Thanksgiving. You can hear the leaves crunching beneath your feet at the very mention of the name, can’t you? Maybe smell the fragrance of cranberry sauce, feel the crispness of the autumnal air as it tickles your cheeks? There’s so much in the name of “Thanksgiving.”
Even so, I’m sure a companion to all these cozy thoughts are also considerations of cleaning the house for guests, babysitting the turkey to ensure it isn’t burning, sitting through unpleasant political conversations with distant relatives. Perhaps you’re more laid-back, and the stress of the holidays doesn’t get to you like it does to me. Or maybe you’re haunted by loneliness during this season. Maybe you’re perfectly content with a time of dinning and sleeping for too long.
I hope and I pray that your time is filled with warm traditions and the embrace of comfort, but I realize that for many of us, it may not be. Somehow, each year, the holidays are simultaneously delightful and stressful. While I can’t speak to your situation, sister, I can speak for the crippling stress I put myself through each year during the holidays.
Thanksgiving is largely marketed as a time for family, a time to truly set aside our own preferences and yield ourselves to one another. Sometimes this entails traveling for several days to see family members or friend you haven’t seen in a while. Other times this means opening your home up to you neighbors so they can have a welcoming refuge from a cold and intense world. However you choose to feel about this holiday, I think we can all recognize that there is more for us than stuffing our faces, being weary and stressed over table-settings, and watching an afternoon of football.
We are a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). This means that our holidays and our everydays are not governed by the priorities and urges of the flesh. Instead, they should be governed by Christ and Christ-like things. Excellent things. That’s right, by our very (new) nature as Christians, we have a different outlook on the mundane, every day occurrences, as we also have a new outlook on special occasions, like Thanksgiving. And what is in the name of Thanksgiving, but that we should be thankful beings? And who among us on earth has more reason to be thankful than we, who have been saved by grace through our faith in Christ? Put aside your dressing and casserole for a moment, and dwell with me on the thankfulness that we should have as believers. While we have every reason to rejoice and not weep over the goings-on of this world, I would submit to you a very specific substance to dwell on for thankfulness this season: the very Bride of Christ, His Church.
“I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
It is a common thing, and a good thing, to spend time with your earthly families on Thanksgiving, but I encourage you to think about your heavenly family on this day as well. The breadth of our familial ties in Christ is astounding to think about, and perhaps we should meditate on the gloriousness of our Father through understanding that fact. Paul didn’t seem to find it to be an ordinary thing that his family in Christ knew no geographical or ethnic boundaries, but instead, he found it a thrilling enough thing to think about that it caused him to remember the Church in Philippi frequently, and pray for them as often as he thought of them. In this verse, Paul speaks of thanksgiving for his brothers and sisters in Christ who resided in Philippi.
Here we also see that the workings and design of the Church are a thing by which God receives glory. Does this not make you desire to pursue excellence in facilitating holy and righteous relationships with your brothers and sisters in Christ? This is another avenue by which we can bring more praise and glory to God! Does your heart long to continually find additional ways to point the glory back to him? Add this to your list! God has designed the Church to care for people, both inside itself and outside. Christian care looks like feeding the hungry. It also looks like checking-in with the friend who was unable to make it home for the holidays. A heavenly family provides a hospitable place of refuge for the downcast, as well as sends a care-package to that overseas missionary that you went to college with.
It is a very important thing to wholly love your heavenly family, and you can do this by being an active and caring participant in the Church, both local and universal. How can you be an active and caring participant? The answer is found in the very same verse. One way this is accomplished is to commit to remember one another in prayer. Prayerful thought is a crucial point of caring for those that are loved by you, and by the grace of God, we are able to join in prayer in a multitude of ways because of our accessibility to God through Christ. There are no limits to how we can care for our Church family through prayer! How joyful is this—that despite distance, circumstance, or time we can come before our Father and plead on behalf of our Church family. This is a mighty thing to be thankful for.
Another thing that Paul speaks of here is the joy that the Church of Philippi brings him. Paul seemed to find delight in his Philippian brothers and sisters. This enjoyment seemed to compel him into prayer-filled thoughtfulness. The joy that Paul had because of the Philippian Church was based upon the foundation of the Gospel. Paul found the utmost joy in this Church because they shared in the surpassing joy of their Savior. God’s design is for the Church to spur one another on towards Christ. Delight in God, and do so also in His Church.
Lastly, Paul speaks of why he finds joy in his Philippians family—because they have a partnership in the Gospel. Oftentimes our Churches are filled with individuals who are nothing like us—they don’t enjoy the music we like or the shows we watch, we might have different views on a multitude of things. But isn’t that beautiful, that often our only commonality is in Christ? The unity that Christ welcomes us into as believers is a powerful thing. Dwell on this when the person a few pews over thinks differently than you, and find joy that despite your differences you’re made in the same image of the same God, saved by His intense grace, and through our salvation we all join hands in a partnership for the sake of the Gospel. In the Gospel, we are co-laborers with Christ that we may accomplish the Great Commission, to spread the Gospel in our community, in our country, and to the ends of the Earth.
So, what does all of this have to do with Thanksgiving? Well, it has to do with family. All of this culminates into what the rest of eternity will look like, and it won’t look like our earthly Thanksgiving. A tenant of Christian discipline is thankfulness, and a means by which this expressed is caring and praying for other believers. Many times, a perceptible way that God moves in our fellow believers’ lives is by our own actions, speaking and acting out Godly truth toward them. Heaven won’t look like sibling rivalries, or boasting to grandparents about our children. It won’t look like fighting over wishbones, or watching a parade on TV. It won’t look like crippling loneliness. But instead, we will spend time (and we will have plenty of time in eternity) to praise God for His orchestration and mobilization of His Church. Let us start to thank Him now, and continue on forever.
I charge you to pine for modeling your earthly thanksgiving after a heavenly one. Instead of pursuing a full stomach and an afternoon nap, pursue a satisfied stomach, with prayerful thanksgiving to our God for the heavenly family He has given us on earth. Instead of chasing a Pinterest-worthy table-scape, pursue a time of thoughtfulness of becoming a more active participant in your local body. Rather than stewing in loneliness, sit at the feet of your Heavenly Father and plead with Him to give you a holy ambition for your local Church until the answer bubbles-up. But in whatever your holiday looks like, be compelled to give thanks to God for the family He has welcomed you into through Christ’s sacrifice.