How to Be Thankful in Times of Division

In this season in our nation’s history when the divisions are deep, let’s remind ourselves of who we are and who God is.

“Get off my lawn!”

You know the saying, right? It’s usually accompanied by a mental image of an older man or woman, yelling at some kids who have traversed across the angry resident’s property. Unfortunately I sort of feel like this has become the default posture of our culture.

Everyone seems so angry. Everyone seems so hostile. But Thanksgiving is here. It’s the time we are supposed to gather around the table and give thanks for all of our blessings. And this is no small thing. I think the Bible is fairly clear that the Christian is called to be both thankful and an optimist. The constantly angry, stressed individual is the opposite of the godly person that we see in Scripture.

Consider, for instance, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “… give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Maybe even more compelling and challenging, particularly in this historical moment, is Colossians 3:15, “And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful.” To follow Jesus means to be thankful, to be optimistic and to be at peace. But how?

How do we give thanks when it seems that so many people are angry? How do we give thanks when we are the ones who are angry? I actually think Thanksgiving can be a necessary respite in the midst of an angry moment. Consider a few thoughts about having a thankful Thanksgiving, even when the world around you seems so angry.

Remember God’s Character

At my church we say two things almost every Sunday. We remind ourselves that God is God and that God is good. This simple phrase is our way of affirming the sovereignty (Col. 1:17) and providence (Rom. 8:28) of God. God is in authority over all things, and God is always working for good, to accomplish his purposes.

These two theological truths give us confidence in God over the moment we find ourselves in. They remind us that the moment we are in, no matter how divisive and toxic, pales in comparison to the authority of God and will not prevent him from accomplishing his good purposes.

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There is a lot to be thankful for when we realize that God is on the throne and his good will is going to be accomplished.

Remember the World Is Fallen

One of the things that often frustrates us about the world is how bad it can be. One of the remedies is to get a dose of our own weakness. The world is broken, yes, but that’s because each of us is broken. When those who do not know Jesus act like broken individuals, they’re simply doing what they can do. Sinful people sin. And when they don’t have the presence of the Holy Spirit to keep them in check, it shouldn’t surprise us when they continue to sin, unabated.

But what about the Christians around us? I am not trying to avoid the Christian’s responsibility to practice biblical confrontation, or even a church’s responsibility to practice church discipline, but we need to remember that much of what is being fought over today is not explicitly clear in Scripture. Genuine people who really love Jesus can come down on different sides of many political issues.

As Christians, we ought to be known for our love, especially for our love for other Christians. Jesus even indicated that our love for one another would be the evidence to the world that we are, indeed, Christians (John 13:35). Humility about our own sinfulness, and awareness of how deep God’s grace is to us, will go a long way to helping us show grace, forgiveness and even thankfulness for those we might be frustrated with.

Consider Our Place in the World

How many mothers have cajoled their kids into eating with some rendition of, “Starving kids in Africa would love what you have to eat tonight”? While that may be a manipulative ploy to get junior to eat his asparagus, there is some level of truth in it.

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Yes, we live in a divisive moment in history. Those of us who call the U.S. home are often dismayed at how little uniting there is in these United States, but let’s not lose sight of our place among the other nations of the world. We are blessed. We are free. And while there is disagreement about the extent that either of these are true, and whether or not these are being threatened in the future, there is no doubt that we can thank God for what we do have in this regard when compared to so many places around the world who would love to experience what we often take for granted.

Consider Our Place in History

Finally, I would encourage us to look both backward and forward in history and the future. Yes, it may be divisive right now, but it’s been worse. Let’s not forget that one of our bloodiest moments in U.S. history was when neighbor went to war with neighbor and the country, for a time, was torn into separate nations.

Beyond that, though, look forward into the future. The Bible is pretty clear that there is coming a time when Jesus will return, he will usher in the consummation of his kingdom and everything evil we are experiencing now will fade away. This time may be difficult, but this time is also temporary. Jesus is returning and he will make everything right. Until then, though, he is in control.

In a time when we can be blinded by division at every turn, Thanksgiving can actually become a really good time for us to reflect on who God is, who we are and our place in God’s ultimate story. And then let’s be thankful. God is good, we have grace and it will be all right in the end. Amen.

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