Monday, November 16, 2009

An Attitude of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving – It Ain’t That Easy!
By Barbara Henderson

Well, here we are again. Thanksgiving is coming. Then it will be Christmas. Then we will start a new year. We will hope for a new year filled with joy and good things. In fact, we hope for a joyful holiday season. I know, the term ‘holiday season’ is now thought to be offensive, as it puts Christ out of the season. However, when I was growing up, the phrase ‘holiday season’ was meant to include the three holidays beginning with Thanksgiving and ending with New Years. Christmas was practically a ‘holiday season’ all by itself. Each particular holiday was an occasion to celebrate God’s love and mercy. The culture of that time pre-supposed that Jesus Christ was the reason for all three days of celebration.

Last week’s article covered the tendency of some people to spoil everyone’s holiday season by reliving past grief to the point that it seems the holiday season is spent in mourning. The article encouraged people to consider their grief well prior to the onset of the holiday season, and mourn as they feel the need; but, with God’s help, set aside their grief for the holiday season, beginning with thanksgiving. The Bible itself tells us there is a time to mourn. So, I am not saying that grief should be ignored, but that at some point, grief should not control your seasons of joy.

The spirit of thankfulness is a tremendous gift from God. It is the beginning of change for the better. It is the beginning of a new and better way of living. But, thanksgiving is also hard work. It leads the thankful heart into an unknown future. To be truly thankful, requires that one launch out into the wilderness without really knowing where they are going, or what they will actually be doing. I think that is why people hang on to grief. Grief is a known element. Everyone knows how to grieve and mourn. You just bawl your eyes out, or keep a pained look on your face while you go about your daily life. You focus on the past, another known element, and shield your eyes from an unknown future.

Thanksgiving, on the other hand, requires courage. Here’s why.

First, thanksgiving acknowledges your own inability to achieve or gain anything without help from God. Thanksgiving tells you that the things you have were not gained by your own hard work and perseverance. If you had gotten things on your own, then why the need to give thanks in the first place? Thanksgiving is a tool by which a believer may rid his or her self of pride. Thanksgiving leads to humility.

Somewhere in between thanksgiving and humility is repentance. As you begin to give God the credit for all your blessings, you become aware of more blessings that you have taken for granite in your life. You have a glimmer of understanding of how blessed and favored you are with God. Humility begins to grow in your life. From the extreme advantage point of a humble heart, you begin to see how pride has crept into your life. You begin to feel the weight of burdens you are carrying that you don’t have to carry. At some point, you begin to repent of thought patterns and a life style that thanks yourself for all your hard work and success. You become sorry for your sins. You come to an understanding that the measure of success or failure is not what is visible to the eye. It is not in the measure of what you have or don’t have. This requires a paradigm shift in one’s thinking.

This attitude adjustment, this change in your way of thinking, is not easy. In fact, it is so hard that many and even most people turn back. They set their shoulder to the plow and start out with their eye on the prize at the end of the row. But then, all the changes that thanksgiving brings become frightening. They would rather go back to the known elements of an unthankful life.

For those who persevere in developing an attitude of thanksgiving and praise, there is a tremendous reward. That reward is meekness of spirit. Meekness is the most powerful tool a Christian can have. Here is an exert from an article that I wrote on meekness some time ago.
‘Meekness - Meekness is reliance on God instead of yourself.
A mighty man of God was Moses; yet Moses was meekest of all men. Now how can that be? Simple. Moses, a former prince of Egypt, came to understand that through God working in him, he could accomplish more than all the mighty armies of Egypt. That is the meekness that we should seek. It leads us to understand that 'I can do all things through Christ which strengthen me'. (Philippians 4:13)
So, meekness does not mean 'I am a door mat. Come stomp on me!' It means that you have begun to understand that your success in any endeavor is not based on YOUR own abilities. Remember that Moses had plenty of natural abilities and talents. Yet, he set those aside in favor of reliance on the Lord.
Moses did spend 40 years in the wilderness caring for sheep between the time he rejected the power of Egypt and chose instead to be counted with the people of God. Like Moses, we may grasp the concept of meekness, but be slow to be able to fully implement meekness as a way of life. That means we should all get started working on fully relying on God instead of ourselves right away.
Right now, are you on the path to meekness; or, are you still trying to do all things through your own ability, wealth, or authority? Or have you set these things aside and chosen to rely on the ability, wealth, and authority of God Almighty?
No matter how great your personal talents and power, the arm of flesh will eventually fail you. If you were even greater than Alexander the Great, you would still eventually meet his fate. You would die, and your kingdom and possessions would be given to another mortal.
The inheritance God has for the meek is eternal. Reliance on God instead of your self is the path to success.’ (end quoted article)
This is just a simple explanation of the benefits of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a process, not a holiday. Thanksgiving brings changes. Some of the changes will be hard. You can bet that some of the changes will be very hard. They will be so hard, than many will turn back from thanksgiving, and go back to living on their own. These people may be saved, but the joy of their salvation will be overshadowed with the cares of the world. Meekness will elude them all their lives. No matter what their earthly success may be, it will pale in comparison to what it could have been through meekness.

Perseverance in thanksgiving is somewhat like Peter walking on water. When he kept his focus on the Lord Jesus Christ, he stayed above the water. When he looked at the water, he began to sink into the sea. If a Christian gazes on the things of earth such as material wealth, hurt feelings, genuine grief, or bitter disappointments, they are going to be overwhelmed by these things and fall back into grief and things of the past. Their only option for help in their distress is to keep their eyes fixed on the Lord. And, I will be the first to admit that it really ‘ain’t that easy’. In fact, it is well night impossible sometimes. Thankfully, nothing is impossible with God. (Matthew 19:26, Mark 9:23, mark 10:27, Mark 14:26, Luke 18:27 )
So, there you have it. The question is, are you one of the few who will be willing to set a course of thankfulness in your daily life? Or, will you be one who finds the road of thanksgiving to hard and difficult?
Barbara Henderson
Grief versus Thanksgiving
By Barbara Henderson

Here we are approaching Thanksgiving, so you may wonder why I am writing about grief. It is because grief seems to dominate the Thanksgiving and Christmas season for many people. People spend times that are supposed to be filled with joy ‘grieving over joys departed’.
( Line from ‘Tell it to Jesus’ I cannot recommend this song highly enough. It proclaims a real solution to a real problem. Tell it to Jesus – as loudly and as long as it takes.)

Spending times set aside as times of joy grieving is a recipe for disaster. Everyone needs a time that they set aside their grief and focus on the daily benefits that God is giving them continually, as well as specific blessings and gifts that are given at different times. Salvation is a gift that is given once, but it has daily benefits. It is like a child born into a practicing Christian family. It was a blessing to the child to be born into that family. It is a continual blessing to the child to be raised in a Christian environment by Christian parents.

In Nehemiah 8 we are told of the people of Israel who had returned to Jerusalem and were listening as the word of God was read to them. They understood the word of God and the law. The people wept when they understood how they had failed God. Then Nehemiah and Ezra and all the Levites that taught the people said,
‘This day is holy unto the LORD your God; mourn not, nor weep. For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law.
Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our LORD: neither be sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength.’ (Nehemiah 8:8-10)

The people were sorry for their sins. But, it was a holy day, and they were told not to mourn or weep. They were instructed to have a good day themselves, and send good things to those who had nothing. They were given the formula to do this. They were to rely on the Lord. The joy of the Lord was their strength.

Now, here we are facing a holiday season that should be filled with Joy in our salvation, eternal security, eternal destiny, eternal companion, eternal guide, and all the good things that God has promised to us. No earthly grief or burden can nullify these blessings. By God’s strength we can rejoice in our present circumstances.

Now, I do not want to make light of any grief that anyone might be going through today. It is real, and it hurts to the point of mental anguish. When dealing with grief or loss, whether it be the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, or just the loss of a treasured possession or position in life, we need to see and consider the example of Job. ‘In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.’ Job 1:22

When dealing with grief, people often waste time blaming God and being angry at Him. This separates them from the balm of healing that only God can give. If you were sick you would go the physician who could help you and heal you. You would not blame the physician that you were sick in the first place. That is what happens with Christians who do not take their grief to the Lord. They begin to blame God Himself for letting grief come to them in the first place. This separates them from the healing power of God.

Second, we need to understand that there is indeed a time to mourn. Ecclesiastes 3 says,
1. ‘To every thing there is a season, and time to every purpose under the heaven:
2. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and time to dance;
We definitely are allowed a time to mourn and grieve.

God does not expect us to set aside our grief and mourning on our own.
Psalm 147:3 says, ‘He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.
God wants us to take our grief to Him so He can heal our broken hearts and bind up our wounds.

So, according to the Bible, we have a time to weep, and a time to mourn. But that season is not eternal. Praise God, the season of mourning and weeping is not eternal. That season will turn, just as summer turns to fall and fall to winter and winter to spring.

My personal experience is that mourning and weeping over a loss tends to come and go a little. The season of initial grief and loss is always the worst. Then it comes again, but not quite as bad, and so on. When grief overwhelms you, just through it, but don’t let it become your way of life. After my sister died I had a few ‘melt downs’ at the oddest times. Just a few minutes before she died I was talking to her on the phone about the coming Easter weekend, and what I was going to get at that the grocery store before going to mom’s house. Less than an hour later we got the call that she had died. I suppose it was because we had been talking about me going to the grocery store, but after she died I was pretty prone to have an overwhelming sense of loss in the grocery store. That resulted in a bucket full of tears, and me just leaving the store without getting through the check out line. Now, I know that is sort of nutty, but that is what happened. Now, almost fifteen years later, I can go the grocery store anytime, and only cry at how expensive things are.

If you have a recent or long past sorrow, I think the time to consider it carefully is now, before we actually get to the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. If you still have tears, cry them. If you feel like your heart needs to mourn, then go ahead. But, at the same time, begin to ask God to help you set aside your sorrow, trouble, grief, uncertainties, and any other distraction so you can go through to a time of thanksgiving and joy because of God’s eternal goodness. You need that time as much as you need a time to grieve. You need the time to laugh and dance as much as you need the time of grief.

We have heard about the stages of grief. I think they are real; but, going through grief and turmoil does not give them the right to control how you live the rest of your life. God has clearly stated that while the elements of sorrow and grief have a time in your life, so do the times of laughing and dancing. (I think dancing is a time of praising the Lord joyfully)

Anyway, the first stage of preparing for the holiday season ahead (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day) is to go over any grief you have sitting in your heart. If it takes tears to let the grief go, then cry. But make it clear to your heart that the time of grief will give way to a time of joy and thanksgiving. The joy of the Lord and His blessings will enable you to be joyful and thankful in trying circumstances.

I want to put a disclaimer here. Three years ago this month my dear preacher friend Evan New died unexpectedly of a heart attack. That left his family and friends in the first stages of grief. Of course they were not able to have what is traditionally considered a joyful holiday season. I can tell you that in the middle of an ocean of tears they were thankful that Evan was in heaven. That was obviously the consuming thought of their holiday season that year. Without the joy of the gift of God’s salvation, they might have all lost their minds. Now, this will be the fourth Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day without him. Their lives have gone on. Of course they still miss him, but grief and loss are not the controlling force in their entire lives. They don’t wait for the holiday season to approach so they can mourn over his death.

The point is that if the Lord allows a great grief to come to you during the holiday season, then it is time for you to mourn! However, that is only in the beginning. As time goes by, you do not want to turn seasons of rejoicing into perpetual seasons of grieving.

Now, a few weeks before our holiday season begins, is a good time to pour out your grief and sorrow to the Lord. Ask Him to comfort you, bear your sorrow, and strengthen you with His joy that you would have the strength to enjoy the blessings of God.

A thought on a good way to set aside your grief in favor of joy and thanksgiving is given to us in Nehemiah in a verse already quoted in this article. The people were told to send portions to those for whom nothing had been prepared. Consider those who have are in need of food as well as those who are need of hearing the Gospel. Food for the hungry in your churches food baskets and Bibles for the lost through an organization like the Gideon’s is a good way to help yourself.

In Nehemiah we are to eat the fat and drink the sweet. When we hear these words we think of the good things we eat and drink at festive dinners. The word of God is also what we should think of. Just as the meat is most tender by the fat on a big t-bone steak, the fat of God’s word is where we read of His tender love for us and find strength to go forward in rejoicing. Drinking the sweet is more than a tall glass of ice tea. It is also drinking in the good things of God that are explained to us in the Bible. N short, ‘eat’ the words in the Bible. In preparing for the coming holiday season, it is good to begin a Bible study on any subject that interests you, or any specific Bible Book that you like to read. You will find compassion for your sorrow. You will find healing for the scars left by your loss, whatever it may be. You will find strength to go forward with joy.

I do have one more thing to say. Holidays are not magical times. They are just days that have a different routine. Do not expect something paranormal to happen that transforms the next year into some supernatural fantasy world where trouble and sorrow do not come. Set a realistic expectation on exactly what is going to happen this holiday season. People are still going to be people with a sin nature. The grumpy person will likely still be grumpy. The martyr in the family will still be the martyr. The bossy controlling person will still be trying to micromanage everything. But, YOU can be different. You can follow the example of the King David the Psalmist in Psalm 71:16 when he says, ‘I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD: I will make mention of they righteousness, even of thine only.’

Honestly, times of rejoicing and thankfulness are gifts God gives to Christians that resemble furloughs from the burdens and cares of life that drag them down to sorrow and grief. It is silly not to take advantage of such wonderful gifts. Most of all, God deserves our undivided attention for seasons of rejoicing. And, something to keep in mind is that thanksgiving often precedes additional blessings.

Now, watch for my article next week on the Pilgrims, and what the grief they had to set aside before they could properly thank God for His goodness to them.

Barbara Henderson