Setting aside a time of thanksgiving once a year is an ancient tradition for many people groups, including the Hebrew tribes. Before they entered the Land of Promise, God instructed them on the several festivals they were to keep each year, including a day of feasting at the Lord’s table soon after the year’s first harvest.

In the wilderness, everyone daily ate at God’s table, as manna from heaven would cover the ground every morning. But once they entered Canaan, the time of manna would end. Instead, by faith, they were to till their own fields given to them by God, and tend their own herds as God grew grass, sent rain and sun, and caused the verdant land to yield its increase.

A yearly thanksgiving meal with God was meant not only for the people to express gratitude to the Lord, but also for God to enjoy fellowship with the Lord’s beloved people.

That fellowship is one of appreciation and sharing.

A Time for Reflection

In reflecting on the past year, consider writing down a summary, perhaps on a piece of paper. On one side go our own words, with two categories.

On the other side go God’s words to us, God’s response to our remembrances.

A Time for Feasting

I remember the first time I read the passage below, years ago as I was preparing to teach a Bible class. What a remarkable thing for God to do, I thought. It is as though the Lord wanted to host a party, and simply enjoy the food and the guests. The Lord wanted everyone to savor this yearly event, to relish God’s gifts.

This was God’s invitation to every Jewish family. Once a year, everyone was invited to feast at God’s table, eating all their favorite foods, drinking wine and strong drink, delicacies saved for very special occasions, and the first fruits of their harvest, the best of the best.

It was to be in every way a thanksgiving feast, a time of rejoicing, something enjoyed with God, and God would take great pleasure in it too.

A Time for Thanksgiving

A yearly Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to reflect on what we appreciate—relationships, life experiences, and life events. So here comes the first thing. What comes to mind that you’re thankful for?

Write it down, but leave some space for the second thing.

When we are feeling great in life, then Thanksgiving feels like a great holiday.

But what if things are not going well? What if we are under a heavy load of some kind, or suffering loss, life is not working out. What if instead of looking forward to Thanksgiving, it just makes us feel lonely and tired instead?

How is it possible to be thankful when it doesn’t seem like there’s anything to be thankful for?

A Time for Deep Sharing

Here is that passage again, with a new passage beside it.

The Lord makes God’s heart vulnerable to people. Loving and being loved is founded upon vulnerability, letting ourselves be truly seen and truly heard. So I started looking throughout the Bible for evidence of this shared vulnerability with God.

The invitation to feast with God is there, every year, but I think the feasting, and God’s desire to gladden our hearts, and by the way, God’s anticipation of being gladdened—being blessed—by us goes beyond just thanking God for all the things that feel good.

Sometimes, as we feast with God, we share our troubles, what hurts, what angers, what discourages, what saddens.

This is the second thing. Write down what is weighing heavy on you, what makes you feel lonely or sad and tired inside, or angry or frustrated. It is probably the last thing you or I would say out loud, especially at a festive Thanksgiving meal. But it is our truest truth, and to be truly known and seen and felt, this is the truth you and I share with the One Who loves us infinitely and eternally.

But it would not be much of a conversation if it is just a monologue.

Every Tuesday morning I meet with three other friends and we do a prayer of thanksgiving together. We spend some time writing down what we are thankful for, including the hard things. Then we write down what we hear the Lord saying back to us. That is what the other side of the paper is for.

A Time to Commune

As you and I tune our hearts to the sound of God’s voice within us, here are a few passages from scripture to help hear God’s heart towards us. I also include music by a composer I have come to admire. His musical sensitivity captures the nuances of emotion we often are at a loss to know how to say.

“Survived” by Aleksandr Shamaluev, Kiev, Ukraine

What is the Lord saying to you this morning in response to what you have shared with the God?

Next Time in New Jerusalem

One day we will all feast together with God, a feast Jesus is even now looking forward to celebrating with us.

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