2008 Thanksgiving Message
THANKSGIVING IN ADVERSITY
“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing
and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to
God the father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Happy Thanksgiving! Does everyone know who Snoopy the Dog is? Once
he tried to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day. He got dog food for his
Thanksgiving Day Dinner, but he was aware that everyone else in the family was
inside having turkey. He meditated to himself and said, “How about that?
Everyone is eating turkey today, but just because I’m a dog I get dog food.” He
sulked and positioned himself on top of his doghouse. Soon he concluded, “Of
course, it could have been worse, I could have been born a turkey.” We should
be even better than Snoopy. Cicero, a great politician and orator, once said that
a thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.
As we have just read the Scriptures, the spirit of thanksgiving is the mark
of a Christian or any godly people on earth. Celebrating Thanksgiving is a unique
American tradition. We are familiar with the story of the Pilgrims who crossed the
Atlantic Ocean and survived tumultuous and deadly conditions for over two
months. Many of them didn’t make it. Yet, totally unprepared for a harsh New
England winter, nearly half of them died of starvation and sickness before spring.
We cannot imagine how they felt in such tragedy and sufferings. Yet, they didn’t
lose the spirit of Thanksgiving. Their first Thanksgiving feast in 1621 was
celebrated with the Native Americans.
How did we begin to celebrate National Thanksgiving Day? After several
presidents declared a National Day of Thanksgiving, beginning with our first
President, George Washington, it was President Abraham Lincoln who set aside
the last Thursday of November as the official national Day of Thanksgiving in
1863. At that time, the nation was in the midst of the Civil War. During the Battle
of Gettysburg, nearly 60,000 American lives were lost. Lincoln himself had to
deal with the severest trial of his life, the death of his son. He explained to a
friend, “When I left Springfield to assume the Presidency, I asked people to pray
for me. When I buried my son, I was not a Christian. But when I went to
Gettysburg and saw the graves of thousands of our soldiers, I then and there
consecrated myself to Christ.”
Abraham Lincoln ended his Thanksgiving Proclamation speech in 1863
with the phrase, “It is the duty of nations as well as of men to own their
dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and
transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance
will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in
Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose
God is the Lord.” As we celebrate Thanksgiving each year, we hope that we can
also have the original spirit of thanksgiving to God displayed by the Pilgrims and
many other founding fathers and godly men and women in history. We can learn
many things from them. But one thing we learn from them is the spiritual of
thanksgiving in times of adversity. Ephesians 5:19-20 once again. “Speak to one
another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your
heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the
name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The verses I just read are a part of the epistle that Paul had written for
early Christians in Ephesus when he was in prison. Apostle Paul had been
preaching the gospel and establishing numerous churches in Asia Minor and
Europe. He worked very hard, harder than any other Christians and apostles in
his time. Humanly speaking, he definitely deserved praise and recognition for his
remarkable achievement. At the very least, he should’ve spent the last days of
his life in a quiet and cozy retirement home. Yet, he spent most of his last years
in a cold prison cell. If anyone had a right to be bitter, it was Apostle Paul himself.
But instead of grumbling about his bad human situation, he was always filled with
the spirit of praise and thanksgiving toward God. Paul was aware that to many
early believers in Ephesus, life was stressful enough. Some of them were
persecuted because of their faith and there were a lot of problems in the church.
Yet Paul said to them, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual
songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to
God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Many people think of Thanksgiving as a wonderful time to celebrate getting
out of work or school for a long weekend, and eating a great Thanksgiving dinner.
Or they think of Thanksgiving as the start of the Christmas holiday season. Yet,
thanksgiving for Saint Paul was not an annual activity on Thanksgiving Day.
Instead, giving thanks was a central part of his daily life of faith in Jesus in
whatever situation he might have been. In fact, the spirit of thanksgiving affected
his entire life and ministry. Paul was always thankful to God. But he knew how to
be thankful in times of adversity. That’s the original spirit of thanksgiving of our
As we read Acts chapter 16, we read about Paul’s imprisonment in Philippi. There, Paul and his assistant Silas were put in prison because they drove out a
demon from a young girl. This girl used to make a lot of money for her boss by
fortune-telling. What a terrible boss he was! He was using this little girl to make
money. But when she saw Paul preaching, the girl followed him and Silas
everywhere and said, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are
telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. When you think
about this, it seems really annoying. While you are preaching, if someone,
especially a demon possessed person, constantly interferes with your messages,
making a lot of noise, saying “Amen, Hallelujah” in totally inappropriate times, what would you do? Paul became troubled. Perhaps he was aware of who she
was. Actually, the devil was looking for a chance to destroy Paul’s ministry. For
many days, he might have struggled because of her constant interference. He
thought that she would stop after several days. But she didn’t. Finally, Paul said
to himself, “I’ve had enough.” He turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the
spirit left her. She was freed from the demon. That in itself is a beautiful story, but
that was only the beginning.
When the owners of the slave girl realized that their hope of making money
was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to
face the authorities. They began to accuse them as Jewish troublemakers. When
the crowd heard, they joined in the attack. The police chief ordered them to be
stripped and beaten, and after they had been severely flogged, they were thrown
in prison. What did Paul do to deserve such horrible treatment? Nothing. Instead,
he saved a young girl who had been abused by evil spirit and evil people. But
instead of being praised and recognized as a hero, he was publicly humiliated,
beaten and put in prison.
A few months ago, I played basketball with some young guys at Kissena
Park. I played okay. It was fun. I made several impressive shots. I really enjoyed
the game. But since then, I had to suffer from severe back pain for over a month.
You can image how terrible it was when Paul and Silas were stripped and beaten
by so many people. No doubt their bodies were full of wounds and bruises. What
did Paul and Silas do? Did they regret what they did for the girl? Did they curse
the evil owners and those who beat them up? Did they complain to God and
blame him for what happened to them? No. About midnight Paul and Silas were
still up. Probably, they could not fall asleep because they were in such severe
pain. They didn’t even have any Motrin or Advil to relieve the pain. What did they do? Instead of groaning in pain, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God,
and the other prisoners were listening to them. In fact, they praised God, using
their chains as musical instruments, “Give thanks with a grateful heart, give
thanks to the Holy One.” The other prisoners could not understand them because it just didn’t make any sense to them. In fact, these prisoners might have been
full of complaints and bitterness even though most of them deserved punishment.
At first, listening to their hymns and prayers, the other prisoners might have
thought that Paul and Silas had been driven insane after being beaten so badly.
But they definitely saw something very different in them, which was the joy,
peace and the spirit of thankfulness even in their adverse situation. In fact, the
spirit of thanksgiving was a powerful testimony of God and Jesus Christ to these
prisoners. In this way, Paul and Silas glorified God. Some of us might think that
we can glorify God only when good things happen to us. But we learn that we
can glorify God even when unfortunate things happen to us. It depends on our
We often complain and grumble in times of adversity. Many of us are
stressed and upset because of what’s going on in Wall Street today. Across the
nation and the whole world panic is spreading due to economic downturns.
Definitely, it is the time of adversity for everyone. This Thanksgiving may be one
of the hardest Thanksgivings to really give thanks to God. But in our adversity,
we can learn the true spirit of thanksgiving. These days, if you have a job, you
should be thankful. Even if you don’t, you still should be thankful for your health.
What if you are so sick that you cannot lift your fingers to pick up your food?
What if God takes away air from us for 10 minutes, what’s going to happen to us?
We would all die. In fact, we have so many things to be thankful for. But the
problem is that we are so spoiled and neglectful about thanksgiving. Ingratitude
is the root of all ungodliness. It’s not natural for us to have the spirit of
thanksgiving in times of adversity. We instantly complain. Therefore, we need to
discipline ourselves to give thanks to God. I pray that this time of adversity can
be an opportunity for all of us to sincerely come to God in repentance, humility
and thanksgiving, that it may be a time of great revival.
According to 1 Thessalonias 5:16-18, giving thanks in all circumstances is
God’s will for us in Christ Jesus. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 7:4, “I am exceedingly
joyful in all our tribulation.” How could he do that? It’s because he knew that God
was working in all things for his good, even when he was going through trials.
(Romans 8:28) We often wonder why God makes us go through adversities and
difficulties in life. If he loves us, why doesn’t he make our life easier? Sometimes,
we just don’t get the point of suffering.
A man once watched a butterfly struggling to get out of its cocoon. He felt
so sorry for it. So in an effort to help it, he took a razor blade, and carefully slit the
edge of the cocoon. You know what? The butterfly escaped from its problem, but
then died immediately. The man didn’t understand that it is God’s way to have
the butterfly struggle. Trials have their purpose. They make us struggle - they
bring us to our knees. They are the cocoon in which we often find ourselves. It is
there that the life’s blood of faith in God helps us spread our wings. Romans 5:3-
5 reads, “And we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering
produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. And hope
does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by
the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
Our faith is often tested. But thanksgiving is the barometer of the depth of
our faith in Jesus Christ. Faith and thanksgiving go hand in hand. If we have faith
in God, we will be thankful because we know God’s loving hand is upon us, even
though we are in the valley of the shadow of death, in a lion’s den or in the
furnace of fire. We can be confident when we know that God is still with us and in
us when we suffer, molding us into something very beautiful and precious, like
jewels of heaven. We are not to worry about anything, but in all things, we should
trust in the Lord who didn’t spare his Son for us. We should celebrate God’s
salvation through Jesus Christ everyday. Thanksgiving brings us joy, peace and
all godliness. May the Lord bless all of you through the spirit of thanksgiving to go
through this difficult time with wisdom and j