It’s an old story, but a very effective one. Two men were walking through a field one day when they spotted an enraged bull, storming after them in hot pursuit. When they realized they would not make it to the fence, one of the men shouted to the other, “Put up a prayer, John. We’re in for it!” John answered, “I’ll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the table: O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.”
As we celebrate this Thanksgiving Day, your prayers may not be as unpracticed as John’s, but hopefully they will be as thankful. But how do we truly practice thanksgiving? It has to be more than food, family, friends and football, doesn’t it?
In Luke 17, Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem from Galilee in the north, came into a village where he was met by 10 lepers who asked him to have mercy on them. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests. Once they headed toward the priests, they were healed. But out of the 10, only one stopped and returned to Jesus to express his thanks for the healing and giving praise to God as he did. Jesus inquired of the man as to the whereabouts of the other nine, but commended the one for his faith and his gratitude. The question is, “Why did the others not return?” Were they not thankful? Or did they just assume that life had handed them a gift, and that it was their’s?
In 2012, Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots football team, revealed to the world that Russian president Vladimir Putin stole one of Kraft’s $25,000 Super Bowl rings. Don’t feel too bad for Kraft — he has four more where that one came from. But it’s true: back in 2005, when Kraft was visiting Putin at the Kremlin, he made the mistake of showing the Russian leader one of his Super Bowl rings. Kraft took it out and handed it to the Russian leader, who put it on his finger and said, “I could kill someone with this ring”— because it was so massive. Then, according to Kraft, Putin put it in his pocket, his KGB guys surrounded him, and they walked out — with Kraft’s ring. It even had Bob Kraft’s name engraved on it.
Kraft talked to the State Department, and they encouraged him, in the interest of U.S.-Russian relations, to lie and say that he gave it to Putin as a gift. But Kraft finally broke his silence in 2012.
But the point is this: Kraft did give Putin his ring, temporarily, to borrow for a few moments. He intended for Putin to use it for a few moments, put it on his finger, and admire it. But he did not intend for Putin, once he took possession of it, to act as if this ring belonged to him. Putin apparently assumed that it was a gift to him and saw no need to either return the ring or thank Kraft for his gift.
Thanksgiving Day is one day when we should do more than accept the gifts which God has given us no matter whether they be good, bad or ugly – but should be sure to turn back to God and say thanks for them, even when it seems impossible to do so.
In Budapest, a man goes to the rabbi and complains, “Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?”
The rabbi answers, “Take your goat into the room with you.” The man was incredulous, but the rabbi insisted. “Do as I say and come back in a week.”
A week later the man came back looking more distraught than before. “We cannot stand it,” he tells the rabbi. “The goat is filthy.”
The rabbi then told him, “Go home and let the goat out. And come back in a week.”
A radiant man returned to the rabbi a week later, exclaiming, “Life is beautiful. We enjoy every minute of it now that there’s no goat — only the nine of us.”
When I think about what I can honestly be thankful for this Thanksgiving, my mind goes to the traditional things. You know, my wife, my children, my family, my friends, my job, my country, the food, and the material blessings we have – all the standard sorts of blessings that we traditionally recognize, but also there are some others that we should also note.
In Romans 8:35-39, we are challenged to be thankful for the things we cannot lose. None of the calamities, problems, difficulties, tragedies in our lives will “be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (v. 39). It is a very comforting and encouraging thought to realize that God’s love is unfailing, unceasing, unchangeable, and unconquerable, no matter what our external circumstances may try to proclaim to the contrary.
Denzel Washington, an Academy-award winning actor and devout Christ-follower, in a speech in November 2015, urged his listeners to live in constant gratitude for God’s goodness. He said: “Give thanks for blessings every day. Every day. Embrace gratitude. Encourage others. It is impossible to be grateful and hateful at the same time. I pray that you put your slippers way under your bed at night so that when you wake in the morning you have to start on your knees to find them. And while you’re down there, say thank you. A bad attitude is like a flat tire. Until you change it, you’re not going anywhere.”
This Thanksgiving, why not try something novel and new? Why not be truly thankful? And if you just simply cannot do that, because your circumstances in life have got you down, or your situation seems unbearable — try taking a goat into your home.
Be thankful to God for all He has given you!
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former pastor of the Faith Community Church in Hillsboro.