Signs of Thanksgiving
We have a lovely tradition at Elmhurst CRC of encouraging the spiritual posture of gratitude for the entire month of November. In order to get the thankful momentum going, I shared the following paragraph with our worship planners this week, written by Princeton Seminary’s current president, M. Craig Barnes:
Until you become thankful, you will never find joy. Being thankful is not telling God you appreciate the fact that your life is not in shambles. If that is the basis of your gratitude, you are on slippery ground. Every day of your life you face the possibility that a blessing in your life may be taken away. But blessings are only signs of God’s love. The real blessing, of course, is the love itself. Whenever we get too attached to the sign, we lose our grasp on the God who gave it to us. Churches are filled with widows and widowers who can explain this to you. We are not ultimately grateful that we are still holding our blessings. We are grateful that we are held by God even when the blessings are slipping through our fingers. Only when we see this are we able to be truly joyful, because then we have made God our joy.
What a profound truth is expressed here. How easily I can get confused between the real blessing, God’s love in Jesus, and the signs that are intended to point me towards him.
How often I cherish the #blessings in my life because I currently possess them, rather than loving them because they are a window into heaven. What if we could accept our little graces on God’s terms and allow them to connect our hearts to the big Grace of God’s incarnate love?
It’s no easy task to live life this way. For example, the days are getting shorter. Isn’t this a sign to hunker down because winter is dark, cold, and depressing? I could easily be convinced to do just that! Or, perhaps, these same shortening days could point us toward the steadfast love of the Lord that endures and perseveres through every season. Perhaps the shortening sunlight is an opportunity to light a candle and be reminded of the light that shines in the darkness and that the darkness shall not overcome it.
This next one is more difficult.
I have a beloved father-in-law (also a Christian Reformed pastor) who recently underwent emergency brain surgery. While the surgery was a success, his post-surgical self now lacks several of his key pre-surgical capacities. It will take some time and effort to see what can be recovered. What could this be a sign of?
I am wrestling and choosing to be thankful for the enormous good that has already come into the world and into my life through my father-in-law. His current weakness is an opportunity to help and serve in new ways. He’s provided for me and my family. He’s instructed us. He’s been patient and flexible, and forgiving – all virtues that point me toward God’s character. I can thank God for the decades of his faithful service to the church and re-up my commitment to follow his example. I can appreciate the quirks of his personality, the delight of his company, and the preciousness of the moments we have together more than ever. And soon, over a turkey-trimmed table, I can take our temporary togetherness as a sign of a bigger family, a better feast, hosted by Jesus himself in an upper room that I can’t quite yet see with my mortal eyes. Still, the signs of it are surely right in front of me.
May you be blessed to see, cherish, and remember the signs that God sends your way,