Pull up a Thanksgiving chair

Years ago, when our children were still small, I used to put a large glass jar on the kitchen counter at the beginning of November. Beside the jar, I would put a basket filled with strips of paper and a pen. Our thanksgiving exercise consisted of writing one thing we were grateful for every day and placing it in the jar.

On Thanksgiving Day, as we made the one-hour drive from our home to Nana’s house, I would read the entries, and we would pray together, thanking God for his many blessings.

The entries varied, from small and big things we were grateful for: our jobs, another cancer-free year, our home, the girls’ school, friends, and, of course, Jingle Bells, the girls’ beloved puppy.

It is certainly not challenging to exercise thanksgiving as we reflect on life’s blessings. When we reach the beginning of November in a year of good health and bounty, our hearts can easily sing songs of praise, for our “Thanksgiving jar” brims with reasons to thank God.

But, oh, how challenging Thanksgiving season becomes when trials and tribulations abound! When we reflect on a year filled with hardships, we find ourselves challenged with the type of thanksgiving that does not come naturally, but rather, it is either insincere or an expression of true and tested, mature faith.

Scriptures have several examples of men and women of God who pressed past their circumstances to praise God. From Genesis to Revelations, we find accounts where God’s leaders or ordinary characters praised God despite their troubles.

Among the many examples, two men, separated by six centuries, stand out as perfect examples of true faith regardless of one’s circumstances.

We find the first example in the book of Daniel in the New Testament when the prophet was confronted with a new royal decree by King Darius that prevented anyone from worshipping any god but the King. If caught worshipping other gods, the King would put the violator to death immediately.

When Daniel heard about the decree, the bible says his first reaction was to retrieve from the situation and go to his upper room. There, with windows open towards Jerusalem, Daniel “three times a day got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God.”

The other example is found around 62 A.D. when the apostle Paul wrote his “Joy Letter” to the believers in Philippi. These well-known verses, written by a man in prison with no apparent reason for gratitude, are at the forefront of many a sermon on prayer:

“Be anxious for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”

Earlier this week, when I spoke at a church’s Thanksgiving luncheon in north Atlanta, the audience was visibly curious when, after being introduced, I walked up to the stage carrying a chair, which I placed beside the pulpit from which I spoke. After delivering the message about the dangers of ingratitude, I challenged the audience with the concept of a “Thanksgiving Chair.”

With the beautiful examples of Daniel’s and Paul’s true thanksgiving in mind, I challenged my audience to set aside a chair in their home, where they would deliberately retreat to thank God for the good and the bad, the blessings and the challenges.

The “Thanksgiving Chair” is not meant to be a place of make-belief, where we thank God begrudgingly or pretend that our troubles disappeared. Instead, it is an invitation to retreat from circumstances that have the potential to rattle our hearts and deliberately look back to thank God for the many times he has rescued us, provided for us, and healed our wounds.

This Thanksgiving season, may we be challenged to take a moment to retreat to a “Thanksgiving Chair.” Whether our glass jar overflows with blessings or sorrows, may the One who works all things together for his children’s good and his glory fill us with genuine gratitude and unshakeable faith.

Patricia Holbrook is a columnist, author, blogger and international speaker. Visit her website www.soaringwithHim.com to learn about her speaking ministry, Bible studies and book. For speaking engagements and comments, email pholbrook@soaringwithHim.com