The atmosphere around Thanksgiving this year is different. Fear has gripped our nation. Confusion, frustration, and anger seem to describe the season more-so than gratitude. Rather than counting our blessings, most people seem focused on wishing this year would simply go away.
True thanksgiving, though, calls for a time of looking back and reflecting on blessings received and lessons learned. This is where it gets complicated, it seems. Few want to remember anything from this year. After all, why would anyone choose to dwell on topics such as a pandemic, hospitalizations, lockdowns, quarantines, and contested elections? Remembering the year 2020 for most is equivalent to trying to conjure up details from the nightmare you had in your sleep.
There is a difference for believers, however. Those who know the greatness of the Lord and have been saved by His grace, understand that we always have sufficient reasons to give thanks. Our faithful God has not been absent, and He has not forsaken His children.
Christians are people of hope. The Bible teaches that we are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom 8:37). Remembering the ultimate triumph of God brings us assurance and tranquility in the face of an uncertain world, and in this, we give thanks!
However, we must face the reality that Christians are not exempt from hardships. Believers get cancer, lose their homes in tornadoes, get fired from jobs, and are not immune from the effects of any virus. Yet, there is a difference. While the world panics, Christians remain people of hope. Though unbelievers may conclude that there is no reason for joy, those whose true citizenship is in heaven remember that we can give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thes 5:18).
What does it mean to say we are people of hope? To be sure, it does not mean that we are free from sickness. Our hope is not in some imagined immunity from pandemics or any exemption from persecution. Our hope and thankfulness in all circumstances must be able to withstand the waves of loss and pain that undoubtedly creep into every life.
Even for believers, the outer man wastes away; our bodies break down. Yet our hope remains because our “inner man” is being renewed day by day (2 Cor 4:16). Believers should not lose heart. We are not a people of panic or fear, but rather, people of hope and gratitude. We understand that the wise hand of God's sovereignty continues to hold us at all times. These days are no exception! As Spurgeon said, we lay our heads on the pillow of God’s sovereignty, confident that He is a rock and refuge for those who trust in Him.
As we hope in the goodness of God, let us also seek to serve others during this season. We use our gifts to care for people as we become channels of blessing to those who are hurting. During this Thanksgiving season, where sickness and anxiety abound, we have countless opportunities to display our confidence in the Lord and help others see the marvelous work of God’s grace in our lives.
While we express thankfulness for our blessings, even in the midst of difficulty, we are also grateful to be reminded that this world is not our home. Hebrews 13:14 encourages us, "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come." While we want to do all we can to maximize each day on this earth and help others to do the same, we are a people who are living for the life to come. We are people of hope because our hearts are set on eternity, not merely the here and now. How thankful we should be for the blessed promise of heaven!
Being people of hope, of course, does not mean we are cavalier about serious circumstances. We should not live as though we are unaware of the challenges of our day, nor should we be indifferent to the suffering happening around us. The opposite is true. We care, serve, grieve, and hurt. Yet, we do so with hope. We live knowing that our service in the name of Jesus will be rewarded in the end. We sacrifice to serve others, knowing that, as Jim Elliot wisely said, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."
But what about family gatherings that are hindered? What about the reality of death in the loss of a loved one? What do we do if circumstances break our hearts?
Then we grieve. We grieve deeply, and we feel profound pain. Yet even then, we do "not grieve as others do who have no hope" (1 Thes 4:13). While our tears flow just as freely and the cries sound just as agonizing, what sets us apart is the hope behind those tears, making all the difference in the world. In Christ, we continually have hope, and we always have reasons to give thanks.
Yes, we give thanks in hope!
We are people of trust in our God. Let us live in faith, never in fear. We choose gratitude, not grumbling. We choose to worship, not worry.
Eventually, this massive disruption into our lives from the coronavirus will cease. I do hope, though, that rather than quickly forgetting the realities of this year, the lessons we have learned as Christians never leave us. Yes, I hope we actually do remember this year. May we remember the value of loving our neighbor while at the same time longing for heaven a little more each day. May we never forget the indescribable blessing of gathering with God’s people on the Lord’s Day to declare the glory of our King! It is good for us to remember that the things of this world can be taken from us in a moment, yet the anchor for our soul remains faithful forever.
This Thanksgiving season is indeed a challenge. The constant bombardment of the pain in this world threatens to distract our hearts and minds. Yet this world is not our home. The promise of heaven and the guarantee of life without sin, shame, sickness, or death is ours. It is real, and it is coming. To this amazing hope, we cling. For this glorious promise, we give thanks. Of this blessed assurance, we tell.
"Christmas: God's Greatest Gift" is a new book Michael has written that walks through the Christmas story and the hope of the gospel. To order copies, email firstname.lastname@example.org and mention how many copies you'd like and where you'd like them shipped. To request prayer, please click here.