Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love people and I love big gatherings. I love the house being filled with laughter and the smells of food. I love the games that unfold as the day goes forward, the movies that are watched together and the talks that happen late at night. Truly, Thanksgiving and Christmas are some of my favorite times during the year. And we won’t get to experience many of those things I just listed this year. That is still settling into my heart as I say it. There is going to be some grief as we consider what we are losing this year. But does that mean we cannot still be thankful? By no means! Just because we can’t see many of the things we are used to seeing that does not mean we can’t still see the Lord work. Just because our experience will be different than what we are accustomed to does not mean we can’t still experience the Lord. Just because we won’t hear the laughter and noise of family gathered does not mean we can’t still hear the Lord speak. And just because our work will be greatly diminished this year does not mean the Lord isn’t still hard at work around us. I want to remind you of a deeper purpose behind our Thanksgiving celebrations and call you up to a joy-filled moment. Can you look forward to a moment like that? We need some joy-filled moments right now!
Our joy is contingent on two things: God’s work in us and our response to His work. We can count on the first one being ever present and active. He will never back away from His promise to lead, discipline and mature all those who seek Him. The second is where we find the hole in our joy bucket. Just because there is grief present in our lives does not mean we must be joyless. In fact, the presence of joy in our grief can be very sweet and comforting! But we allow fear, bitterness, loneliness, anxiety…to complicate and compound our grief. When that happens our joy disappears because we are more focused on ourselves and our surroundings than the reasons we have in the Lord to be thankful. We need to ready ourselves to be in God’s presence.
I’m talking about so much more than wiping down with Clorox wipes and hand sanitizer. We’re not trying to deal with germs. We’re trying to deal with sin. We wonder why many times we don’t hear from the Lord or experience His goodness. It is not because He is silent or absent. It is because we have chosen to enter into His presence with dirty hands and cluttered lives. We come in with ears full of the lies of the enemy, mouths full of the foul things we’ve heard and said, hearts full of bitterness and rebellion, and hands filthy from handling our own sin. We come in this way and expect to be able to act like a saint. It will never happen. We wonder why we don’t hear from the Lord. It’s because we aren’t ready for Him to speak to us.
I know deep down there is a thankful heart that God has given you. All the weight of the world is pressing that down right now and you have to decide if you are going to put up a fight to get it back. Will you resist the temptation to give into fear and all of its menacing friends or will you go along with the crowd? Remember what Nehemiah says, “The joy of the Lord is our STRENGTH!” If we want to truly rise up and thank the Lord this year it is not going to be because we are naturally thankful people or have naturally grateful hearts. No, it will be because we respond to that gentle nudge of the Spirit to worship Him for who He is NOW and not who we want Him to be; because we find the words to say “Thank You” for all that is going on now and not the way it used to be.
Thank Him for His rescue and His promise to never leave! Thank Him for His grace and restraint toward us! Thank Him for His mighty work on our behalf! Thank Him for leaving the gates open to the outside world for the broken, down and out’s to come in! Thank Him for a virus that puts us on our face, needy and helpless before Him! Thank Him for friends and family who can gather round us, physically and virtually, when we need them most. Thank Him for encouraging us to keep moving when all we want to do is sit. Thank Him for promising us this messed up world is not our home AND our home is virus and every other kind of evil free!
Hang on, dear one! This is not the end and if it is that means Jesus’ return is near. Keep breathing and with every breath ask our Father and your God to fill up your joy bucket. I’ll bet your turkey to my cranberry sauce it could use a scoop right now!