone. Be thankful in everything. That means even when we’re faced with local shutdowns, national mask mandates, defund the police, “our” candidates loss, or fear over loss of liberties; Jesus gives no exception to these commands to rejoice, be reasonable, and live thankfully. These are tremendous life goals! Where God doesn’t require you to be thankful, but he so much wants you to, because to live that way is the best for you and it honors him (Psalm 50:23).
The third point is where the rubber meets the road. To accomplish the above goal of living thankfully, the Christian must work at it. This idea of working is not something we like to hear on this side of the cross. Modern day pastors spend so much time fighting the idea that we need to work for our salvation, and we don’t. Salvation is a free gift (Romans 6:23). Many of the blessings that come from God are offered freely.
However, there are some blessings that require work by the Christian. Rejoicing and living thankfully are some of those gifts that require work, and the work that we perform is on ourselves. To live thankfully, we must work to put down the fears of our present life and our anxiety over what’s to come. We work at trusting God more than ourselves. We work to sacrifice our wants and desires, trading instead for his wants and desires (which are far superior!); and his glory and honor (His majesty!). We work to understand and apply all the spiritual blessings we have in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:3-14). Open Ephesians 1. Look at all those blessings!
This is the “thank offering” of the New Testament. It is no longer a sacrifice of loaves placed on an altar. It is a sacrifice of old self that we nail to the cross (Col 2:14) so that we can live a new life with gratitude and thankfulness all day and every day.
To be specific about my problem… my problem isn’t that I don’t believe God or his promises causing me to struggle to live thankfully. On the contrary, He has never let me down nor ever will. My problem is that I live a life where I am constantly “spun up” about so many things, and this year has been even worse. The solution for me is to “wind down” and let God do his thing, while I do my thing, by giving Him all my heart, mind, and soul. The more I do that, the more He will give me the power I need to rejoice always, be reasonable to everyone, and be thankful in everything.