Friday, January 29, 2010


As a preacher, I cordially dislike Thanksgiving. Not the action, but the holiday. Okay, that's not true. I like the holiday, but I struggle with preaching on Thanksgiving.

True gratitude is one of the most enjoyable things I have experienced. To be grateful to someone is to know your connection with them, to acknowledge your joyful dependence on them, and to recognize the blessing that has come from that relationship. Gratitude is fun. So "giving thanks" is a huge part of our relationship with God, and it is probably impossible to do too much "giving thanks" in our prayers. We are absolutely dependent on God for everything we have and are, and as we recognize that dependence, we can experience great joy. So I love giving thanks. Every evening when we pray as a family, my prayers start out with thanks to God for many things that day.

But I dislike preaching on Thanksgiving because there is a tremendous temptation as a preacher to say, in some way, "YOU SHOULD BE THANKFUL!" This gracious opportunity for joyful dependence becomes instead a law-laden guilt trip that says, "You're a self-centered boor; you own too much stuff and you spend too much of your income on yourself and the least you could do is be thankful for the ability to overindulge." I know preachers don't really say that at Thanksgiving, but it feels like it sometimes. Anytime we use the word "should" we are probably dropping cement blocks of Law on people's shoulders.

A friend used to say, "Don't should on me."

There's the danger with this text -- Genesis 2:1-3. God finishes his work of creating the universe in six days, and on the seventh day he rests. So he makes Day 7 holy forever. This verse became the root of the Jews' Sabbath observance, the root of the tradition of not working on Sundays, blue laws, and all the rest. We see this text as normative for our own scheduling. We recognize (and the scientific establishment has verified) the importance of taking a day out of seven to rest. This is a gracious gift from a loving God.

But it's very easy, especially these days, to beat ourselves up by how unrestful we are. Christian teachers and leaders -- myself included -- harp on our busy schedules, our overcommitments, our scattered lives, our failures to "be still and know that I am God," as Psalm 46 says. We flog ourselves with our busy-ness. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, we say (from the old Latin liturgy, I am guilty, I am guilty, I am most guilty). Then we go back to our calendars, cars, schedules, cell phones, and all the rest of the accoutrements that clutter our lives and keep us from rest.

Maybe beating ourselves up doesn't work. Maybe it doesn't really change things. Maybe we like being busy and this idea of rest scares us a little bit. (Is it possible that we're so enslaved to the need to be productive -- see my post on fruitfulness -- that we can't bear to leave an hour unfilled?)

So the question I have to ask when I bump up against these verses in Genesis is, what am I missing? Like a kid filling himself on Doritos just before an amazing Thanksgiving dinner is laid out on the table, have I filled my life so full that there's no room for what God wants? And what is it God wants?

If you start thinking about this and start to beat yourself up, go do something else for a while. Forget it. But if the idea of rest sounds like a cup of cold water to a thirsty person, if you're dying from clutter and overcommitment and longing for peace, if you have been staying in bed just three more minutes and wishing it could be another hour -- not to sleep, just to relax -- if being busy is hurting you and you're ready to consider alternatives -- I have a recommendation. It's a book by an amazing writer, Mark Buchanan, who is a pastor of sorts in western Canada. He has written a book called
The Rest of God (pun intended) that takes on this whole idea of resting in a new and different way. Just as a for example, when he talks about setting aside a day for rest, the first question that comes up is, "What can't I do on that day?" Can I go shopping? Can I mow the lawn? Can I read a book? Can I cook supper? I really like his answer. He says his rule of thumb is, if it's a day of rest, don't do anything you have to do. So if you don't have to mow the lawn, you can do it. If you don't have to go shopping and that would be a restful thing for you, do it. If cooking supper is a delight that gives you life and you don't need to do it (you have options), go ahead.

I like it.

I think Jesus is big into our resting. He often told his disciples to go away and rest. He took time alone to rest. When he faced a crisis or had been in the middle of intensity for too long, he rested.

What am I missing?

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

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