Thanksgiving is not the same as happiness

In the front yard of my grandparent’s house, there is a well. If you open the lid, cool air rushes up in the summer. The well may date to the first cabin built there well over 175 years ago.  A geologist classified the farm soil as Eden Soil. Eden Soil contains huge slabs of limestone several feet thick and long that float unconnected in loose soil. If you look down the sides of this hand dug well, you see the rocky outcropping where the laborers chipped through rock here and left a larger rock there. The well shaft spans anywhere from 4 to 6 feet and goes down maybe 40 or 50 feet. I can’t imagine the effort of hand digging a hole that deep. The shaft ends in a little pool of crystal clear water, an underground stream of living water, always moving and renewing the pool. If you stick your head in the hole you can hear the water’s faint gurgle. My grandfather rigged a pulley system to lower milk cans, butter and cheese curds down on a little platform to keep them cool.

Gutters off the farm house and out buildings catch rainwater and direct the water into a huge underground concrete lined cistern behind the house. The cistern functioned as my grandparent’s primary water source. At my first church, a farmer corrected my prayer telling me, “Farmers always pray for rain.” The cistern held those showers of blessings that fell from Heaven. Still, once during a drought, mother recalled the cistern ran dry. So they lowered the buckets into the ancient hand hewn well and pulled up clear nourishing water.

What nourishes your soul? From where does the living water flow?

Be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18-20)

The Hebrew Bible’s words for thanksgiving are not passive nouns. Thanksgiving is an action word meaning “to give praise” or “to offer thanks”, “to sing praises to God” or even “to confess sin or God’s grandeur.”   Thanksgiving is not a feeling that arises from getting some good thing, but a deep recognition of human sinfulness and the goodness and mercy of God.  

Thanksgiving is Thursday. Our market-driven culture seems to want to swallow Thanksgiving whole in a national spending frenzy. I saw an ad this week for Black Friday Month. Thanksgiving may oppose Black Friday, for if we give thanks for our things, we may not want to replace them with new ones! When a nation’s soul lacks gratitude to God it will wilt, spiritually dehydrate, and slowly die.

Our culture worships pleasure and happiness. Thanksgiving and happiness are not the same. Gratitude differs from pleasure. Gratitude turns the spade of praise, digging a shaft well below our surface pleasures into the deeper foundations of our souls. Thanksgiving looks beyond easily shaken pleasures, temporary anxieties, or happy moments to tap eternal joys. Gratitude needs only three pillars to stand- faith- hope and love, these three and the greatest is love. (1 Corinthians 13)

Are surface pleasures a bad thing? The Amish and Mennonites dress in plain clothes and live simply in order to reject the lure of luxury. The next time you pass a horse drawn buggy or see a woman in a bonnet, remember John the Baptist dressed in the plainest fashion and James rails against luxury (Luke 7:25 & James 5:5). Indeed, our Lord tells us not to worry about fashion, but that we will find peace when we seek God’s Kingdom before anything else (Matthew 6:25-34). Hear the good news, Jesus enjoyed a good meal and glass of wine, and his critics blasted him for it! (Matthew 11:19)

Our spiritual problem comes when our pleasures define us. A good meal, your team winning, a sunny day, a rainy day, the Super Moon, or a set of new clothes are nice, but not eternal. Jesus tells us these pleasures go away. Your new car gets a scratch, your team gets eliminated, the praise band is flat, your favorite jeans wear out, your brand new dress snags on a door jam, your phone falls into the sink, and they cancel your show. Consume is the root word of consumer.   Worship and consumption are not the same.

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

Did you notice Jesus’ order?   Jesus warns your heart will follow your treasure! We often think our treasure follows the inclinations of heart, but Jesus warns we can lose our souls to our stuff. Maybe the Amish are onto something!

A good meal will not cure your soul’s longing; neither will a new house, or a national championship license plate! We surely praise God for the good things that happen in our lives. Pausing to notice the blessing, or as the old Gospel song said, “count your blessing, name them one by one, count your blessing see what God has done,” does much to lift the soul.   Still, we need an active Thanksgiving that digs deeper past the surface run-off into the below bedrock living waters. We need to dig deeper, sit longer, find solitude, enter the wilderness, turn off the noise, pause the mediated reality, and be thankful and then streams of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control will begin to flow. It takes effort. The Apostle Paul speaks of crucifying the stuff, passions and surface pleasures in order to taste the spiritual fruit. (Galatians 5:22-25)

Pleasure and gratitude are vastly different. The things that bring pleasure are just happy things that lack the power to root your soul. They won’t nourish you in dry seasons. They will not be the solid rock foundation of your life that holds you together when the storms of life come (Matthew 7:24-29). No, happiness, passion and pleasure are shifting sands- beautiful sandcastles. They come and go with the fashions and fade with time. Pleasures can be wonderful, but they are not permanent or eternal. Sure, we thank God for them, but we do not root our lives in pleasure or passion or even happiness.

So many of us try to maintain a façade of pleasure when underneath our souls are drying out, cracking apart, and growing harder. We self-medicate. We run from event to event, hoping to escape our inner life. We are afraid to pause and become still before a Holy God or even ourselves. The Psalmist knew how to dig deeper below surface pleasures- to press God and even wrestle God. Gratitude digs deeper.

Hear the Psalmist speak to God and their own soul about the allure of living for surface pleasures. (Psalm 73 adapted)

Truly God is good to those whose hearts are pure. But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. For I envied the proud,  when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. They seem to live such painless lives. They don’t have troubles. They wear pride like a fancy necklace and clothe themselves with cruelty. These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for, and their words strut throughout the earth. Look at these wicked people— enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply.

Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? I get nothing but trouble all day long! So I tried to understand…but what a difficult task!

Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood

Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. I was so foolish and ignorant—  I must have seemed senseless to You. Yet I still belong to You; You hold my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but You?  I desire You more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,     but God remains the strength of my heart; The Lord is mine forever.  I have made the Sovereign Lord my shelter.


In a dry season, when the surface happiness dries up, the Psalmist digs deeper. Moving past the surface pleasures, past distractions, past a hedonism that forsakes the eternal for pleasure, past what in spiritual drought seems hard and impenetrable, past temporary hopes, they dig down until the eternal living waters of God begin flowing, nourishing their soul.

Gratitude takes work, grappling with God and your soul. Thanksgiving takes spiritual exertion and time.   It takes digging. Jesus led the woman at the well through a series of tough soul bending questions before she discovered the Living Water. (John 4)

On Thanksgiving, I know that we Purdue’s may find our showers of blessing and surface happiness a bit dry. Mom’s Lively Chocolate and Aunt Margarete’s Sweet Potato Pie may bring unfamiliar tears to our eyes as we celebrate our first feast without Mother. That is okay, Jesus does not call us to be happy- but to give thanks. However, if we will enter the Lord’s Sanctuary and dwell there long enough, we will find understanding and gratitude. If we dig a little deeper on that day, then we will say thanks be to God for all that we have. We grieving children will say thanks be to God for Joann Sims Purdue who loved us, who poured love into us that we now can pour into others. And if we might push the spiritual spade a bit deeper we might ponder eternal life, we might find faith, hope, and love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness , and self-control. We all have that promise in the Holy Spirit, and the chance to sow that fruit into our world.

Thursday, I hope your day is full of good things, but do not let the smell of turkey, the business of cooking, or the lure of Black Friday pull you away from entering the Lord’s Sanctuary. Stay long enough with Jesus and your soul to find that Living Water that never runs dry. Amen

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