I love everything about Thanksgiving. I love gathering family and friends together in my home, so many that you’d think my house would burst at the seams. The “foodie” in me loves eating traditional Thanksgiving dishes—in my house that’s turkey, ham, mac & cheese, dressing, yams, greens, cranberry sauce, sweet potato pie, and pound cake. The sports fan in me looks forward to the premiere football and basketball games like a child waiting to open his Christmas presents. And the competitor in me is enlivened by the board games we play that are laugh-until-your-sides-split fun! But what the saved sinner in me loves most about Thanksgiving is giving thanks. Our church has an annual Thanksgiving service where the saints gather for one hour and testify about all the good things our God has done for us. Some share through tears about how they made it over. Some share through tears of joy about how sweet God’s blessings are. Some share out of amazement over God’s sustaining grace through trials. Some share with joy because of God’s victories. We all come with hearts overflowing with God’s goodness and mercies towards us, and we openly marvel at how God demonstratively shows his undying love for us. Let’s Choose to Be Grateful!
You may be wondering how you can give thanks like that this year. This was a year of strife for many. It was a year of great loss for others. It was a year of racial unrest, church splits and lost friendships because of masking or not masking, vaxxing or not vaxxing, for being too conservative or too progressive. And still for some it was a year of losing loved ones to our great enemy, death.
Thanksgiving will be different for me this year. I buried my nephew last week. He was more like a little brother to me. On Thanksgiving Day this year, our family would have celebrated his 41st birthday and my mom’s 81st. He was God’s gift to my sister on our mom’s 40th birthday. He was my sister’s firstborn, my mom’s first grandchild, my first nephew, the first baby in our family. But we won’t celebrate his birthday this Thanksgiving because he’s not here. He died from an asthma attack. Yes, an asthma attack, and while he was taking a treatment.
So on my favorite holiday, this year, I will grapple with the mind-binding truth of the book of Ecclesiastes. The world we live in is absurdly broken and none of us can fix it or escape its brokenness. We, therefore, are all forced to make a choice. We can choose to live like hedonistic Epicureans, mindlessly indulging our flesh in order to numb the pain of living in a broken world. Or we can pridefully tell ourselves that we can trust in our own goodness, grin and bear it, and push through everything. Or we can bow before our infinitely majestic sovereign, good God and, by His grace, fix our hope on His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We can fear Him so that we don’t have to fear that our suffering in this life is vain and meaningless. We can humbly submit to the fact that Jesus ordains all of our suffering (2 Corinthians 4:17). He will use all of it in ways our finite minds can’t comprehend for His glory and for the good of all those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Let me encourage you to choose to trust in Jesus. Embrace the wisdom of Ecclesiastes and acknowledge that we live under the sun that is outside of the perfect garden that God made and called very good. Know that you will suffer much through your journey here. Humbly accept that you must travel through places like the valley of the shadow of death. But also believe that God sent the last Adam—the Lord Jesus Christ—who has overcome this world and is enthroned above the sun. Trust that He will guide you through this life into a new paradise (Revelation 21:5). In your darkest trials, keep your eyes fixed on Him. What He accomplished through living a perfectly righteous life, by dying in place of guilty sinners, by paying the wages of sin, which is death, and by rising victoriously from the grave, guarantees that all who repent of their sins and believe in Him will overcome our broken world (Revelation 3:21).
So although we all live between two paradises, we can still give thanks because we have a Savior who has lived in our broken world too. One author re-frames Hebrews 4:15 in a more colloquial tone, “There is simply no way Jesus our High Priest will not empathize with us. He cannot not feel our pain!(1) So if this year you received a call that turned your world upside down—your doctor said you have cancer, your mother who caught Covid won’t make it—through your tears, give thanks that our Father has sent us a Savior, and remember that He has a balm in Gilead that can heal our souls. Hold onto Him because He is holding on to you, and He will never let you go. As your Good Shepherd, He will guide you through all the valleys of the shadows of death, and He will be with you.
So on Thanksgiving Day, choose to be grateful. I pray that I will, because of Jesus. I will remember my nephew. I’ll give myself room to mourn, knowing that Jesus cares about every tear that falls from my eyes (Psalm 56:8). But I will also choose to look at the glass of my life as more than half-full, and I will choose to be grateful because all I earned from God is an empty glass. I will choose to thank God because of what Jesus has done for me when He died on Calvary. Now my cup is overflowing with blessings and God’s lovingkindness that pursues me all the days of my life. So on this Thanksgiving, I will thank God for the 40 years with my nephew that I didn’t earn or deserve, and I encourage you to choose to be grateful.
 Robert D. Jones, Anger: Calming Your Heart (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2019)
On Thanksgiving, let’s . . .
- Pray that our Father of mercies and God of all comfort would comfort those who are undergoing affliction and loss.
- Pray with thanksgiving that God can use us to weep with those who weep and to mourn with those who mourn.
- Pray prayers of thanksgiving and recount to God all His blessings starting with thanking God for giving us His Son and thanking the Lord Jesus for redeeming us from sin by laying down His life.
- Pray, thanking God that by His grace we can cling to Him through our suffering and that we can choose to be grateful.