“How to survive Thanksgiving” articles have populated the Internet this week. Most assume that the problem with Thanksgiving is family members you don’t see the rest of the year. So contributors have these suggestions: feed your family lots of tryptophan-laced turkey and hope they fall asleep; treat them as if they were strangers; take a hike during the day to be alone for a while; and bribe the kids to hug their relatives and help with dishes.
I doubt this is what the pilgrims had in mind when they celebrated the first Thanksgiving 393 years ago. Today was meant to be a day of worship and gratitude to the God who has been so gracious to us. As we’ve noted this week, when we “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), we position ourselves to receive God’s best. Such expectancy is vital to a life of thankful joy.
Here are some examples of this truth at work. In 1 Chronicles 4, we meet a man whose mother named him Jabez “because I bore him in pain” (v. 9). Imagine going through life named “pain.” But the next verse tells us: “Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!’ And God granted what he asked.”
When two blind men came to Jesus asking to be healed, “he said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ Then he touched their eyes, saying, ‘According to your faith be it done to you.’ And their eyes were opened” (Matthew 9:28-29).
The prophet Habakkuk preached and wrote as the Babylonian Empire threatened his nation’s survival. Here’s the declaration with which his book closes: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).
When God called William Carey to launch the modern missions movement in 1792, the text he used to embolden Carey’s soul was this promise from Isaiah 54: “Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities” (vs. 2-3). Carey made the text into his life motto: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” And the movement he started is circling the world today, bringing more people to Christ than every before in Christian history.
You can survive Thanksgiving, or you can give thanks and expect God’s best. One is a holiday—the other is a holy day. Which do you choose?