Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails,
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold,
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
and makes me tread upon the heights.
To the leader: with stringed instruments.
God and our Response
Happy Thanksgiving. It’s a wonderful day. What beautiful autumn weather. You know I was reflecting on Thanksgiving and I realized that we don’t give thanks when things are going alright. We give thanks when things get rough and tough and life gets entangled. Strange isn’t it? But that is real Thanksgiving. Why is that so? Because Thanksgiving is not our response to our situation, but our response to God.
Today, the Prophet Habakkuk said, “though the fig tree does not blossom and no fruit is on the vines, though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food, though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no hurt in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, yet I will rejoice in the Lord.” Was he gone mad? No, he was not mad. He knew the essence of Thanksgiving. If he thought that Thanksgiving was his response to his situation, he would not have been able to say that. How could he say that? How could he be thankful when he lost everything. When he didn’t have anything.
So we realized, I realized that Thanksgiving is our spiritual response to God, not our human response to our reality, and that is what Thanksgiving is. When you look at St. Paul, after believing in Jesus Christ, he lost everything. He lost his family. He lost his fortune. He lost his status. He lost his position. He lost everything. He became nobody. He even said that “I have become a laughing stock of the world.” He lost everything, and yet he said, “give thanks in all circumstances.” Wow, there must be a secret there, “give thanks in all circumstances.” All these disciples of Jesus Christ, after meeting Christ, they lost everything and yet their hearts were filled with Thanksgiving. Henry Nowan, who is a Catholic priest who used to teach at Harvard University, said when he was at Harvard, he was filled with complaints about his life. But when he came to Toronto, in the northern Richmond Hill, a debrief community, he lived with people who had mental and physical challenges and then he said he was filled with Thanksgiving. He learned what it meant to give thanks. When he was at Harvard, he couldn’t do that, but when he was in that situation, he was able to do that.
I used to go to New York quite often for speaking engagements and then at one retreat I heard a story about this youth pastor. This youth pastor didn’t have much money and then a congregation member gave him the car she used to use, but it was an old car so it broke down quite often. One winter it broke down, so he went out and tried to fix it. During that time you could fix it, now its more difficult, but you used to do that. So he ran out to fix the car, but there was another car, a woman driving, and then she skidded. It was in the winter and it hit him. So he was in between the two cars, against his car and her car. But she was so scared and shocked, so she pulled out but skidded again.
But unconsciously she did that about three or four times and his leg was not just broken but shattered. So they all felt bad and on the day of his surgery, they had to cut off his leg. On the day of his surgery all the congregation members came out and with tears and all that and while he was going in his hospital bed, he said, “Don’t cry, let us sing. God is so good, God is so good.” In that circumstance, he gave thanks, he gave the prayer of Thanksgiving, not because he doesn’t have that one leg anymore, but because in spite of that there is God, because of God. That is what true Thanksgiving is. Thanksgiving is not our human response to our situations, but it is a spiritual response to God. So I put the sermon title as “Condition for Thanksgiving”, but there’s no condition that you cannot be thankful for, in all circumstances, we can be thankful for. The only condition that I can see is a condition inside of us, within us, whether we have that or not, either we can give Thanksgiving or not. I think that is faith and spirituality. Faith we have inside of us and the spirituality we have inside of us. They are the conditions for our Thanksgiving and then I realized that Thanksgiving is not what you do once in awhile when good things happen to you, Thanksgiving is a lifestyle.
Reaction to Circumstances
It is your attitude towards life, not because we feel like being thankful, but we give thanks because that’s who we are. We are people of thankful hearts. Our thankful circumstances do not bring thankful hearts, but our thankful heart brings thankful circumstances. Let me say that again. Our thankful circumstances do not bring thankful hearts. Our thankful heart brings thankful circumstances. Often it is not our best circumstances that destroy us, but it’s our attitude towards the best circumstances that destroy us. Some people after bad experiences or bad circumstances, they come out stronger. They come out greater, they come out wiser. But for some people because of bad circumstances, their life becomes ruined. So it is not just bad circumstances, it is our attitude towards the bad circumstances that either destroy us or lifts us up.
Even in our best circumstances, we should be thankful. When difficult situations come, many people worry about the future and soon fear traps them and they respond to situations with anger and frustration and they become very negative and they become worse because of that attitude. But when we respond to our bad circumstances with thanksgiving, we’ll be able to keep the positive attitude and nothing can destroy us. Even though I may not have any of those, my circumstances can never destroy me. When we build a strong spirituality, we can be strong. Being strong does not mean to have strong muscles. Being strong means to be thankful in all circumstances. Thanksgiving opens up our lives and breaks the bad cycle. That bad cycle is a cycle of complaint.
Habit and Discipline
Complaining is a habit. Thanksgiving is a discipline. If you just habitually do things, you will always complain, but Thanksgiving is discipline, spiritual discipline. The only thing that can break the habit of complaining is Thanksgiving. That’s why we need to discipline ourselves to learn to be thankful in all circumstances so that we can break the cycle of dissatisfaction and complaint in our lives. Mary Jo Leddy, in her book “Radical gratitude”, said “In gratitude, the vicious cycle of dissatisfaction with life is broken and we begin anew in the recognition of what we have rather than in what we do not have. In the acknowledgment of who we are rather than in the awareness of who we are not.” Gratitude is the foundation of faith in God, as the creator of all beginnings, great and small. We have to break the cycle of dissatisfaction. Complaining, dissatisfaction and all these things are poison to our spirit.
People who live with a complaint, they live with poison and it is. It poisons our spirituality. It poisons our spirit. As long as we continue our lifestyle of a complaint, we can never build spirituality. We can never build a good Christian faithful life. The more you complain, the more you become enslaved to your dissatisfaction. Not because people complain, not because there are good reasons to complain, even when there’s nothing to complain they make up reasons to complain because it has become a habit in them. The best way to deal with that is to give thanks intentionally. From small things to big things, learn to be thankful. There are so many things to be thankful every day, every moment. There are so many things to be thankful. So I said in a Happiness seminar “Get a journal, the Journal of Thanksgiving. Every day write down five to seven items to be thankful. Just simple. Just get a journal every day. Write down, write down five to seven things that you are thankful for that day.” In that way, you can discipline yourself to be thankful. When you start being thankful, amazing things can happen in your lives. When you continuously complain, you will run into the deeper and deeper darkness. But when you give thanks in all circumstances, every day, the joy will come back. You will experience the beauty of life, the beauty of people and friends and the beauty of the world.
Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you for being here.