By Christopher Ng '21
Every family usually has some Thanksgiving tradition that involves sharing what you’re thankful for. Everybody, from the youngest child to the oldest grandparent, sits in a circle, saying something along the lines of “I’m thankful for friends and family!” or “I’m thankful for my house and a good job!” I usually say something along the lines of “I’m thankful for this delicious Thanksgiving dinner!” Of course, this exercise in thankfulness isn’t merely a cliche—in fact, it really does help us have more gratitude for the things we have been blessed with. But more often than not, the things that we say we are thankful for are those that are easiest to see, and, usually, circumstantial. Thanksgiving dinner will be over in a couple hours (and my stomach isn’t nearly as thankful after I’ve forced it to process enormous quantities of food.). A house and a job are never guaranteed. Even friends and family will pass away, as do all earthly things.
So, when everything that you think has value is taken from you, what will you still be thankful for?
As someone who had an abiding thankfulness that went deeper than his circumstances, the apostle Paul might be able to give us a bit of insight. Having endured many hardships in his time running around preaching the good news of Jesus, he often found himself in situations that most people would not feel particularly thankful about--beatings, imprisonment, shipwrecks, poverty, and homelessness. In spite of these experiences, one of his most loved quotes — “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” — was not about the incredible things he did on the mission field, but actually about how God gives us the power to be thankful. For context, in the preceding verses, Phillipians 4:11-12 NIV, he says: “[...] I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Hold on: the secret of being content in any and every situation? Regardless of the circumstances? Whether hungry or living in want? Even with no Thanksgiving dinner and no job and no house? Yes. Yes, Paul says: it is God who strengthens me and gives me the ability to be thankful in every situation. Of course it is right to be thankful for the things we have. But remember that in a moment, it could be gone: it is the God who gives us all the things we need that we are thankful to, regardless of what we have.
Of course, we should aspire to be thankful to God regardless of our circumstances, but what does that imply for how we should think about the things we have? Take the example of the man Job, who had everything taken away from him: his house, his riches, his flocks, his servants, and even his family. What had just happened to him may have told him that he had every reason to curse God. But the words that came from his mouth were: “The LORD has given, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21 ESV). In this, Job recognized that he was not entitled to any of the things he had. Precisely because he realized that he did not have a right to any of those things, he was thankful for them—they were all gifts from God, given to bless him and establish him and bring glory to God, and he knew that God had every right to take it all away at any moment. In his heart, this understanding helped him to not grow bitter and curse God, but rather to be at peace with God regardless of his circumstances.
If we have the right attitude towards our possessions, and ourthe deepest gratitude in us wells out of our overwhelming realization of what cannot be taken away—the promise God makes to us that we are his children because of Christ—and the eternal work that he did for our souls on the cross, then we will always be content because He alone is enough for us. He will bring us to this realization that there is nothing else we possess of greater worth, and we will be “rooted and built up in him, strengthened in faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:7 NIV). And it is precisely this mindset that Paul adopted that allowed him to find contentment in every situation, because Christ strengthened him so that this could become his reality.
As we enter this season of Thanksgiving, let us be content in the things we have—recognizing their beauty as temporary gifts from our heavenly Father—but also overflow with a thankfulness that is deeply rooted in what has been given to us that can never be taken away. Let us live in gratitude no matter what trials come our way and what circumstances we find ourselves in. For once we step into the promise that Christ will forever live in us, we will always have a reason to be thankful.