John Fuller: We asked several staff members in the hallways what they’re thankful for and here’s what they said:
Eva: This year, I’m thankful for my sons; they’re 3 and 5 years old and they just add so much joy and fun to my life.
Mike: I’m thankful that we can live in a state where we can hike and experience nature.
Kathryn: I’m thankful this year for technology because I just moved away from my family so it helps me keep in touch with them.
Ashley: This year I’m thankful that my family is healthy and happy.
Brian: I’m thankful for the opportunity each evening where I get to sit with my daughters before they go to sleep and talk with them.
End of Excerpt
John: Well, those are just a few things that each one of us can be thankful for and we want to take some time today to remember those things for which we can be grateful as we celebrate Thanksgiving. Welcome to Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, I love Thanksgiving! You get to spend time with your family, eat great food-- thank you, Jean-- and of course you get to watch some football here and there! (chuckling) But most importantly, it’s time to gather together and thank God for all of His blessings toward us. And in Psalm 95:2-3, it says, “Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving. Let us make a joyful noise to him with songs and praise, for the Lord is a great God and a great king above all gods.”
So I want to take this opportunity to say that I’m thankful for just the Lord’s work through the ministry here at Focus on the Family. I mean, it’s fun every day to come in and help save marriages and help parents do a better job and lead people to Christ! I mean, it just is something we should be skipping into the office here for, John, and it’s so wonderful. Hundreds of thousands of babies saved through Option Ultrasound and I hope you supporting and doing, through that support, the work of the ministry, you are thankful for that as well. You know, it’s one thing to be here in the bone and the flesh and have to do it, but you guys participate in that by supporting the ministry. I truly am grateful to you. And I can’t wait to be in heaven, just all of us together, saying, Lord, we hope this pleased you, what we have accomplished. And of course, I’m thankful for my wonderful family, for Jean and our two wonderful boys and what we can do in the foster care for those kids coming in and out of our house.
John: Well, yeah, you’ve got a lot going on, Jim. And I certainly am thankful for my family. I love that verse, ‘cause it reminds me that God’s grace is so abundant and he gives so many gifts and I’m trying to open my eyes just to-- not just the big things in His work in my heart and in my family’s life but also just the little gifts that He gives. I think He-- somebody talked about little kisses from God and I think He sends things like a sunrise or a sunset and those are really rich little things we can be thankful for.
Today we want to help you kind of get your eyes up and onto God and to see the gifts that He’s given you. And I think you’ll enjoy the treat we have, which includes a free download of this broadcast. You can find that and of course a lot of other great resources at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Yeah, here’s a question-- now, I’ve got to admit, this sounds like a guy question everybody (chuckle), but why should we say thank you? Especially to God? He knows we’re thankful. So why do we have to say it again? And I think Dr. R.T. Kendall answered this beautifully in a conversation we had with him a while back.
John: And Dr. Kendall is a pastor, he has written more than 60 books. Here he reminds us that no matter what, we always have a reason to thank God.
R.T. Kendall: When I was still at Westminster Chapel, we were preaching through Philippians and when we came to chapter 4, verse 6, it says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, make your request known to God.” I was preaching on that.
I can tell you, this does not happen to me every day, but that day, when I focused on those two words, “With thanksgiving,” I felt so convicted. And I thought, “Lord, help me to get through this sermon, because I want to get down to the vestry and repent.” It was as though my whole life came before me.
And the Lord reminded me of one thing after another that He had done for me and He said, “R.T., are youthankfulfor that?” And I said, “Well, yes.” “You didn’t tell Me.” And when I got back to the vestry, I made a vow that I would be athankfulman for the rest of my life.
I keep a journal and I can tell you where I was at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, April 2nd, 1987. I do that, you know. it’s something I do. What I do now every day is read my journal for yesterday, go through every item and thank the Lord for every little thing. And you know how long it takes? About 20 seconds, that’s all.
Jim: Just to write a few—
R.T.: But it’s—
Jim: --things down.
R.T.: --just a way of beingthankful. So, when you ask the question, you know, it sounded a little prideful or presumptuous, but I havevowedto bethankful. And something I found out that I didn’t know about when I wrote the book, did you know medical science has shown thatthankfulpeople live longer?
Jim: Oh, I believe that.
R.T.: Yeah, yeah. It ... it’s been statistically proved [sic],thankfulpeople live longer.
Jim: Is gratitude a feeling or is it uh ... simply more than that? What is gratitude andthankfulness?
R.T.: Well, it is a feeling, but it does need to be expressed. And I remember when uh ... we had a prayer meeting at Westminster Chapel and uh ... we had done this for years, uh ... an hour before the evening service. And I said, “Tonight we are not going to ask for anything. We’re just gonna bethankful. And we’re gonna spend the whole 30 minutes thanking God. No petitions, no requests. So, let us pray.”
Total silence. I said, “What’s the matter with you people? Aren’t youthankful?” And silence. And I said, “Well, is anybodythankfulfor salvation?” Oh, yeah, one man said, “Well, Lord we thank You that You’ve saved us.” And I said, “What about Jesus? Are youthankfulfor Jesus?” “Well, yes.” “Well ... well tell Him.” In other words, going through the most obvious things.
People say, “Oh, He doesn’t need to hear that. He ... He knows.” I said, “Wrong.” We take it for granted. Do you remember when Jesus healed 10 lepers. Only one came back and said, “Thank you.” And the first thing Jesus said, “Where are the nine? Where are the nine?”
So, I have come up with these principles, Jim. God loves gratitude. God hates ingratitude. Gratitude must be taught.
Jim: R.T., do you think, putting myself in that situation, trying to understand why people were hesitant, do you think it was an unfamiliarity with it or as you said, they just didn’t know how to express. Why is it important to express things to God? Let me ask it that way.
R.T.: Because He said to. That’s the reason. It ... it’s a command. The Psalmist again and again, “Give thanks to the Lord. Enter into His courts with praise, with thanksgiving.” And God wants to be told this. This is the thing that convicted me while I was preaching that day on Philippians 4:6. I saw it so clearly. And you know, it was ... I don’t say this was an audible voice. I’m not saying that, but it was as powerful as if it were. It was as if the Lord said, “R.T., you come from Kentucky. You make it to Westminster Chapel. Not bad for a boy from Kentucky. Are you thankful?” “Well, yes, Lord.” “You haven’t told Me.”
R.T.: I said, “Well, Lord, Youknow; YouknowI’mthankful.” And this is the thing that was put on my heart for days. And that’s why I wrote this book. God just wants you to tell him.
John: Such a good reminder of how important it is for us to be thankful and to have those conversations with God. You know, if we’re being honest, it’s easy to thank Him when things are going well, but when things don’t go our way, we often forget to say thank you, don’t we? Here’s a friend of Focus on the Family, Susie Larson, who had to ask herself that question. Lord, where are You and why should I be thankful when things in her life kept going wrong.
Susie Larson: You know, coming into marriage, most of my friends were about four or five years older than me and so, they were a stage or two ahead of the game. They had nice homes. Their kids wore name-brand clothes. Parenting seemed to come out of instinct for them. So, I was quite sure that’s how my life would be.
Jim: Now was that real? Or is that what you perceived?
Susie: No, but—
Jim: Was that really where—
Susie: --they really—
Jim: --they were living?
Susie: --had a lot goin’ for them.
Susie: And they were in good stages of life. They had their health. They ... they had good lives and I’m sure they had their struggles. I know they did, but really um ... they had good lives. And so, you know, I really went into marriage going, “I want so much to raise authentic Christ-following kids who have a real faith and not somethin’ that they’ve put a face on and ... on Sunday morning.”
But I did not know that the way up would be down. And God had a different plan for us altogether. And the first seven yearsof our marriage were marked by unrelenting back-to-back crises. And for example, just many months on bed rest with high-risk pregnancies, followed by many more months in bed. I was bit unknowingly by the deer tick during my third pregnancy. So, after six months in bed, I spent many more months in bed, battling that terrible disease.
My little ones, two of ‘em had major respiratory issues, so we’re in and out of the hospital with them. When things started to get better for me, my husband ended up with cancer. So, we had our share. And I’ll be honest with you. I battled uh ... jealousy. I love my friends, but I would look at what they had and for the life of me, could not figure out why—
Susie: --I was a “have not.” And on top of that, you have well-meaning people who say things like, “You know, a loving God wouldn’t let that many hard things happen to one family unless you were maybe hiding sin. So—
Susie: --if you just come clean with whatever it is you’re dealing with.” And I truly would open my heart to say, “Speak into my life if You see anything. Nobody wants out of this more than I do.”
Jim: Sounds like a Job experience, I mean, almost verbatim.
Susie: It very, very much was. In fact, I actually had a lot of people ask if we’d read the book of Job. But um ... God was getting at something in me, because I’d become a striver and someone who’s really trying to earn my way. And so, when the ... when the foundation was cleared and it really culminated um ... one day. Our house was falling apart. We had s ... more debt than income with medical debt.
I’m laying on the couch, hooked up to a[n] IV therapy, hooked to our broken miniblinds. Our dryer had been broken for the umpteenth time, so we had a rope hanging across the living room with all ofthese clothes that I wanted to burn, ‘cause they were all old, beat-up, garage sale clothes.
And so, I ... it was a constant reminder in my face of where my life was going. Our house was really falling apart. Different people were taking care of my kids, because I was so sick. My husband barrels in the door, tryin’ to keep the mood light--bless his heart--and he blows a hole right through the entryway. (Laughter)
John: Oh, my goodness.
Susie: I mean, really, he stepped in and boom! The floor gave way and he was up to his armpits in a hole in our entryway. I’m hanging from this IV, looking at these clothes. I looked down into the entryway, my shell-shocked husband, who’s standing up to his armpits in this gaping hole and I said, “We are pathetic losers. (Laughter) We live in the money pit!” You know, I was beside myself.
And my sweet husband climbed out of the hole and I wanted to break down and cry, because it was such a ... such a terrible spot. But I opened up my journal and something inside inspired me to start writing the things I was thankful for.
And so, I said, “Lord, I thank You that I have a husband, who keeps coming home every day after work. He doesn’t keep driving. And he’s so good. I’m 20-something and I’m a debt. He married a lemon. I mean, I really felt like that. He got the raw end of this deal. I thank You that I have three little boys down the hall who are ... don’t know we’re in the crisis of our lives.”
Susie: “And ... and I have water I can get out of the faucet. And I have some food in the ‘fridgerator.” And before I knew it, I literally did fill three pages of my journal with things that I was so grateful for. And I was sobbing in gratitude. And at that moment, surrounded by that despicable mess, I was the wealthiest woman alive and I really did feel that way…
Jim: You and I have uh ... you know, amazing kindred spirits, I think, because you ... you’re the mom going through it. I was the little boy going through it in our respective families. Um ... there were days we had nothing to eat. I mean, literally. I can only imagine the pain in my single mom’s heart that I’d wake up and literally, we’d have a little ... maybe some Cheerios and we had to put Kool-Aid on ‘em, because we didn’t have any milk and then you take one bite of that and you spit it out and you go to school, ‘cause it’s disgusting. You have a similar story I think, with pancakes.
Susie: Yes, I remember that well. I um ... we didn’t have any food in the cupboards except a little bit of pancake mix. And I couldn’t ask friends for help. Church had helped. Friends had helped. I was at the end of myself. There ... I was not gonna ask one more person. It just ... I was at that point and I didn’t feel like God wanted me to either.
And I woke up already under mycircumstances, already depressed because we had more bills than income, more mouths to feed than food. And I was battling this disease. I was in my 20s. I felt like I was 90. I had ... my face pulsated for numbness ... with numbness for about three months and my eye twitched constantly for about three months. I had memory losses. I couldn’t remember at times who was the President at the moment and so horrifying and so scary to be so young, have three active little boys and to feel like, “I’m either gonna die or I’m gonna barely live, but this is killin’ me.”
I was walking down the hall, so depressed. And something fluttered, an opportunity fluttered within me. And it was just the Lord saying, “There’s an opportunity here.” And I opened up the cupboard and saw my ... my little bag of pancake mix. And I made one pancake, a big large one and put a candle in the middle. And I had my three chubby little boys sittin’ around the table on their phone books and booster chairs. And their eyes lit up like, “Who’s birthday is it?” you know. (Laughter)
And I put the plate in the middle of the table and I said, “Guys, aren’t we just so blessed.” I said, “Daddy’s out there workin’ so hard for us. We have this roof over our head. God is with us. We’re just gonna celebrate how blessed we are and we’re gonna eat off the same plate right now.”
And they just leaned in and they blew out the candle and we ate together. And then we went out and played in the sand box. And that again, was a landmark moment for me, because I was so depressed when I woke up. And God showed me that in every situation, there is a cause for thanksgiving.
John: In the New Testament, Paul admonishes us to rejoice always, pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances. That’s in 1 Thessalonians, chapter 5. This is John Fuller, along with Jim Daly. You’re listening to Focus on the Family and today we’re celebrating Thanksgiving and what it means to be thankful. And don’t forget, we have a free download of today’s broadcast and other thanksgiving programming at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
It’s important for us to look back and remember where this holiday comes from. Many of us know the story of the Pilgrims, but we often forget how difficult their first years were here in the New World. Let’s take a closer look at the story of the first Thanksgiving and listen to a conversation I had with American historian, Bill Federer, who explained the significance of that event.
Bill Federer: In Europe, prior to the pilgrims coming over, they had this philosophy that whatever the king believed, the kingdom had to believe. Well, in England, King Henry VIII was the head of the Anglican church. He was not a very spiritual gentleman. He ended up having six wives. Their fates were: divorce, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. So, there was a group of people that thought they wanted to purify the Church of England. They were nicknamed the Puritans.
Bill: The king didn’t think he needed any purifying, thank you, so he persecuted them. And so, they decided to come to the New World. They decided to go to the Jamestown Colony. Their ship was the Speedwell, but it didn’t speed very well and so, they started leaking. They had to take it back to England, using up precious supplies and precious time. And then they got into the smaller Mayflower.
The Mayflower left; took a couple months to come across. It was winter time now, so the North Atlantic was stormy--so stormy that the main beam cracked. And they had to ... one printer had his printer screw; stuck it under there; put the beam back in place. The deck was four-feet high--the under deck where they had to be confined and you can imagine crying babies. You know, one person died on the way over and a baby was born on the way over.
When they got to the New World, they had been blown off course and did not land in VA. So, they were north of there. They tried to come around, but the waves and the shoals were too great. So, they decided to land at Plymouth Rock. When they got ashore, they were afraid that they would land in an area where the Indians would be hostile. But lo and behold, those violent Indian tribes had been wiped out by a plague that came through that area. So, the one place on the English seaboard … New England seaboard the Pilgrims landed, there was not an Indian tribe there that they were displacing.
When they were there, the first winter half of them died. It got so bad, the men were out there chopping wood, building cabins. And they’d get sweaty; the sweat would turn into a fever. They’d catch pneumonia ... die. At one place, only three people were healthy enough to be standing.
John: Now you said half of them died. How many were there?
Bill: There was about 102 and then the one born and the other died. So, when they … they ... at the end of that first winter, there were 52 of them. And they would bury them at night time, ‘cause they thought if there were some Indians watching, they wouldn’t notice how weak they were.
Then the next spring is when a miracle happened. They would not have made it through another winter. The next spring, an Indian comes into camp and begins to speak to them in broken English. And he tells them of another Indian, who had been to England. And now this is where the story gets interesting.
As it turns out, the same time the Pilgrims left England and went to Holland, an Indian was lured on a ship, taken captive to England and lived there for nine years, who ... by these fishing, you know, men. His name was Tisquantum, later Squanto.
John: Uh-hm, yes.
Bill: He finally got passage back to the New England coast. When he landed there, he was reunited with his family and this is what William Bradford wrote in hisHistory of the Plymouth Settlement.
“About the 16th of March,1621, a certain Indian came boldly among them; spoke to them in broken English. His name was Samoset. He told them of another Indian, whose name was Squanto, a native of this place, who’d been in England and could speak better English--better than himself.
“About four or five days later, came the aforesaid Squanto. He continued with them and was a special instrument, sent of God, for their good, beyond their expectation. He showed them how to plant corn, take fish and other commodities. Guided them to places unknown. Never left them till he died.”
He was a native of these parts and one of the few survivors of the plague. Squanto was also their interpreter with the Indians, so they never had any attacks, like they had in Virginia--a tremendous testimony of the godly heritage. Their third year there, William Bradford issued the first officialThanksgivingand he said that, “All ye men and ye children and ye wives shall assemble on the … the hill on Thursday, November 29th in the year of our Lord, 1623, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed at ye Plymouth Rock, to hear ye pastor renderThanksgiving to ye Almighty God for His blessings.” So, it wasn’t like the modern school textbooks thatThanksgivingwas to thank the Indians. It was to thank Almighty God.
John: Great insights and passion from Bill Federer about that first Thanksgiving. And as we close, we have one final perspective featuring Joni Eareckson Tada, who has been wheelchair-bound for the past 50 years. You think she’d be angry, but she’s instead chosen to thank God for the many blessings in her life.
Jim: Joni, some people may not be familiar with your story, a powerful story, as a teenager, the accident that happened. Could you uh … tell us again, how that happened and then we’ll go from there?
Joni Eareckson Tada: Well, here we are in the middle of summer and it was on a hot day like this thatmysister, Kathy and I went swimming on the Chesapeake Bay and … and she was in the water. I swam out to this raft. Took a stupid dive, hit bottom immediately.
Joni: I don’t know wheremyhead was. I was doing a pike dive off of a raft. Hello!
Joni: I must have been 17-years-old and thinkin’ that I could recklessly do whatever I wanted to do withmyathletic body and … and come out all the better for it. But this time I hit bottom.
Joni: And that snappedmyneck, breakingmyuh … fourth cervical level and leaving me paralyzed. For the longest time in the hospital, I think I was just numb and I was buoyed up by the well wishes of friends, telephone calls, get-well cards comin’ out ofmymailbox, just posters on the … lots of visitors, it was a novelty.
Joni: For a while there, just being in the hospital, having this strange condition that had happened to me was a novelty. But whenmyfriends began to go off to college that fall and other friends began to move out of town, get married, when I began to witness their lives going on and I was still stuck in that hospital, the visitors weren’t coming by as frequently. No more get-well cards. Boy, that’s when the reality of the doctors’ words, “You’ll never walk again or use the … your hands. Your hands and your legs are gonna be paralyzed the rest of yourlife, Joni.”
That’s when I began to just feel this overwhelming sense of despair, not just depression, but despair, hopelessness.God, I can’t do this. I mean, You’ve got the wrong person. I’m not the bookworm type, who’s good at sitting in one place for a long time. I’m athletic. Don’t You remember that? I mean, I’m … I’m the girl who plays tennis, who likes to hike and horseback ride and swim. And You got … got the wrong lady here.” I just could not understandGod’s thinking, why He would allow this terrible accident to happen, especially since just a month or two earlier, beforemyaccident, as I was graduating from high school, I had prayed to be drawn closer to Him. Like hello!
Joni: If this is Your idea of an answer to prayer,God,for a closer walk with You, man! You arenotgonna be trusted with any more ofmyprayers. This was just … You just took me too seriously. You … You couldn’t have … didn’t You understand? I mean, I wasn’t thinkingparalysis.
So, that’s where I was stuck in a miry pit of despair, depression, hopelessness. I can’t do this. OGod, I can’t do it. And thankfully, in the midst of that depression, it wasChristian friends, young people frommyhigh school, who um … had heard aboutmyinjury, neighbors, just frommychurch, Christian friends who didn’t know a lot about disability. They didn’t know whether to call me a[n] invalid, cripple, motion-impaired, physically challenged—
Joni: --differently enabled. I mean, they didn’t know all the fancy-schmancy euphemisms, but they loved Jesus. They loved His Word and they knew that I was a kid in desperate need of help.
I remember a young person sat atmyhospital bedside, opened up to me 1 Thessalonians 5:18 and read to me, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will ofGodin Christ Jesus concerning you.” And I felt like throwing up on his shoes. (Laughter) It was like, “You’ve gotta be kidding. No way.” Andmyfriend said, “Stop, let me read it again, because it doesn’t say, Joni, you’ve gotta feel thankful in all things. It says, “Give thanks.” You start small. You can’t give thanks for alifeof total paralysis, but you start giving thanks for those things for which you can give thanks.”
And so, he challenged me. And so, I didn’t feel like it, but I did it. “Okay,God, tomorrow morning I’m gonna wake up and I give thanks thatmy… okay,myhospital bed is near the window. That means I can see the trees and the birds and um … okay, um … they’re servingmyside of the hospital hallway breakfast first. (Laughter) That means the … the breakfast will be warm. And um … let’s see, Jesus. I give You thanks uh … okay, thatmyfriends occasionally, they’re comin’. Myfamily hasn’t deserted me. I can sit up in a wheelchair. I can go to physical therapy. I can think and see and feel and read.”
Oh,mygoodness. And about a month later thismiracleoccurred. Suddenly out of nowhere, I had this emotion of thankfulness.Godrewarded me for taking a step of faith when I did not feel like it, getting intoGod’s Word and … and believing it and acting on it, doing it. And He rewarded with me thepowerto overcome and actually feel thankful.
Jim: I can’t imagine the difficulties that Joni’s gone through these past 50 years.50 years! It’s inspiring to hear how, in spite of her pain and difficulty, Joni still thanks God every day. And as an able-bodied person, man, that challenges me to be thankful for so much. Let’s be honest, what Joni has done is very hard. We hear a story like that or we hear verses that tell us to give thanks in all things and we know we should but because of things in our life, it’s hard to do it. It’s kind of like lip service, right?
But you may be listening right now and you’re struggling and I know that the holidays especially can be hard for a lot of people. And if that’s you, I want to encourage you to visit us online or call us on Monday when we’re all back from our families. We have caring Christian counselors who want to help you in whatever circumstance you’re in and that’s why Focus is here. So please, don’t hesitate! Call us-- we want to help you with whatever you’re going through.
John: Well, we do and our number is 800-A-FAMILY. Jim mentioned earlier that our offices are actually closed until Monday. You can use our Find A Counselor Referral tool and a lot of resources to help your family at focusonthefamily.com/radio. And while you’re at the website, make sure to check out the free download of today’s broadcast and other programming featuring many of the special guests we heard from today.
Now coming up next time, we’re gonna have Phil Vischer helping your family navigate the most wonderful time of the year.
Phil Vischer: You know, because it’s very hard to do Christmas without the focus on presents.
John: Mhm. Oh totally.
Phil: Very hard.
John: As you said, if you don’t move to a desert island, it’s going to be impossible.
Phil: Yes. And if you try to do it, if you shut out all the... the elves and the Santa and the presents and all that, you just, you look like a Scrooge!
End of Teaser