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More on Thanksgiving

November 30th, 2011 No comments

I wrote about thankfulness a while back, but I hadn’t seen this piece from the New York Times about the health benefits associated with gratitude:

Compared with a control group, the people keeping the gratitude journal were more optimistic and felt happier. They reported fewer physical problems and spent more time working out.

Further benefits were observed in a study of polio survivors and other people with neuromuscular problems. The ones who kept a gratitude journal reported feeling happier and more optimistic than those in a control group, and these reports were corroborated by observations from their spouses. These grateful people also fell asleep more quickly at night, slept longer and woke up feeling more refreshed.

Think about that: the Bible tells you to do something that will make you more optimistic and feel happier, that will help you get to sleep quicker, sleep longer, and wake up feeling more refreshed!

That’s in the Bible! It’s not just about drudgery imposed on us by a mean-spirited cosmic killjoy. In fact, it’s almost like our heavenly Father knows how to give good gifts.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

November 21st, 2011 No comments

Do not worry about anything, but in everything
by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving
let your requests be made known to God.
—Philippians 4:6

In November, we make a point to do what Paul tells us in Philippians we should all the time: be thankful. Some of us are thankful all month, but almost everyone can be thankful for an hour or two on Thanksgiving Day.

I’ve written before how we are so blessed as a society and (almost all of us) as individuals that thankfulness is typically as easy as paying attention. So for example, the week I write this, I’m getting over a nasty cold. That hasn’t been a lot of fun, but I can be thankful it’s just a cold. I’m thankful my job lets me adjust my schedule and work from home. I have access to medicine, and, if I need one, a doctor.

Another example: someone cut Margo off in traffic, causing a lot of damage to both her car and Margo’s. But nobody was hurt! There are accidents on Highway 62 all the time, and a lot of them involve injury or even death. We can be thankful this wasn’t one of them. There were several witnesses who waited nearly an hour so they could make a statement to the police. A Southern California Edison crew was working nearby, and they moved a vehicle in front of the accident scene, so its blinking yellow light would alert oncoming traffic to watch out. And we have insurance. Even when things go badly, there are usually things you can be thankful for.

But not always. There are some things, and some circumstances, where even Pollyanna herself would find it hard to be thankful.

Psalm 105 and 106 are very instructive for times like that, when your circumstances are so bad that, try as you might, you simply can’t find anything to be thankful about. They begin, like Paul, exhorting us to thanksgiving.

O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name.
 make known his deeds among the peoples
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
 tell of all his wonderful works.

In those psalms, the Psalmist turns his attention from his circumstances to the history of Israel. He focuses on the grace and mercy that God has historically shown to his people, when they were delivered from captivity in Egypt:

… Then Israel came to Egypt;
Jacob lived as an alien in the land of Ham.
And the Lord made his people very fruitful
 and made them stronger than their foes …
He sent his servant Moses, and Aaron, whom he had chosen
They performed his signs among them,
 and miracles in the land of Ham…

Psalm 106 is similar, describing God’s subsequent faithfulness to Israel during the 40 years they were in the wilderness.

The story of deliverance from bondage in Egypt and God’s provision in the wilderness was something every child would have learned at a young age. When they’d tried, and there was nothing about their circumstances to be thankful for, they could think instead about God: how God loved them and intervened to liberate them and meet their needs.

What’s your favorite Bible story? For example, mine is the story of the Prodigal Son. It reminds me that no matter how horribly I have rebelled against God, he still loves me, and still runs to welcome me when I am still far off. If my circumstances are so bad I can be thankful for nothing else, I can be thankful for that much.

What can you be thankful for this year? I hope you are able to tick off things to be thankful for as quickly as you can think of your circumstances. But if not, think about your favorite Bible story, like the Israelites did when they sang Psalm 105 and 106. Those Bible stories remind us what God is like, and if there’s nothing else to be thankful for, at
least we have that much.

Happy thanksgiving!

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Thankfulness

October 31st, 2010 No comments

Thanksgiving’s coming!

Thanksgiving is a weird holiday, isn’t it? There’s the food: too much of it, usually, and things you don’t see the rest of the year, like cranberry relish and yams. There’s the spectacle on TV, starting with parades and ending with as many football games as you can fit into 24 hours and 30 channels. Then to bed early, so you can be up early for Black Friday and Phase II of the Christmas buying season.

Thanksgiving is weird because it’s a secular nod to religion, and it gets more weird as the secular culture becomes less willing to nod. Increasingly we see celebrities and politicians urging us to be thankful without saying whom we should thank. Each other, I guess, or no-one in particular.

As Christians, however, we know whom to thank. There is an object of our gratitude: our God, who is the source of all good things. The Psalmist put it this way:

The LORD is my strength and shield.
I trust him with all my heart.
He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.
Psalm 28:7 NLT

I’ve always found that thanksgiving is the easiest form of prayer. When I’m asking God for things, I often don’t know what I should ask. Even when I know what I ought to ask, what I want is sometimes another story. It leaves me wondering whether to sign off with “not my will but thine, Lord … except that you need to be aware that this is something I really, really want you to do for me. Amen.”

Thankfulness is easier, because the answer is usually staring me in the face. Like this: as I write this, I’m looking at a computer screen. I’m thankful it isn’t a typewriter, because it makes it so easy to fix my mistakes, and when I’m done, I can just email what I’ve written into the Panorama. It also reminds me of my career in the computer industry, and I’m thankful for that, because it’s where I met my wife. Among the countless reasons I’m thankful for her is that she invited me to her church, where I met Jesus. Thankfulness is a snap.

He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.

What has God done for you lately? Has God helped you, and how has it given you joy?

If you’re going to have Thanksgiving dinner with anyone this year, someone’s sure to ask you what you’re thankful for. Think what a great answer you could give — how you could practically burst out in a song of thanksgiving — if you started working on it now.

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