For about a month now my youngest has been reminding me that we are close to “kanksgiving”. In case you aren’t fluent in child, that’s Thanksgiving, and yes, the stressful planning of the first Thanksgiving in my own home has begun in earnest. It will not be like other Thanksgiving celebrations that I remember so fondly because, well, 2020. But I am reminded that this is also very close to the conclusion of an exploration that I began last year and shared a little with you. This is the end of my 365 Days to Thank You. This is where I anticipated wrapping it all up in a huge bow and saying “look what I learned about gratitude and saying Thank You.” But, like everything this year, it has not gone as I expected it would. I haven’t learned what I expected, but I have learned more. It has been more difficult to learn as well. But that is really the biggest lesson isn’t it: When you ask God to teach you something, be prepared to do it HIS way, not your own way.
So, you can go back through several of my posts (all under 365 Days To Thank You) and see some of my progress in learning. First I walked you through my journey to lose my preconceptions and my assumptions about thankfulness. It was here that I encouraged us to drop our overuse of the words that do not have the true meaning behind them. Then I moved through several seasons of challenge and adjustments to my thoughts on thankfulness. But again, if we want to go back over it all, the posts are there to mark the progress. I’m going to spend the rest of this post on the wrap up that I have experienced in the last couple of weeks. It’s amazing how God will provide message after message on what you need to learn when you really need to learn it.
Here is one big point that 2020 taught me about thankfulness:
Gratitude – Thank You – is a bigger thing than just the words you use after someone hands you coffee or your mail. It has the power to change you, to shape your world from your heart outward.
I heard this as it worked its way through my mind and I wondered: how do I let gratitude change me? How do I let it be more than Thank You? My answer came, in the insistent fashion that often is God’s style, over about two weeks in the form of two character studies in the Bible.
The first was the story of Esther.
In overview, it looks like a Hallmark movie. Orphaned pretty girl raised by her uncle meets the king, wins a beauty contest and becomes queen and in the process points out horrible corruption and racism in the castle and saves her very own family from evil. Aww. But no. She didn’t really get much of a choice on the “beauty contest”. She spent a year in the king’s palace being poked and prodded and fattened up only to be trotted in front of a king who had already shown himself to be vengeful and hard to predict and THEN she was crowned queen because she physically pleased the king the most. While, yes, it was an honor, but it was also a time of great fear for her. The feelings she has begun to live with are evident when, at a time when she is the most influential woman in the kingdom, she still expresses fear that she will be killed if she approaches the king as her uncle asks her to. Here is where we hear the iconic words: “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”(Esther 4:14).
How does this teach me about thankfulness changing the world? Well, Esther showed great courage when she faced that fear of death and put to work one of the most impressive plans to reach the mind of a king in all of history. But where did that courage come from? I would argue that it is true Gratitude. She is using the position God put her in to save the people of God. She was thankful for the blessing to her and her people that didn’t look like a blessing through the eyes of her fear.
The take away for me: True, powerful gratitude comes when we are thankful for the blessing that doesn’t look like a blessing. It comes when we have a heart full of gratitude for a God who is doing something we do not understand and we are thankful in every season, whether that is one of fear, happiness, sadness or joy. Gratitude, truly, is not changed by the situation you find yourself in. It changes the situation you find yourself in.
I read that story a few weeks ago and it bowled me over, but God clearly was not done with me. There is a second story and a final point answers the question of why we can show gratitude to God even when we do not see a blessing. It comes from the story of Joshua.
For those who do not know, Joshua was the successor to Moses. After Moses died, Joshua was the one that God chose to take His people into the Promised Land. But it wasn’t like they were going to take a leisurely stroll into a garden flowing with milk and honey. No, this was going to be a fight, a series of fights actually, and Joshua would be facing it with a group of people who had been wandering, and whining, in the desert for an entire generation. I couldn’t have been easy to gain the courage he would need to lead these people. It couldn’t have been easy to have the faith that was required to face all of these armies. And I’m sure it wasn’t easy to show gratitude to God for what He would do for them in these battles before they even began.
But here again, God’s goodness becomes evident in a really scary time. In this moment, God adjusts Joshua’s perspective.
We start on the precipice of the battle of Jericho, an unusual battle to be sure, but at this point Joshua is looking at the biggest wall (I’m sure literally and figuratively) he had ever seen. Here is where we get this interchange:
“Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, ‘Are you for us or for our enemies?’
‘Neither,’ he replied, ‘but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, ‘What message does my Lord have for his servant?’
The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.”
That is worth re-stating: Joshua asked the commander of the Lord’s armies if he was there for them or their enemies and the answer was “Neither”. What!?!? I’m sure that is not what he wanted to hear, heck, that’s not what you want to hear when you pray for your favorite football team or favorite political candidate! But God has a very clear message for Joshua and for us: The question is not if God is on our side, but are we on God’s side.
My final point on this journey of Thank You will be based on this point because, frankly, this blew my mind and changed my perspective on gratitude toward God.
We cannot have true Gratitude toward God, the kind of Gratitude that will change our hearts and our world, until we realize that what He does has nothing to do with being on our side. When we wake up each morning and ask “Am I on God’s side?” instead of “Is God on my side today?” we will begin to be thankful for everything He is doing, even when we do not understand or even see what He is doing.
365 to Thank You has gone through the hardest year that I possibly could have chosen and I have come out of it with this:
Be thankful for the blessing that doesn’t look like a blessing because the question is not whose side God is on but if I have chosen to be on God’s side. His side is holy and I should approach with humility, not a list of demands.
I hope we can all have a beautiful season of Thankfulness and Blessed Humility.