As we head into a week historically marked by the celebration of giving thanks, I want to offer a bit of a twist to your tradition, if you will let me. I try to make a habit of setting time aside before major holidays to ponder fresh ways to celebrate, so that it doesn’t become a dull routine or a meaningless tradition. Since I am raising children who will likely carry on our traditions, it is very important to me that they know, when they come to the Thanksgiving table or the Christmas tree, they are there for more than just the food and gifts.
So this year, as I began to pray about Thanksgiving and what it means for us, and how I could bring that meaning into the forefront once again, what God began to show me was something I had never considered before. I’ve decided to share it with you in the hopes that maybe it will be a fresh perspective for you as well, and maybe you will find a way to weave it into your family tradition of giving thanks.
Historically, Thanksgiving is the celebration of a bountiful harvest, the display of God’s favor and provision. So it began and so it has continued for many a generation. As it is near the end of our calendar year, I have always leaned toward viewing it as an opportunity to look back upon the many blessings we have received and often, in the chaos of life, taken for granted. It has become a time of pausing to appreciate the people and the possessions and the memories of God’s goodness, in retrospect. It has been beautiful and heart-warming. And it has been a good way to prepare our hearts for the Christmas season, which tends to lend its focus (especially if you have children) on reaching for more.
But this year, as I mentioned earlier, a whole new perspective is taking root in my heart. The Bible has some words to say about giving thanks, and as I studied to gain greater understanding, I came across a passage in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 which says,
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Did you catch that? We are to give thanks in all circumstances. Now, having a history of really rough circumstances, I have made it a practice to set everything aside and enter into the Thanksgiving holiday with trauma and drama on pause. I have always chosen to ignore it for a day, in order to focus on something more worthy of my time and attention, which has been a pretty good choice.
But what if that’s not what is meant here? What if there’s more to this kind of thanksgiving than just willing ourselves to be thankful, in spite of the fact that we have a lot of problems hanging out in the background…for the sake of the special day before us? While pumpkin pie (or if you’re at my house, pumpkin crunch), turkey and candied yams can certainly, momentarily suspend a broken heart, we must inevitably return to our reality after the celebration. And often, our thanksgiving ends up being only a momentary reprieve from the toughness of life. Another tradition come and gone, leaving us with another sliver of memory to hold onto as we brave another year of circumstances that will lead us to next year’s Thanksgiving table eager to put it all behind us and overindulge in something that distracts us toward goodness for a day.
But I am here to tell you that God has more in mind for us than a day of appealing distractions! Rather than letting this day become a day of escape from our current reality, He is inviting us into a new reality, a life of Thanksgiving! He is setting before us a table of promises so rich, so bountiful, that we won’t need to reach back into the pool of the past, or even will ourselves to be thankful for the fleeting moments of the present, because He is calling our attention to a glorious future full of His goodness!
See, Jesus, when He set His face to go to the cross for you and me, did it with an attitude of joy and thanksgiving (Luke 22:19 and Hebrews 12:2) As He broke bread with the people He loved, even while His heart was mourning, He wasn’t looking back. In fact, He wasn’t even indulging Himself in the moment, as though it were His reprieve from the suffering He was internally bearing. He was looking forward, to the reward of His suffering. To the future promises God had given Him, and all that it would mean for the ones He loved. He celebrated, in fact He could celebrate, because He came to the table with anticipatory, rather than retrospective, thanks.
What that means for you and I this Thanksgiving is simple: rather than giving thanks for another year we can’t wait to put behind us, we can – and should – fix our eyes on the days that yet remain, choosing to expectantly believe and rejoice in all that God is going to seal up within them. Rather than merely celebrate what we see and have received – in our own lives, in our families, in our churches, in our cities and our nation – we can – and should – cast our lines out into the deep waters of promise and come celebrating the harvest we have yet to see, giving thanks in advance for God’s great faithfulness. We can – and should – come to the table with the settled conviction that we are celebrating a beginning and not an end, and with a contagious excitement that boasts of the epic overflow we are expecting to arrive at any moment.
If that seems like a far reach for you, because maybe you aren’t sure of the plans and promises God has reserved for you, I have an easy exercise to help you. Graham Cooke (you can look him up on Youtube) created this to help people begin to think like overcomers, to focus more on what God is doing in and through our circumstances than on the circumstances themselves, and it is very effective! I do hope you’ll set aside time to try it:
- Start by making a list of everything and everyone difficult and painful in your life currently. Number them as you go.
- Then, on a second sheet of paper, write the same corresponding numbers and next to each, prayerfully ask God what He is doing in that situation or relationship and write it down. (This can be Scriptures that come to mind, or a Word from the Lord impressed upon your heart that lines up with His Word.) If you need a little help, go to someone who has an established relationship with the Lord and have them pray and complete the list with you (b.t.w., all Women of Breakthrough need an older, wiser woman of faith in their lives, so if you don’t have one, now is the time to get one!)
- Once your two lists are finished, throw the first one away, and put the second one in a place that is easily and often visible! This way, all you are ever aware of is what God is doing, rather than what you are feeling.
Now you have something to look forward to! Now you have a table full of promises to rejoice in! Now you can come to the Thanksgiving table with reports of what God is doing, not just of what He has done (it is good to have a little of both, of course!). Now you can offer anticipatory thanks instead of (or in combination with) retrospective thanks.
And I do anticipate that it will be a different kind of celebration than you have ever known before!
Dear Woman of Breakthrough, I trust that God has been good to you. But I also believe that He has so much more goodness in store! And what better time, what better season than one marked by giving thanks, to begin looking forward? I will be practicing the same in my circle of friends and family, and I am excited about the memories we will create around this table of promises. I hope and pray that your celebration, as well, will be marked with an anticipation of hope and abundance so that, according to your faith, it will be unto you.