April Motl is a pastor’s wife who loves to laugh, loves her man, loves to talk on the phone entirely too long and most of all, loves her Lord. Collaborating with the efforts of her husband Eric, the two of them share a ministry dedicated to bringing God’s Word into the everyday lives of married couples, men and women. April has been privileged through her own church and ministry outside her local body to share God's Word with women ranging in ages and stages, across denominations, and walks of life. April is a graduate from Southern California Seminary and has written for Just Between Us Magazine, Dayspring's (In)courage, and The Secret Place and also writes regularly for crosswalk.com, iBelieve.com and Women's Ministry Tools. For more information, visit Motl Ministries at: www.MotlMinistries.com
Thanksgiving is my husband’s favorite holiday. And yes, it’s because of the food! Early in our marriage he told me he’d just love it if I could learn to cook a really good Thanksgiving dinner and over the years, apparently I’ve stumbled on the secrets to scoring Thanksgiving food touchdowns for his scoreboard (considering the un-kitchen-fied way I came into adulthood, that is nothing short than a bonafide miracle!). But beyond the fresh herbs for the perfect stuffing, or my auntie’s recipe for cranberries, the Thanksgiving we observe in our heart comes in a variety of flavors as well.
Just like a really good Thanksgiving dinner usually involves a few different dishes from different friends and family members, the cornucopia of thanks we offer also usually involves a smorgasbord of perspectives. And while we might find one kind of thanks a little easier to swallow than another, God is honored by the array of different places our gratitude and praise come from; so no matter what season of life we find ourselves in this year, we have a beautiful gift of thanks to bring to the Lord’s table.
Untethered Thankful Joy
Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20
This is probably what we think of most often when we consider thanksgiving--joy and gratitude for something that turned out “exceedingly, abundantly beyond all we could ask or imagine.” It’s the joy that comes from receiving our heart’s desire in ways that were completely delightful, surprising, and awe-inspiring. It brings tears of gratitude to our eyes, causes our knees to bend in thanks, and gives wings to our hearts.
Of all my experiences with this kind of soaring joy, the way the Lord knit my heart and my man’s together is probably the most constant and tangible place I have experienced this kind of gratitude. There’s a lot of life that has been filled with pain, but God has consistently brought sweet joy to my heart through my husband. My early life experiences has made the love the Lord has poured out through him a beautiful surprise.
Then there’s thankfulness that comes from seeing God’s hand work in a specific way amidst a circumstance and the outcome was completely not what you were originally wishing for, but God could see what was just around the bend and knew that giving you this instead of that (or removing this instead of that) would be just the blessing you needed for the right time and circumstance.
Like the way the Holy Spirit guided Paul through his missionary journeys chronicled in Acts, God sometimes shuts doors or opens them for us to bless His purposes in our lives. But along the path, it can be hard to see the good in the closed door. Yet, with eyes of faith we can watch the “doors” in our life with assurance and gratitude because God will open them in the right time or open a new one for us.
I’ve had much of this kind of gratitude in my life. God has blessed us abundantly by closing doors we wanted open because He was protecting us. He has allowed us to be sifted and refined so that we would be able to grow, learn, change, mature and then understand life in a new, needed, and blessed way.
As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness;
I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake. Psalm 17:15
There’s times when the sweet joy that comes from God’s hand is mixed in with a reminder that we aren’t home yet. I think sometimes God allows us to have beautiful happiness that carries with it a touch of something painful because the trouble reminds us not to set our eyes on the things of this world for our fulfillment. These moments remind us it is only when we awake in the Lord’s presence with His face before us that will find true and complete satisfaction.
This year two of my longest held prayer requests (and yes, they were Biblical requests and very near to God’s heart) were answered with a “No.” Because I am confident that God’s heart is to work in the ways I was praying, I sometimes wonder if perhaps He was willing to do the work, but the individuals involved were not. But mixed in with these closed doors, the Lord opened a door I had given up praying for; after almost a decade of infertility, God blessed us with a beautiful baby! His arrival came with complications that stretched us and as soon as we were finally home with our bundle, that second prayer request of ours was answered through the death of a loved one. Both the “Yes” and the “No-s” took my breath away. But in both of them we praised God. Because He is good and sovereign and because this world is not our home, but one day we will all be home together with Him in perfect, unfettered peace. He knows what He is doing even when I don’t understand. And there is thankfulness to be treasured in that.
Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God. Psalm 42:11
Then there’s gratitude that comes from faith because the eyes of our heart are covered over with the pain of circumstance and we can’t see our Father’s face at the moment. We can’t see His eyes set carefully watching us, or feel His hands wrapped gently around us, because all we feel at the moment is pain. Sometimes we can’t distinguish the difference between the darkness of this world and the shadow of God’s wings where He is keeping us close to His heart because life is just too confusing and hard. There is still gratitude to be found, even in that place. He is still holding us. And with faith we can say we will yet praise Him.
Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. Hebrews 13:15
A sacrifice of praise is beautiful to our Father. The women at our church shared in a Thanksgiving praise and worship night last week. One of the main women involved in the event brought such a sacrifice of praise that I don’t even have words for the depth of emotion my heart felt for her. A very precious part of her life has come undone. And while I know she was raw with grief, she was there bringing us to the Father’s throne in worship.
God Alone Gratitude
Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His love endures forever. Psalm 118:11
This is perhaps the sweetest song of gratitude to God’s ears--when we are thankful because of who He is. When we are thankful because of God’s character rather than being thankful for just the “stuff,” I think that is precious territory in our spiritual journeying. Sometimes those seasons of sacrificial thanksgiving lead us into the places where we see how God is all we need when He is all we have.
Regardless of the kind of gratitude you are experiencing right now, whether or not your table is filled with family, friends and food, I pray your heart would be free and filled to give thanks to your Father in heaven this season and always.