Colorful leaves, crisp mornings, football, pumpkin spice mania…the signs of the autumn season are all around us this week as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving. What a special time to stop and reflect on the many, many ways God has blessed us over the last year.
If you’re like most, your year has been marked by both blessing and disappointment. Big joys, like a new job, weddings, or the birth of a precious child or grandchild, and little joys like warm summer days or dinner with old friends. Our hearts revel in these gifts, big and small.
Among the joyful gifts are disappointments and suffering – a lost job, sickness, a wayward child – not to mention the many troubling events taking place in our country and around the world. How do we deal with these?
The Apostle Paul writes to the Christians at Philippi,
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)
You probably know this passage (or the popular kid’s Sunday School song based on it). Did you know that Paul wrote this while he was in prison? In chapter 1 Paul speaks about his imprisonment and even hints at his possible death. Many scholars believe Paul wrote this letter from Rome where he was imprisoned and eventually executed.
Paul had a lot he could be discouraged about and yet he chose to rejoice and to take his anxieties to God and to do it with thanksgiving. Picture Paul in a dank Roman prison, maybe with his feet in the stocks, his voice echoing off the stone walls. “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!” or maybe “This is the day, this is the day that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made. I will rejoice, I will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Remember that one from your Sunday School days?)
Where did his joy come from? He says to rejoice “in the Lord.” His joy was in Christ. The result bringing and a heart and mind guarded by the peace of Christ.
Paul also encouraged the Philippians to set their minds on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.
What a great reminder and let’s “put into practice” what Paul has taught us as we celebrate Thanksgiving this week.
First, remember God’s goodness to you. Think about the true, noble, right (etc.) things that have marked your life this past year. Write them down, you will be amazed at the many blessings, big and small, God brings to your mind. Every good and perfect gift is from God!
Second, if your heart is hurting right now, take your hurts to God. Pray to Him about your anxieties but give Him thanks too!
When you do that, God promises His peace through the living hope we have in Jesus. Peter writes,
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
What an inheritance and source of true hope!
As you think about and celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I pray that the Lord will remind you of His many wonderful blessings, not least of which is His love in sending Christ for you. May you experience joy and peace this Thanksgiving!