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How to be thankful when you’re disappointed by God

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Disappointed with God, a young man sits on his bed with his head in his hands (Credit: rosental via Fotolia)

Thanksgiving is the only American holiday commanded by Scripture: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).  “Give thanks” is a present tense imperative, a command to be obeyed continually, not just one day a year.

Why is Thanksgiving more a food-and-football holiday than a meaningful holy day for many?  Here’s one reason: it’s difficult to be grateful to God when he disappoints us.

Yesterday was our family’s first Thanksgiving without my wife’s father.  For many years we’ve gathered on Thanksgiving morning with Janet’s parents.  Mom cooked the turkey and dressing, her daughters brought the other food, and Dad served the meat and said the prayer of gratitude.  He was always so happy to see his family together.  He was the first to greet us at the door and the last to see us out, always with his sideways grin and customary, “Glad you got to see me!”  Yesterday, as we gathered at Mom’s home, there was an empty place at the table and in our hearts.

How is your life different from what you wish it were today?  When God disappoints us, it’s human nature to punish him with our disregard.  But such rejection of the Great Physician hurts the patient more than the Doctor.  When I want to be thankful the least is usually when I need to be thankful the most.

Why?  Because we “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4).  Worship connects us with the omnipotence of God.  Gratitude positions us to receive all that grace intends to give.  When we are thankful for all God has done for us, we can see all that he has not done in a different light.  His grace illumines his silence.  And we remember that his holy character can never make a mistake, so that he says “no” only when it is better for us than “yes.”

George Matheson was born to privilege.  At the University of Glasgow he graduated first in classics, logic, and philosophy.  Then, in his twentieth year of life, he became totally blind.  He followed God’s call to ministry anyway.  Matheson pastored some of Scotland’s finest and largest churches, wrote books of philosophical theology which are still read and cited today, was theologian to Queen Victoria, received numerous honorary doctorates, filled the most prestigious lectureships in the land, and was a fellow of the Royal Society.

This prayer by George Matheson helped me have Thanksgiving this week:

My God, I have never thanked thee for my thorn.  I have thanked thee a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorn.  Teach me the glory of my cross, teach me the value of my thorn. Show me that I have climbed to thee by the path of my pain.  Show me that my tears have made my rainbows.

Annie Dillard observed, “You do not have to sit outside in the dark.  If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is required.”