This time of the year, Americans get together with family and friends to feast and reflect. Over this American Thanksgiving Holiday, my wife and I will be gathering with some of North Wake’s Far Flung Families, friends living and working for God’s kingdom all over the world. It’ll be our first time missing a gathering with family around poultry, fall vegetables, and pie. Like many families, we take time at Thanksgiving to discuss ways we’re thankful to God, especially His goodness.
If the point were simply to reflect on the past year, it would become easy to be depressed. Our family is probably like yours: we’ve experienced loss and lots of tears. I could be tempted to turn my face toward the valley of the shadow of death and linger in those memories. But we know this holiday is not primarily for mourning, but rather for giving thanks. When I focus my mind on the good God has done, I am following a pattern established by God and encouraged throughout Scripture. Let’s look at four examples to help us remember His goodness.
Remember the Power
In Exodus 13, God established the feast of Passover to be celebrated annually. “Remember this day,” God said, “for by a strong hand the LORD [Yahweh] brought you out from this place.” God freed Israel from the Egyptians who had enslaved them. Remembering allows us to think of God’s great power in salvation, healing, and protection.
- Can you remember when God freed you from the power of sin?
- Can you think of a specific time recently when He has helped you overcome temptation, proving His power is effective in your life?
Remember the Fathering
In Deuteronomy 8, Moses taught the Israelite people they needed to remember the hard times God had allowed in their lives when “he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna.” Why would God not give them continuous ease? Moses explains, “As a man disciplines his son, the LORD [Yahweh] your God disciplines you.” Remembering both hard times and good provision helps us see God as our heavenly Father Who fits us for eternity.
- Can you think of difficult or scary times you have experienced over the past year?
- What ways did God provide what was needed?
Remember the Transformation
Paul speaks of the sorrowful memories of life without Christ experienced by the Corinthian church. In 1 Corinthians 6, he warns them that those who persist in immorality, theft, slander, or greed cannot inherit the kingdom of God. “And such were some of you,” he says. Why bring up our sad past, Paul? Are you trying to shame us? No. Paul says, because “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” We need to remember the darkness to recognize just how bright the light is. Remembering what God has done to change our way of life enables us to continue transforming into whom He has made us to be and praise Him for His kindness.
- Can you remember a specific pattern from your life that God has changed?
- Is there a pattern of sin in your life now that you would like to ask God to cleanse you from, so you can thank Him for the change next year?
Remember to Fight the Needless Anxiety
To the Philippian church, Paul wrote a warning against worry and taught that thanksgiving is part of the defense. Philippians 4:6 states, “Do not be anxious [habitually, excessively, unduly anxious] about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Needless anxiety is a worry that goes beyond proper concern, and it can take over your mind. Paul teaches us to focus on the good that God has done in the past, perhaps remembering His kindness, His provision, and His character. While you’re thanking Him for those things, make specific and clear requests for the things you still need. So remembering by giving Him thanks is a fight against stressful anxiety.
- Is there some concern weighing on your mind that worries you beyond the proper level of care?
- What has God already done for you around that situation?
Your brain was made to remember God in your life. This year, let’s go beyond thanking God only for the fun and material good of the past few weeks to praising Him for the work He has done in our hearts over the past few decades. Reflect with your family on how He’s walked with you through hard times and how He has drawn you to rely on Him in prayer. Let’s marvel at how He’s changed us and rescued us from destructive patterns even as we continue to pursue transformation today. And when anxiety fills your mind, deploy intentional thankfulness in the moment by asking Him to provide precisely what you need. In all these ways, let the past be your teacher and make your memories a private textbook where you can find your own lessons about God’s kindness.