The list grows quickly when we live in safety and freedom; when we have more than enough of all we need; when we give ourselves for the sake of the gospel and are well received; when his glory is showcased across ripening fields of spiritual and literal harvests and our hearts soar with the beauty and bounty of provision for body, mind and soul.
Yet, while giving thanks in the abundance we may enjoy, we recognize that blessings are more difficult to discern for those swept up in one crises after another; when good lands become hardened tracks of barrenness beneath the weight of war; when women and children go missing because of their faith; when the blood of Christian martyrs is planted in the ground but new life has not yet arisen.
Expressions of gratitude from those who witness such things quickly slice through any sentimentality of easy festivities with precise descriptions of concise thanksgiving for the gift of basic needs.
‘Thank you for survival through another night. Thank you that the border was opened at the end of an open road vulnerable to attack. Thank you for the loaf of bread and extra rice we received in the morning distribution of provisions for refugees donated by hands unknown to us. Thank you for a simple tent which suffices to give shelter to aging relatives, newborn sons and daughters, weakened children, weary caregivers. We have a place to lay our head.’
I am humbled … not with guilt that I live where I do, but with thanks and deep respect for those who keep faith in desperate situations I can barely begin to imagine. Their lives reveal that seeds of gratitude can grow in the harshest of climates to keep hope alive. Their eyes conceal the horror of humanity attuned to madness in rebellion against a God whose very essence is life and love, and a harvest of winter grain sprouts up to feed our souls upon the daily reminder of our need to cherish the name of Love no matter the cost.
Will you and I see gifts for which to give thanks in times when we may feel unjustly treated, hard done by for any reason? Will we plant the winter grain of faithfulness and gratitude to help sustain others when difficult times ravage the crops of grace and abundance planted in less severe seasons? Will we let him transform us to make us fit for this challenge?
‘Lord, we ask you to wash your suffering people in refreshing waves of love much greater than the flood of terrified populations billowing across dry lands to cast a long shadow of your care in their distress. Splash each one with renewed hope as you provide their daily bread. And do it through us.’
While incomparable obstacles to those above, we know as those who lead that gratitude is still hard to learn when kept up late night after night with heavy congregational concerns; when best intentions earn hardened callousness from those we serve and bequeath to us a weight of sore resentment; when handshakes which should have sealed a pledge to work as one are withdrawn; when we are stung by hidden wounds and ego strongholds before they are reclaimed and fully transformed to love at all times in the love of Christ … but it is a key to inner peace though all hell be released even within the walls of the church.
Jesus tells us to take his yoke upon us and learn from him for he is gentle and humble of heart and we will find rest for our souls. This is the same Jesus, who, on the night he was betrayed by one of his own, took bread and shared it with his companions after first giving thanks in the full knowledge of what lay ahead.
‘Thank you for the strength to face each day. Thank you that your Spirit points to godly words of counsel on the way when threatened and dismayed until we know a deeper experience of the love of Christ and a greater sense of safety in the storm. Thank you for divine wisdom to withstand the distribution of pressures coming from sources both known and unknown which seek to control and define our well-being. Thank you for covering us with the shelter of your greater plan of salvation when thanks and praise will be the effortless and endless song in the riches of our heavenly home. You are the keeper of our souls as we lay upon our beds.’
We pass this thanksgiving with a world of brothers of sisters who suffer for the name of Jesus. Always present with us in the darkening clouds of conflict which blow across our willingness to offer praise because the cost of bringing in the harvest is so high, we rise with him above the fields of limited vision to see the coming righteous kingdom of the One we love and serve who paid the cost in full … and give thanks.
‘Thank you for your love in the face of mounting storms and changing seasons. Thank you for your presence, dearest Friend, who took the tent of human flesh upon yourself to live within the borders of our greatest needs in every sense and give us living hope that all will be made new. Amen.”