We come now to my favorite holiday: Thanksgiving. Of the four major American holidays Thanksgiving is kind of the underdog.* Matt Chandler pointed out how ignored it is “I feel like our kids are going to grow up saying, “Happy Forth of July.” “And Merry Christmas to you!” Halloween does not help either, stealing some of the primary festive colors and making them gaudy, plus a gluttony of cheap candy always beats a proper feast of epic proportions. One can be quickly unwrapped and horked down the other takes time, skill, and funds to prepare then more time to properly enjoy it.
But Thanksgiving is a great holiday, especially if done right. And by that I mean a true feast to build up gratitude in our hearts that we roll up into praise of God. It is a way for us to look horizontally down our year and see all that God has done, then look vertically and give gratitude to God for his generosity. It is a feast that fights against bitterness, and envy as we survey the table that has been prepared before us. We are reminded of the goodness of God in the hands that prepared the food, in the sweet and savory flavors presented to us, the sounds of hearty laughter and the clink of glasses and heath is drunk, the smells of roasting sweet meats, with bonfires, and baking pumpkin with caramel.
These are all obvious and somewhat traditional examples** of what to be grateful. And I think they are good to be made new in our minds every year since our world runs on unleaded envy. It is important to takes stock and attempt to itemize all the ways God has blessed us. Lest we fall into throwing the blessings back in his face under the label of privilege, or hyper focus on the things He has refused us.
And that is where I would like to camp this Thanksgiving, on the no’s. If you claim the title of Calvinist and believe that God is truly sovereign over all. Then it is an obvious contradiction to assume that God somehow dropped the ball when He didn’t play the game you laid out for Him at the beginning of the year. The Reformed should have enough understanding of the doctrines to which we ascribe to know that God knows best and does what is best, for our joy and His glory. That is not always the thing we would like.
I would like to take some time this Thanksgiving to show gratitude for the no’s. I am going to pull a few examples from my own life where the impact of the no’s vary in impact. Some will be disappointments, others at the time seemed brutal. But all ended up for my joy an God’s glory. This is not an attempt to brag, rather it is a genuine effort to thank God and, hopefully, to encourage a long term perspective in difficult seasons.
The point in all of this is not to gloat, but to show genuine gratitude for how God blesses by saying no. There are other no’s I am currently living in and do not know where they are headed. But by looking back at the past no’s I am able to fortify myself for current or future ones. This is why I would argue that in the season of Thanksgiving we should freshly remember and give thanks for them.
“Have you even taken a praise break for the relationships that did not happen? Oh bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name!” – Bryan Loritt’s
When Bryan spoke the above in a sermon my soul leapt within me. There was a time when I was deeply smitten with a young lady. In my eye she was as Wilde described, “The absolute visible personification of perfection.” She was quick, well read, trendy, flirtatious, a good debater. I was entranced and solidly friend zoned. For a few years I tried hard to change her mind. To no effect. I tried to change me to be more what she wanted. That was a waste and dumb thing to do. Then some another guy from our group asked her out and she ended up marrying him. It was something of a blow, but in the sovereignty of God shortly after her involvement with the other chap I met N. And in all candor the other young lady has become something of a terror. Meanwhile I managed to marry N and she is such all that and a bag of chips. I definitely came out ahead. N is not trendy, flirtatious, or quick but it turns out that is a good thing. If I had not received a no on that relationship I can fairly accurately predict I would potentially not be in ministry any longer, and possibly divorced.
Never a Missionary
I remember as a kid dreading when missionaries would come to my father’s little Southern Baptist Church. I may date myself here, but this was actually still back in the days of slide projectors. And when missionaries came to speak, they came to speak for hours. Morning service, and evening service, and unless it was football season and the Cowboys were playing, my father gave them no time limits. I dreaded missionary speakers because I new it meant hours sitting still in the front row, bored out of my skull. At some point I got so fed up with the whole ordeal I swore to God I would never be a missionary. They taxed my time and their jobs looked downright miserable.
I assume you see my mistake. It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you want God to make you do something, tell him you will never do it. So here I sit, having been a missionary for the vast majority of my life. In the grace of God I was not sent to deepest darkest Africa. I have stayed here in Memphis. Children were not high on my radar, and yet here I am. I did try for film school, and instead was sent to the theater program instead. Which I quickly realized was not for me. Theater people are… not my cup of tea. Again if the no had not come I would not have so many things that I love, including my wife who I met at our ministries HQ. The no was vital.
The House on Courtland
More recently I will direct you to another no blessing. This one came in a collection of no’s. But it was at the time where N and I were deciding where to live. The first no was in I thought the decision had already been made. I had an apartment, that was frankly a rathole, but I had lived there for over ten years and turned it into a beautiful rathole. You should have seen the managers face when she saw the inside of what had originally been a white walled dump, that I transformed into a cottage of wall to wall bookshelves an a damn good paint job, if I do say so myself. The only obstacle I could not overcome was the railway lines outside the bedroom window. I do not exaggerate when I tell you thirty feet was the distance. I had grown accustomed to the trains but N never did. It was a real strain on our first year of marriage. I had planned to stay in that apartment for a while longer, till death is the correct term. Both God and my wife said no.
House hunting we went, our realtor sent us a list of places to look at online and there was one house that I didn’t even bother looking at. The realtor suggested it. I ignored her. The second list still included the one house. We made an offer on a different one. Our offer was identical to another one but they beat us by five minutes and got the place. Second no. We looked at a real terrifying place where our friends were used to tell us the no. Our realtor sent us a third list, that house was still on it. I gave in. I now live there. It is perfect. I love this house. God not only blessed us with it, he saved us from a particularly stupid decision on the one house. Looking back not only would we have had to work so hard on it, we also would not have my bookshelves, but a hallway that took a steep dive downward and to the left to the tune of eight inches.
In my church growing up we, stereotypically, and frequently had a call and response, “God is good” “All the time, God is good.” Some people might snicker at this because they too can probably remember their own childhood congregation bellowing back the response to an overweight deacon wrapping up services. yet beyond what has become cliche is a completely solid truth. All the time God is good. Even when we don’t feel like He is because he told us no.
George Mueller understood this principal. Standing before a congregation assembled at the funeral of his wife. Mueller assumed the pulpit and preached:
“The reason why I purpose to preach this funeral sermon, is not because the late Mrs. [Mary Groves] Müller was my own beloved wife; nor, that I might have an opportunity of speaking highly of her, most worthy though she was of it; but that I may magnify the Lord in giving her to me, in leaving her to me so long, and in taking her from me to Himself. During the six days that my beloved wife was on her deathbed, my soul was sustained by the truth contained in the words of our text. Whether she was more easy from pain, or in severe pain; whether there was a little prospect that she might yet be given back to me, or whether all hope was gone; my soul was sustained by these words. They were ever present with me, and I rested my soul on them. When it pleased God to take my darling wife to Himself, my soul was so sustained by these words, that if I had gone out that evening to preach, I should have preached on this text. I desire now, as God may help me, for the benefit of my younger fellow-believers in Christ particularly, to dwell on the truth contained in these words, with reference to my beloved departed wife.
I. The Lord was good, and did good, in giving her to me.
II. He was good, and did good in so long leaving her to me.
III. He was good, and did good, in taking her from me.” – George Mueller (Emphasis Added)
With tears streaming down his face he preached this. Sheldon Vanauken would call this a severe mercy. No’s are never easy. But they are from a sovereign God. Oh that we all would rest in Christ in the no’s. They may be severe or mild, but they are from God, and they are for our joy and His glory.
This Thanksgiving give thanks, with gusto. Feast and delight in The Lord. But also consider the no’s in your life, and thank Him for them. The no’s that you have seen the end of and how he was at work even when you didn’t understand. And the ones you don’t currently have a solid grasp on.
*Though I think Easter is catching up. Both are distinctly Christian and lack the strong consumeristic oomph and secularization that keeps Christmas going strong over them. Easter I think stays ahead because it lands in a spot yearly where most people would like a holiday to pop in and provide an excuse to eat chocolate and buy new clothes.
**If you were raised Southern Baptist obviously those glasses were filled with sparkling cider or Grape Juice. Because God forbid we get to carried away in our praise and gratitude. The Lord really hates to be praised after a string of double scotches.