Thanksgiving Can Be Dangerous

Exposing the subtle way that giving thanks can harden the heart rather than soften it.

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My friend, Dave McCarty, sent an email blast to his friends recently with the heading, “The Thanksgiving holiday is very dangerous.”

That is an email I had to open.

How could turkey, dressing, sweet potato casserole, and chocolate chess pie be harmful (except for the obvious caloric impact)? What is the threat of gathering with family to feast and watch football (aside from the rivalry conflicts and interpersonal funkiness that all families experience)? Why does giving thanks have the potential to be… dangerous?

A Subtle Danger

“Thank you. God, for our many blessings.” That phrase will be echoed in countless homes this week. Where is the danger?

Admittedly, it is subtle. Almost unrecognizable.

The danger lies in how giving thanks to God may reinforce a world-view that defines blessing as having things go my way, where my agenda is fulfilled, my comforts are supplied, my dreams, desires, will, and wishes are all achieved.

Thy will be done” unconsciously becomes “my will be done.”

In essence, we may be tempted to think of God as a cosmic genie whose job it is to make me happy according to my definition of happiness. When life goes according to my plan, I give thanks. When life doesn’t go according to my plan, I act like a two-year-old who throws a tantrum when his father says no to purchasing the box of hard candy in the check-out aisle.

Eventually, I grow frustrated, denying God’s wisdom, goodness, and love for me. After all, what good is a God who doesn’t give me what I want?

The apostle James addresses my spirit of entitlement with words of counterintuitive wisdom, writing, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2–4)

Not lacking anything?

“But isn’t that the problem. When I have to face a trial, I am lacking — my life agenda is not being fulfilled. I am hurting, not happy. This is not what I call being blessed!”

Again, we are acting like a two-year-old who thinks that blessing is ice cream, not an injection for a life-saving vaccine. The ice cream feels good = a blessing. The shot hurts = not a blessing.

I’ve been there. A spirit of entitlement resides as deeply within me as anyone else. Maybe you can relate.

True Blessings

My friend, Laura Story, through a life narrative that has endured unexpected suffering and pain, has been given eyes to see how being thankful is not just giving thanks for ice cream but also for the hard things that are intended by a good Father to be for our ultimate good — even if the medicine’s taste is unpleasant.

In her song, Blessings, Laura writes:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

’Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

Not only do the apostle James and Laura Story understand this, but so did the apostle Paul, who wrote to the Romans, “1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1–5)

Count trials joy? Glory in our sufferings?

In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus even said that those who are persecuted for following him should consider themselves blessed.

The blessing of persecution? What?

It is difficult for us to hear hard words like these because we are so trained to think that blessing must be devoid of suffering. We have not yet come to value the kind of trust, character, and purified life that only the fire of trial is able to refine.

But it is not the pain for which we are to give thanks. It is what God is doing through the pain.

Pain is not Pointless

Thankfully, God is not a masochist. The suffering and pain he allows us to endure is not pointless but purposeful. What an encouragement that should be, knowing if I am under the weight of what feels like the opposite of blessing that God as Father is right there, intending it to be woven into a tapestry of good.

Paul speaks to this in Romans 8, when he says that those are his beloved children will face hardship. But he also states, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (v. 18) We may not know why we are going through the valley of the shadow of death, but we can know that the Lord is with us and that “in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (v. 28)

Do I like trials? No.

Do I wish for more of them? No.

Will I have to face hardship and suffering in this life? Yes. No way around it. And we must not play Pollyanna with the depth of excruciating pain many of us are experiencing — both physical and emotional.

Which is why I need to know that pain is not pointless but planned with a purpose.

Just like the cross.

A Man of Suffering

Isaiah 53 called Jesus “a man of suffering.” Although perfectly innocent as the righteous Son of God, he was tempted, rejected, persecuted, threatened, beaten, and eventually tortured unto death through flogging and crucifixion.

If anyone lived a life of trial, it was Jesus. And yet he knew the outcome of his anguish. Hebrews 12 tells us that it was “for the joy set before him that he endured the cross, scorning its shame.”

It was for his joy!

He did not consider his present suffering worth comparing to the glory that would be revealed. Not only his own glory as the resurrected King but the glory of the treasure which his suffering ensured would be stored up in heaven. Not a material treasure but the treasure of his brothers and sisters, saved from their sins as inheritors of the Kingdom, living eternally in the presence of the Savior, consumed with the fullness of joy.

Like Joseph was able to say to his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. The saving of many lives.”

What a foreshadowing of Jesus’ ministry. His crucifixion was meant for evil by his executioners but God had designed it for good — the saving of many lives!

Hard but Worth It

Jesus’ life and ministry was hard. But the hard was worth it. The same is true for us.

As we read in 1 Peter 1:3–9, “3 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, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 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. 6 In all this, you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

This is the source and substance of thanksgiving.

  • Knowing that there is an undeserved but glorious prize kept for us in heaven, shielded and protected, incorruptible.

  • Knowing that trials are intended to refine faith so that we may more perfectly long for now what we will experience then —the inexpressible and glorious joy of the forgiven and beloved.

  • Knowing that all of this true, eternal blessing is the result of a Savior’s sacrifice born of love and secured with blood.

This year, as we approach a day of Thanksgiving to God, let’s not only thank him for the ice cream but for the Brussel sprouts. Not only for what we want but also for what he knows we need that will enable us to know him, trust him, and walk with him, hand in hand, on the road home.

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