Monday, November 22, 2010

Giving Thanks When You Don't Feel Thankful

You make a table-scape to get in the mood.  You plan your menus for the weekend, but you don't feel thankful.  Did you ever have a Thanksgiving like that?  Maybe you are facing a debilitating illness.  Maybe you are out of a job.  Maybe you have lost a loved one.  Maybe your family is disintegrating.  Maybe God has not answered your prayer yet.  Bottom don't feel thankful.

The only cure for a numb, ungrateful heart is to give thanks anyway. As it says in I Thessalonians 5:18, "In everything give thanks." Even if your situation is overwhelming, there are blessings to be counted.  Even if your heart aches, even if you wonder about tomorrow, look for and be appreciative of God's goodnesses.

No matter how bleak life seems, you can still find God's mercy. Recently, I have been studying Job. If anyone deserved to be ungrateful, it was Job.  He lost his possessions and all ten of his children.  Then he lost his health.  Still he worshiped the Lord.
Job, painted by Leon Bonnat, 1880
As the account unfolds, we see Job is human. He genuinely grapples with his suffering.  He doesn't understand God's ways.  He has daily sacrificed and confessed every sin on his conscience.  So, he asks, "Why are you allowing me to suffer,  Lord?"

With him we ask, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" We all wrestle with this age-old philosophical dilemma, and it is magnified in this righteous man's case.  But, look more closely at the story and count some of Job's blessings with me.

First, Job could praise God because, although he had sowed wild oats in his youth (Job 13:26), the Lord had graciously corrected his path.  Consequently, when calamity struck, Job's default-mode was to turn away from evil and toward God.  Automatically, he found his way down the well-worn path to worship...even in grief.  What a comforting habit!

Second, the Lord graciously placed Job in an eastern culture which expressed grief overtly, thus providing a healthy release-valve for mourning.

Third, God kindly sent three friends who sat with Job in silence; those days of companionship in fresh grief were a blessing.
The Patient Job by Gerard Seghers located in the National Gallery in Prague
The fourth mercy at first seems to be a cruelty, until it is analyzed more closely.  After the week of silence, Job's friends (wanting to help their friend) encouraged him to confess any hidden wrong to relieve his suffering. How hurtful was that? Yet, Job held to his clear conscience, contending that although some pain is a result of evil, that is not always the cause. For thirty-eight chapters, Job and his friends argue. This prolonged debate was a mercy to Job in many ways:  it allowed Job to verbally process his grief, purging any misplaced guilt. It gave him time to heal, and it forced him to focus more on what he knew to be true of God, than on how he felt.  

God's fifth mercy to Job was sending a younger man who, rather than judge the sufferer, listened and encouraged the older man to view suffering, not as punishment, but as a teaching tool.  "The Lord actually delivers in suffering, speaks in affliction, and woos from distress." This new perspective prepared Job to hear God.

At the apex of Job's account, the Lord extends the sixth and grandest mercy.  Understanding how frail the suffering man is, rather than answer Job's accusations, he takes Job on a vicarious journey.  Before National Geographic filmed Earth, Job was allowed by God to see evidences of His creative power and superiority.

In response, Job says, "My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore,....I repent in dust and ashes" (Job. 42:5, 6).
by Alex Frozen

Finally, in an abundantly gracious denouement, God pours out his seventh and final mercy:  He accepts Job's prayer of repentance, vindicates him before his friends, renews his relationship with his brothers, sisters, and acquaintances, doubles his livestock, gives him ten more children, and crowns him with a long, full life.

But, how does this help you this Thanksgiving, if you aren't feeling grateful?

The New Testament book of James, applies Job's account encouraging us.  As you prepare for the holiday, if you feel even slightly like Job with troubles that supersede your blessings, remember the patient Old Testament character. "You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.  The Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (James 5:10-11).

Let us take heart, look more closely at our own situation, then take a lesson from Job and the pilgrims (who "made seven times more graves than huts....nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving"  H. U. Westermayer).

and number the Lord's bountiful mercies.

Actually, we each have the same choice Job had:  "Curse God and die, or praise God and live!"


  1. Marcia,
    Just finished reading your latest writing on 'Job'! What insight and understanding you've gained through studying his life in depth. I'm sure it will reach and touch many people who are stuggling with illness, joblessness, lonliness, etc. We all are going through some phase of challenge in our lives, and your perspective on Job's life and relating it to your reading audience is surely inspired by the Spirit of the Livng God.

  2. Beautiful, Beautiful Post! Maurie, I've also just been doing a little reading on Job. There are so many lessons in that little book.
    Thank you for sharing this, along with the powerful well as the beautiful tablescape. Praising God for His mercies and His grace! Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. O Marcia... yes. yes...

    thank you for sharing this with me. I think we're both in a similar place this Thanksgiving. Giving thanks because somehow, in someway, He is good no matter way and we praise Him and receive new mercies.

    thank you and bless you today, friend.

  4. Wonderful book and beautiful post about it! Thank you for taking time to acknowledge those who struggle around this time. What an amazing God we serve!