Pondering {gratitude}

Reading the Word of God is an experience. Prayer has the ability to activate the power of God through scripture, and it’s in these encounters that my eyes are open to new concepts that not only directly apply to the world around me, but also the future before me.

On this Thanksgiving, I’m ever grateful for a dear friend of mine who suggested I take a closer look at Hebrews 12 to prepare my heart for this day… as well as for the upcoming season of Advent. Hebrews 12 is not your typical go-to scripture for Thanksgiving-themed messages, but it has a number of gems tucked away in its verses.

Scholars aren’t certain who penned the book of Hebrews, but it reads much like a sermon or other New Testament letter. It’s in the simplicity of Eugene H. Peterson’s The Message (2018) translation that I find both an ease of interpretation and a comforting, inspiring reassurance of God’s plan for me. For all of humanity, really.

Twenty-twenty has been the year of unexpected, more-often-than-not unwelcome twists and turns. From depletion of toilet paper stock in stores, to cessation of travel, to mandatory curfews enforced, there are few places one might find themselves unable to witness the implications of the global coronavirus pandemic. Hebrews 12 begins with an emphatic charge to Christ-followers to keep running the race. Don’t give up. Follow on the path that others before you have paved; they’re cheering you on. Never quit.

“Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed — that exhilarating finish in and with God — he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now here’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!”

Hebrews 12:1-3 MSG

So many souls have suffered through this pandemic in which we find ourselves. It is a chapter in history that will, no doubt, be remembered for decades to come. However, in the midst of such hardship, Hebrews reminds us that:

“God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children… God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best… for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God.”

Hebrews 12:6-11 MSG

To be clear, I do not believe God causes catastrophe; he allows it. There are many scriptures that establish God’s nature, and He is good. He does, however, allow free will. And with free will, human nature is to sin. Sin leads to consequences. (Hence our dire need for Jesus.) My motive is to instill hope and joy that lead to a practice of gratitude. That said, God is allowing our circumstances — wherever we find ourselves currently — to inevitably cause us to seek Him and recognize our need for Him. Romans 8:28 tells us that He is working ALL THINGS FOR GOOD, for those called according to His purpose. What Hebrews reinforces is that our relationship with Him will be strengthened through our trials, with the confident hope that He is already weaving the events of our lives together FOR GOOD.

Isn’t that a reason to be thankful? To be full of gratitude?

If it weren’t enough, the writer of Hebrews goes on to say that we are a part of the bigger picture, God’s Unshakable Kingdom:

“The murder of Jesus… became a proclamation of grace. So don’t turn a deaf ear to these gracious words. If those who ignored earthly warnings didn’t get away with it, what will happen to us if we turn our backs on heavenly warnings? His voice that time shook the earth to its foundations; this time — he’s told us this quite plainly — he’ll also rock the heavens: ‘One last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern.’ The phrase ‘one last shaking’ means a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered.

Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!”

Hebrews 12:25-29 MSG (Emphasis mine)

God is not a passive, dismissive God. He is actively working things for your good, no matter what’s happening in the world around you.

So, on this day, I’m recommitting to a lifelong sense of gratitude. Being thankful for what He’s done for me, what He’s doing for me, and for what I know He will do.

Thankful.

Brimming with worship.

Deeply reverent before God.

Don’t get tired of doing what is right and good, and don’t quit the race. Don’t give up. God is not indifferent! He loves you right where you are, just as you are. Bask in Hid perfect love on this day of remembrance, share it with others, and thank Him for all the little things along the way.

You are part of an Unshakable Kingdom that will withstand all time.

Blessings to you and yours! Have a joy-full Thanksgiving Day.