We celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving today. The leaves are turning, snowflakes already flying (and thankfully melting) and our temperatures dip near freezing. Beans and corn are still being taken off the fields, gardens getting cleaned up for winter, piles of pumpkins grow for purchase.
The harvest season is a visual picture of receiving blessing, every truckload of beans, wheat or corn reflects a reward for the effort put in to farming it. But every farmer knows much of the circumstances were out of his control, particularly the weather. Coming out of a dry, low-yielding harvest last year, this one feels like a relief.
It's not difficult to give thanks when the harvest is plentiful, when we're surrounded with the good, the happy and the easy. Yet, this isn't always the case, maybe it's more often than we consider.
So, what does it look like to give thanks when we're sitting in these tough spots?
When you're suffering
Our local Tanzanian tradition celebrated a thanksgiving service on New Year's Day. It wasn't uncommon for livestock and garden produce to arrive as offerings.
But what happens when thanksgiving rolls around and you don't have much to give?
Struggling financially puts a weight, not only on supporting our families, but also on our giving. The tendency to scoff at the apparent insignificance of the widow's last coin prevails in our hearts, especially when it's our own. However, thankfulness isn't dependant on our ability to give, but on our willingness to offer up what we have.
A grateful heart is is hard to shape when you're facing loss or ongoing physical needs. In the face of grief, fatigue and exhaustion it's hard to muster praise when life is anything but what you imagined, or hoped, it to be. Though it's energy you're lacking, truth braces you on a firm foundation. Even if it's a small whisper of praise, let it be, "I thank you that you have answered me and You have become my salvation" (Ps 118:21).
When you're wanting
Your marriage is struggling and you lament, "it shouldn't be this way." Ministry isn't producing the result you'd hoped for and you cry out, "it shouldn't be this hard." Or you see a godly role model and think, "I wish I could be like that."
Discontent is a clue for you to investigate. When there's a disconnect between your head and your heart, or between your heart and your actions, it's time to perform exploratory surgery. Ask the Lord to search your heart and test your thoughts. Confess the sin He reveals to you, receive the bandaging of His grace, rest in His forgiveness and, though getting mobile after surgery is slow and painful, step forward in obedience as the Great Physician leads.
As Elisabeth Elliot writes, "the secret is Christ in me, not in a different set of circumstances." We can be thankful in the pruning work of the Father because we know it's doing something in us, it's growing and maturing us toward greater fruitfulness, a greater harvest of righteousness.
When you're resisting
From the porch of our mud house, I watched a lone shepherd lead a heifer down the dirt path toward the market. But suddenly it stopped and sat down. It had no intention of going anywhere, particularly to become the day's food supply for the village, as if it knew. Nothing that slender shepherd could do would move those 300lb.
In recounting this event, our neighbors used a word to describe the cow's refusal to move that pictures stubborn rebellion.
Gratitude as an expression of our heart is a challenge if the condition of our soul is one of stubbornness in submitting to lordship or leadership. Paul admonishes the church in Rome, who sought to be the judge of others, "because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed" (Rom 2:5).
When we resist the Spirit's call to repentance, failing to walk in obedience, mustering up rebellion in our hearts against those leading our ministries, or our teams, the walls go up around us, we barricade ourselves inside as if we're in a battle rather than walking alongside each other for the sake of the kingdom.
"He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing" (Prov 29:1). May we not be called "stiff-necked" by the Lord, but seek the Spirit's help to cultivate a soft, obedient, abiding heart.
As we're reminded to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:18), and in all the things we do (Col 3:17), we're called to, "rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer (Rom 12:12).
Whatever we treasure is where we will find our hearts. May we treasure the Gospel that saves us by grace through faith in Christ. Nothing else can satisfy. Nothing else will quench our longings.
How will you cultivate a thankful heart today?