Grace for Thanksgiving

I sat across the table listening to a friend share his struggle with being thankful for his wife. I realized after he was done confessing this, I had been chewing the same bite of my hamburger for the last five minutes. I was struck by how similar his struggle was with my own.

I immediately thought to myself, “Why is it so difficult to be thankful? Especially for people who we love and should instinctively be thankful for?” Think about your own life. Maybe it’s not your spouse. Maybe it’s your job. Your kids. Your life in general. Your family. Your house.

It’s easy to slip into an attitude that only sees the downside, that only lives in the already, but doesn’t long for the not yet.

At the end of May, my family vacationed in Kansas. My wife had a cousin getting married and her parents needed help moving the rest of their furniture to South Carolina. We had an enjoyable trip despite the eighteen-hour drive.

But on our arrival home (exhausted, zombies for children), harsh air from a humid and un-air conditioned home assaulted us. Our unit had burned out while we were gone.

We lasted a week in our home with no air, mainly because God blessed us with heavy rain almost every afternoon dropping the temperature by a solid fifteen degrees. It was easy to lose sight of the rain and only see the lack of air.

The next week was a scorcher. Over ninety degrees and the rain stopped. I felt like Elijah living in a dried up riverbank. God provided again. My sister and her husband graciously offered us their upstairs. So we lived there for a week.

You may immediately ask, “Why didn’t you fix your AC unit right away?” Three words: home warranty company.

As much as I appreciated staying with my sister, five kids and four adults in one home can get to the best of us.

Just when the stress and fatigue mounted, God provided a Hulk-sized window unit, which allowed us to move back into our home for four days until we finally got our air compressor fixed.

I look back at those three weeks now and understand I was wandering in the wilderness and grumbling the entire way. The Israelites complaints pierced my heart, “It’s better back in Egypt.”

As the temperature in my home dropped, I realized I had missed the manna, water, and guiding cloud as I curmudgeonly moved from my home, to my sister’s home, and back again.

Surely you can relate?

God created this beautiful world and said, “It is good.” He said, “Enjoy everything in the Garden, except this one tree.” But the serpent enters. He deceives.

“God isn’t good. He’s not enough.”

“There’s more joy elsewhere. You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

“You’ve got it soo bad. This Garden is full of ‘No!’ where’s the fun in that?”

They swallowed these lies stem and core. We fell.

It’s now difficult living in this world. Without Christ it would be mission impossible living a consistently thankful life.

Turn on the news and just watch for a moment. Our world is filled with death, hate, disease, natural disaster, and suffering. Do the little moments of life and happiness out weigh those other things? For many living on the third rock from the sun, the answer is clearly no.

Paul echoes this truth when he says, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifest in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:7-10).

He understands living in this fallen world means suffering. Multiple times in his letters, he writes about the number of times he’s been beaten, cast out of cities, almost killed, or in prison. Yet he says later in 2 Corinthians 4, “For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God” (v. 15).

In a matter of five verses, Paul moves from an epic catalogue of suffering to “Grace increases thanksgiving to the glory of God.” How does that happen? How does someone who suffered more than many promise thanksgiving increases?

Paul understands the beauty of Jesus Christ in the gospel. He understands that, just as God said, “Let light shine out of darkness” in the beginning (Gen. 1) and in our hearts (2 Cor. 4:6), He will speak those words over all of creation in the end.

Right now we are dying trees. But the moment we see Jesus, the seed planted by our death (1 Cor. 15:38) will transform into a tree of life. That’s not a painless process. You must die first. You must be planted to rise again.

But Paul says, “We do note lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:16).

Remember Paul’s catalogue of suffering (vv. 8-10)? That doesn’t sound like “light momentary affliction.” I’ve been meditating on verse sixteen to make sense out of it, but I can’t. I tried to think of a way to explain it, which would places everything in perspective now. That would always allow you to be thankful for your all of suffering now. I can’t.

I’ve found in my own life removing tension isn’t healthy. The gospel is full of it. This statement may be the culmination of it all. In some mysterious way, our current suffering will be feel light in comparison to the “eternal weight of glory” found in Jesus Christ. In the end, the thanksgiving we struggle with now will be ours in spades.

In the meantime, let’s pursue the grace for thanksgiving found in being known and knowing Jesus Christ.