Thanksgiving: Gratitude and the Gospel

This week millions of Americans will be sitting down to the traditional Thanksgiving feast, complete with turkey and pumpkin pie. As they do so, it is likely that someone will ask the group to share something they are thankful for. If you are like me, I am always caught off guard by the question, though I generally know it is coming. Nonetheless, I end up saying something vague or typical–like “Family.” I wanted this year to be different. I wanted to be prepared. So when I was given the opportunity to teach a class at church, I thought I would use the time to come up with a way to generate more gratitude in my heart.

The Call and Challenge

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.  Colossians 2:6-7

Early in the second chapter of Colossians, Paul calls the believers to stay faithful to the gospel’s message that God has brought to them in Jesus. He wants them to continue to grow in it and do so with an abundance of gratitude. But, what are they to be grateful for? What can serve as the root for them “abounding in thanksgiving?”

The Gospel and Gratitude

I think the answer is found in earlier in Paul’s letter where he eaxlts Jesus and the  work that He did.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister. Colossians 1:15-23

Reason #1: Jesus has revealed God to you.

The notion that God is invisible is often lost on us. We live in a culture that has millennia’s worth of art trying to depict God in an image. In fact, without thinking about it, one of those images likely pops into our mind when we think about God and pray. But God is invisible. He cannot be observed or quantified in any tangible way. In fact, God expressly forbade in the Ten Commandments the making of any physical form to depict His essence and form.

So thanks to God that Jesus has made what was invisible now visible. He made what was unseen, the essence and character of God, clear to mankind. The mystery of God has been solved in the person of Jesus. That means that it is not necessary to know ancient Hebrew just to know what God is like. Because God has revealed Himself in the flesh, all flesh, all mankind can know Him. A man is measurable. We can see His love, His power, and His works. We now have a tangible being to examine, know, and understand. So Jesus said that if you know Him, you will know the Father.

Reflect back on how God has revealed Himself to you. What attributes of God have been most evident in your life? In your family?

Reason #2: Jesus is in charge and in control.

This year has brought about its fair share of tragedy and grief. Thousands of people were displaced by storms, flooding, and fires. Hundreds of lives were brutally ended in mass shootings and terrorist attacks. Families have been violently ripped apart and children abandoned in the wake of drug overdoses. To top it off like a rotten cherry on a melted sundae, the political climate in America is toxic and offering no help. It would be easy to simply throw up our hands and despondently walk away from it all.

Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. -Eccl. 7:3

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. -Matt. 5:4

But all authority and power belong to Jesus. He is holding it all together. In fact, His purposes are being accomplished. A tragedy is often the beginning of blessing; they can be a “soft-reset” in our lives from which we can see exponential growth. He made this place, He can and will do with it what He will as King.

Reflect on how God has brought blessing out of tragedy in your life. Share the lessons you have learned with family.

Reason #3: Jesus promises you a future better than this world’s best.

Not only is Jesus King over this creation, He is the King of the new Creation. With his resurrection, He has begun building a new people who will go with Him into the New Earth that He is preparing. The day is coming, when I will be unemployed as a funeral director! Meaning, that death, the worst thing that this world gives us, will be gone. More than that, the best things that this world offers will be eclipsed.

This world is full of beauty and wonder, but it pales in comparison to what is ahead. The moment you were married was a moment of great joy. The day you held your first child was precious. Standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon gave you goosebumps as you beheld its grandeur. All of those moments were experienced in a world damaged by the fall. The relationships you had with the people you were with are filled with contention and strife. But that will not be on the New Earth.

So imagine for a moment similar moments taking place on a new earth with perfectly redeemed people in the presence of your loving Creator. Now, rejoice that those imagined moments are as sure to happen as the others did because of His sacrifice.

Reflect on the most memorable moments of your life (great love, moments of awe and grandeur, great joys and laughter) and reflect on how similar moments will be even greater on the New Earth.

Reason #4: Jesus accomplished complete redemption for you.

Not only does this world need to fixed, we need to be redeemed. It may be hard to remember the time when it was true, but we were enemies of God, hostile to His reign, and dead without hope of changing. But Jesus took us into Himself and offered His body as the substitute for ours. He took the debt we paid and paid it off. More than that, He canceled its record against us. Furthermore, He made a huge deposit into our account thereby eliminating any doubt that the job was done.

The redemption that Jesus gives His people is comprehensive and complete. Just as every aspect of my being was fallen and depraved, now my whole being is going to be presented to the Father as holy and blameless. Jesus taught that those who are forgiven much will love much. I cannot imagine a scenario more humbling that the fact that I was so sinful, it took the death the Holy God to make me clean.

Reflect on a few of your most recent sins and recall a story in the Gospels of how Jesus responded when tempted with a similar temptation. Praise Him for His perfect obedience on your behalf.

Reason #5: Jesus has given you all the tools you need to persevere in faith.

If complete redemption before God were not enough, Jesus has equipped us with the tools necessary to pursue holiness now. Paul says that if the Colossians believers rooted themselves in the Gospel, they would be able to stand firm against the false teachers and the persecution from the authorities. More than that, Paul and his ministry team were praying for the success of the Colossian believers.

Today, we have the same letters and encouragement that Paul sent to them. We have each other to spur us on in faithfulness. We have the very power of Jesus in us as we fight to persevere. If the Gospel was powerful enough to convert us, then it is powerful enough to sustain us. Our victory over this worlds trials is as guaranteed as the resurrection of Jesus Himself.

Reflect back on a time when your mediations on Scripture or the encouragement of others proved helpful in the face of a trial or temptation.

Leftovers to Take Home

If you think of it this Thanksgiving, share some of your thoughts with your family. If you have the time, share them here. Hearing what other people are thankful for helps us recognize similar blessings in our life. Also, here is a prayer that you may want to incorporate into your Thanksgiving day plans. And I hope you don’t get stuck at the kid’s table like me.

O MY GOD,

Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves thee, for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in ceaseless flow.
When I think upon and converse with thee ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up, ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart, crowding into every moment of happiness.
I bless thee for the soul thou hast created, for adorning it, sanctifying it, though it is fixed in barren soil; for the body thou hast given me, for preserving its strength and vigour, for providing senses to enjoy delights, for the ease and freedom of my limbs, for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding; for thy royal bounty providing my daily support, for a full table and overflowing cup, for appetite, taste, sweetness, for social joys of relatives and friends, for ability to serve others, for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities, for a mind to care for my fellow-men, for opportunities of spreading happiness around, for loved ones in the joys of heaven, for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.
I love thee above the powers of language to express, for what thou art to thy creatures. Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.

Prayer published by Banner of Truth in “Valley of Vision” page 26

 

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