I like this Thanksgiving thing. I like the idea of specific days when you remember and reflect and consider and thank.
I always start my thanksgiving in the usual obvious place: being thankful to God. I thank God for all that He has given to me, for all that He has done in me; through me.
You know what I realized this morning as I was reading Luke 22? There are a couple of things I don’t tend to thank God for:
- I don’t tend to thank Him for the painful conviction and broken repentance that followed the moments when I denied Him and exchanged Him for the fleeting pleasures of this world.
- I don’t tend to thank Him for the prayers that I kept praying over and over again with increasing agony this year.
Sometimes when God gives victory, it doesn’t play out in conquering temptation, it plays out in messing up pretty bad and needing to cling to the Cross. Sometimes when God gives strength, we end up shedding more tears, not less.
This Thanksgiving, I want to thank God for the ways He has kept my faith from failing and strengthened me, even when the symptoms of those things didn’t look like I might have imagined.
#1 Thank God for keeping your faith from failing.
What does it meant to you that your ‘faith doesn’t fail?’ Does it mean that you never mess up? Does it mean that you always trust and believe perfectly? When you look back at your year, where are the moments that you would say: my faith didn’t fail.
Now consider one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. After the final meal Jesus shared with his disciples he says to Peter:
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32 ESV)
Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith wouldn’t fail, and then Peter walked out and denied him. So, did Jesus’ prayer not work? Jesus says a verse later that Peter will deny him that very night, so avoiding that can’t have been what Jesus had in mind when he said – your faith will not fail.
The only other options is that Peter’s faith didn’t fail. Which means that you and I might have the wrong idea about what ‘failure’ looks like. Peter’s faith didn’t fail because, although he denied Jesus, he turned again. He repented. God keeping your faith from failing doesn’t meant that you never stumble or never sin, it means that you turn again. Repentance is a miracle, it’s the evidence and victory of faith.
So maybe you haven’t fully conquered that one sin yet. Maybe just last night you had to cash in the chip you’d worked so hard to earn listing the number of days without incident. But know this – that doesn’t mean your faith failed. Right now, if repentance can be found, you are experiencing the power of God. You have reason to thank God; reason to worship. He has kept your faith from failing – not by helping you not need forgiveness – but by giving you faith to know where forgiveness can be found.
#2 Thank God for strengthening you.
And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:41-44 ESV)
Let’s track what happened here: (1) Jesus was kneeling and praying (2) an angel came and strengthened him (3) and then he prayed more earnestly, while being in agony, and started sweating drops of blood.
So, the fruit of being strengthened was more earnest prayers with agony.
Jesus needed to be strengthened so that He could endure the pain, not so that he could avoid it. God strengthens you to help you get through something that you need more strength to get through. That means being strengthened is usually followed by trials that are so hard that you would never endure them if not for the strength that He has supplied.
For some of us, this Thanksgiving might be a swell time to consider the ways that God has kept us and strengthened us even if the fruit of that work has played out in feeling less victorious, feeling more needy, facing more pain.
If you’re turning to Him, He is keeping you. If you’re enduring the pain, He has strengthened you. And if you’re not turning or enduring, just put your head down right now and ask Him to help you.
And if you just did that, then thank Him for that prayer that proves His power.