November 16, 2013

Chester V. Clark III: Practicing Thanksgiving

— This is a favorite time of year for me. With the crisp air of fall around, the crunch of colorful leaves beneath and the smell of fresh picked apples from the north Georgia mountains in my home, it’s hard to not be thankful for God’s many blessings.  

In the United States we celebrate a unique holiday this time of year — Thanksgiving. The first thing we often associate with Thanksgiving is the gastronomical delights of a special dinner. Add to this fabulous food the tradition of gathering family and the fellowship they bring and it’s no wonder many find it a favorite time of the year. Like the first Thanksgiving, it is an opportunity to reflect on God’s goodness and provisions in the past year.

But what if things aren’t going so well in our lives right now? Can we still enjoy a holiday centered around gratitude?

Things weren’t going so well for David. Oh, for sure he’d had some things go well in life. He’d killed the giant Goliath and become a household name in Israel. He had been invited to the palace to play music for the moody king, and become fast friends of the young prince Jonathan. He’d married a princess. And, surprisingly enough as the youngest son in his family, and only a shepherd boy, he’d been anointed by the prophet Samuel to be a future king.

But recently his fortunes had turned. Saul, knowing he was losing his grasp on the kingdom, had recently hurled a dagger at the young harpist. Knowing his life was in grave danger, David fled. As he escaped he stopped by the Tabernacle in Shiloh and asked some unusual favors of Ahimelech the priest. Though suspicious that something was amiss, as someone as famous as David wouldn’t usually be traveling alone, Ahimelech granted David food (from the bread the priests usually ate) and a weapon (Goliath’s sword, which had been kept in the house of God since David’s singular victory).

Leaving behind his familiar country, David fled to the land of the Philistines. But soon he was recognized as Israel’s military hero and had to resort to a unique strategy to convince Achish, king of Gath, that he actually posed no threat to the kingdom: he feigned mental illness (1 Samuel 21:13). Allowed to leave Gath, David made his way to a cave. From the cave of Adulam he ran to Moab, and then back to his home country, in the forests of Hereth, hiding as a fugitive from his own king and father-in-law. While there he heard the disastrous news that King Saul, unable to find David, had learned of Ahimelech the priest’s unwitting aiding and abetting of an enemy of the throne. Furious, the king had all of the priests (except one who escaped) slaughtered on the spot. Imagine how David must have felt when he heard this news!

Many of us would have been discouraged. With comparatively smaller trials we feel abandoned by God. But not David. In the fastness of his forest hideout he picked up his harp and began composing a song of thanksgiving (Psalm 34):

“I will bless the Lord at all times;

“His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

“My soul shall make its boast in the Lord;

“The humble shall hear of it and be glad.

“Oh, magnify the Lord with me,

“And let us exalt his name together.”

You see, David had a habit of thanking God, not just when things were going well in his life, but at all times. He had cultivated a thankful spirit, and had confidence that God had a purpose for his life and would see him through. He was still alive! So far God had not kept him from trouble, but had spared him even as he endured troubles.

“This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him,

“And saved him out of all his troubles ...

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good;

“Blessed is the man who trusts in him!”

What are you encountering this year as we near the holiday season? For some of you, the year has gone well and you’re on top of the world. Perhaps others have had trials and troubles multiplying. Whatever our circumstances, I’d encourage you to cultivate the habit of praising the Lord “at all times,” and especially this time of year remember his goodness to you. Remember that he has a plan (an eternal plan!) for your life, and he will see you through.

Happy Thanksgiving!