When I was growing up, Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday. My Mom’s birthday is 11/23, my grandmother’s birthday was 11/25 and mine is 11/27. It seemed like one of our birthdays was almost always on thanksgiving, but regardless, we had lots of celebrations that week.
Somehow, as I’ve grown older, I’ve lost my enthusiasm for the holiday. It’s come to signal the beginning of winter, which isn’t my favorite season. My grandmother is no longer alive to spoil me and I live far away from my mom. Though our family enjoys the holiday, it has a different feel in my heart now than it used to and I don’t think it should. The holiday hasn’t changed. The list of things to be thankful for has only grown longer as I’ve grown older. But, my perspective has changed and I think it is time to get it back on course.
I Thessalonians 5: 16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” What do these words mean? How do we apply these commandments to our hearts?
I looked up these verses in my Bible dictionary. I found that “rejoice” means to be cheerful or calmly happy. This seems so much more attainable than my idea of rejoicing, which I thought, meant, “celebrate.” God’s goal for me isn’t that I live my life with a party in my heart, but that I be calmly happy or cheerful.
Pray without ceasing was also an interesting phrase to look up. The word pray can have several meanings: supplication, worship, and thanksgiving. In this context it has a thanksgiving theme. Isn’t that interesting. It falls right in line with the verse before. We are to live our life cheerfully while thanking the Lord with our prayers. Then, verse 18 tells us that we are to give thanks in everything. This verse had been hard for me to understand until someone pointed out the preposition “in.” The verse doesn’t say “for,” but “in”. I can give thanks in a certain situation without giving thanks for them. For example, I told you that winter isn’t my favorite time of year. In fact, I don’t like it. But even while I don’t like winter, I have to live in it and while living in it I can find blessings for which I can be thankful. I like the beauty of a fresh snowfall, the excuse to drink hot chocolate and long evenings in front of the fire with good books. I can choose to thank God for these things or I can complain about the shorter days, the slick roads and the cold.
In this passage, God tells me to live my life cheerfully and thank Him in prayer all the time and in every circumstance. I believe I couldn’t live my life cheerfully on my own. But as I turn my thoughts to God in prayer and decide to verbalize my thanksgiving to Him, I’ll be thinking about the many positive things God has done in my life. So, by concentrating my thoughts on things to be thankful for and then taking those things to the Lord, my attitude will be positive enabling me to live my life calmly happy.
This is an exciting way to live and can lead to a powerful life. Acts 16:20-34 is an example of this. Paul and Silas were in prison. Around midnight, these two beaten men began singing to God. They weren’t just quietly humming to themselves. No. They were belting out their praises as loudly as they could because it says that the other prisoners were listening to them. “Suddenly, there was a great earthquake so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were removed.” (NIV) Something happens when we decide to praise the Lord even when bad things are happening. Not only were Paul and Silas freed, the other prisoners were set free too!
God wants us to live calmly happy lives. Not lives that are happy because our car cleared customs, we have great co-workers, we found Lays potato chips at the tiny store down the street, or furlough is coming soon. Instead, lives that are cheerful because we focus on the blessings He has given us and we take them to Him in prayer. Combining an attitude that notices our blessings with thanksgiving to the Lord is a sure way to be able to be thankful in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. It isn’t easy. For some of us pessimists it is especially hard. But, God wants each of us to live with thankful hearts. I believe that if we do, we’ll see God’s power evident in our lives.
These are really good reasons for me to change my attitude about Thanksgiving and go back to the wonder of the holiday. This year I plan to celebrate Thanksgiving with my child heart. And, it’s my hope that Thanksgiving will become more than a one-day holiday. Even in winter.