The First Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is a special time of year for giving thanks as we reflect on all God has given us. The cliche is that everything is great, therefore I praise God. When the harvest is in, the table is full, and we have no apparent lack of anything.
What about when the harvest is meager, our tables are empty, and we have nothing but need? What then? Do we still praise Him? Do we still thank Him for our many blessings? Or do we wallow in self-pity as it is so easy to do?
I think the answer is in the story of the first thanksgiving. It was not a story of plenty, but one of need. Of thankfulness for a small reprieve.
“Some people say that the first American Thanksgiving didn’t occur in 1621 when a group of Pilgrims shared a feast with a group of friendly Indians. They say that the first recorded Thanksgiving took place in Virginia more than 11 years earlier, and it wasn’t a feast. The winter of 1610 at Jamestown had reduced a group of 409 settlers to 60. The survivors prayed for help, without knowing when or how it might come. When help arrived, in the form of a ship filled with food and supplies from England, a prayer meeting was held to give thanks to God…Even after almost 350 of them had died, they gave thanks to God.” – Wayne Mudge (my dad, I don’t have his source)
A Counterintuitive Joy
There is a counterintuitive joy in the Bible. A joy that does not cherish God less in trials, but grows to cherish Him more. In trials and triumphs, in sickness and in health, in misery and exaltation; He remains the same. He is still faithful. He is still good. He still shows grace. He still demonstrates His love toward us and the lost and dying world around us.
God doesn’t waste our pain. He is working in us and for us through our suffering. As 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
I love the word picture John MacArthur paints in his study notes on this passage. He explains that the word for “light” is of a “weightless trifle” and the word for “affliction” refers to “intense pressure”. Our suffering is an intense weight to bear in the moment and a weightless trifle in comparison with the glory that God will accomplish through it.
We can’t see the good and glory God is working in our suffering, but Paul calls us to look at what is not seen. To be “renewed day by day” in God’s word. Our outward man may be perishing, but our inward man is made new in Him. Day by day we need renewal in God’s grace. Day by day that grace is made available to us through His word.
All we have to do is come, and read, and pray, and plead, for God’s working in us. To be faithful to what He calls us to through His Word.
Don’t Waste Your Suffering
In his article entitled, “Don’t Waste Your Cancer“, John Piper writes: “You will waste your cancer if you think that “beating” cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ…Cancer does not win if you die. It wins if you fail to cherish Christ.”
I don’t face anything as severe as cancer. I just face pain. Daily, unending pain. Pain that makes me not feel like finishing this post. Pain that drives me to write it.
I have seen many doctors for several health problems. Their tips and tricks have eased my suffering some, but no one knows the cause, and no one can take it away. Except for God. And He has chosen that at least for this season of my life, He will not take it away. He will let me suffer. That is not a divine act of injustice, it is an act of grace.
As my list of chronic health problems grows, so does my need of Him, my longing for Him, and a home beyond this world. I fear. I doubt. But suffering is the constant companion that always brings me back to Him. Don’t waste your suffering. Embrace a joy that sings:
“Though You slay me
Yet I will praise You
Though You take from me
I will bless Your name
Though You ruin me
Still I will worship
Sing a song to the one who’s all I need”
Lyrics from Though You Slay Me by Shane and Shane
The Influence of Two Little Girls
I am by no means perfect at this. Part of what drove me to write this post is that I was not giving thanks like I should. I was wallowing in self-pity, focusing on myself and my problems.
It’s easy to “count my miseries instead of counting God’s graces” – Unknown. One is destructive, the other makes us grow and gives us hope.
A couple years ago, we had two girls that were between five and eight years old that came to our church. Sometimes I would play a game with them if I came early to Sunday School and had nothing urgent to do.
I had not played this game before, but it was easy to pick up. The game was called, “Thankful For”. We would take turns saying what we were thankful for. That’s it. That’s the whole game. We should all play that game. Remember what God has done and thank Him for it.
It’s easy to look at pain and suffering and miss out on God’s graces. As Piper says, “There are always good and bad things happening all the time.” Look for the good that God is doing in your life and thank Him for it.
Look for how the “bitter makes the sweet, sweeter”. Look for how God uses suffering to grow us and mold us into who He made us to be. Thank God that even though you do not want this pain, and you would not ask for this pain, you want what He is working through this pain.
Thank God that you know what He is working through your suffering is far better than what you would have experienced without it. There is an hour or two every day where I almost don’t feel like I’m in pain. I am very grateful for those hours. I did not thank God for the absence of pain much at all before pain became my companion. When something is taken away, you appreciate it more.
Finding Joy in Suffering for Christ.
I’ll end with this, a quote from “Don’t Waste Your Life” by John Piper:
“What a tragic waste when people turn away from the Calvary road of love and suffering. All the riches of the glory of God in Christ are on that road. All the sweetest fellowship with Jesus is there. All the treasures of assurance. All the ecstasies of joy. All the clearest sightings of eternity. All the noblest camaraderie. All the humblest affections. All the most tender acts of forgiving kindness. All the deepest discoveries of God’s word. All the most earnest prayers. They are all on the Calvary road where Jesus walks with His people. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. On this road, and this road alone, life is Christ and death is gain. Life on every other road is wasted.”
Don’t Waste Your Suffering. Spend it in the pursuit of God. Let it cause you to cherish Him more, not less. Let it drive you to a joy that goes beyond your circumstances. Let it cause you to embrace God as a child embraces their father. Let it move you to read His word. Let it push you to speak with Him in prayer. Let your suffering compel you to live for God, that all you do may be in pursuit of “glorifying God by enjoying Him forever“.
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The ending quote is John Piper’s paraphrase of the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s answer to “What is the chief end of man?”.
Image Credit: Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash