Late autumn, my favorite time of the year. The air’s getting cooler, the leaves have turned and fallen, in some places there may even be the first dusting of snow. Everyone is taking a deep breath in anticipation of the busiest time of the year – Christmas. And then, slammed in between Halloween and the holidays, comes Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is supposed to be the time of year when we count our blessings. The real danger is finding ourselves lulled to sleep by the turkey, sent into a diabetic coma by Grandma’s pecan pie, or worse, feeling overburdened and overwhelmed by a house full of visiting relatives we never really liked anyway. In today’s world, how many truly use the time to give thanks? We more likely give in to the chaos of black Friday and neglect an opportunity to process the lessons we have learned from the past year’s challenges or be thankful for the good things we have enjoyed. As a result, the turn of a new year often catches all of us unawares.
I believe that the stories in the Bible were given to us to teach spiritual truths. I do not believe that the stories themselves are historical fact, nor should we take them literally. This is key to understanding what I am about to say.
Whenever Thanksgiving approaches, I find myself remembering an Old Testament king who gave me a new perspective on a very American holiday. Jehoshaphat was the fourth king of Judah. Sometime during his reign (recorded in 2 Chronicles chapter 20), Israel faced a life-threatening crisis. Three different nations banded together to “make war against Jehoshaphat”. The invaders were described as “a great multitude” and when Jehoshaphat received the report, he was afraid.
Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. So Judah gathered together to seek help from the LORD. (v. 13) Then in the midst of the assembly the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel and he said, “Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them. You will find them at the end of the valley in front of the wilderness of Jeruel. You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf. Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the LORD is with you.” Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, worshiping the LORD.
The king’s first response in the face of this immense crisis was prayer. Remember the old adage, “no atheists in foxholes”? When the crisis comes – cancer, financial ruin, or the loss of a loved one – that is the moment most people turn to prayer – to earnestly looking for a solution to the problem. Jehoshaphat went so far as to call a national fast and gathered the entire tribe of Judah to pray.
If you’ve read much of the Old Testament, you already know that Israel rarely came up with a battle plan that made any sense – to us. Joshua’s army marched around Jericho for seven days then shouted. The noise miraculously turned the 6-ft. thick, 40-ft. high wall surrounding the city into rubble. Gideon whittled his battle force down from 32,000 to 300 (against an enemy 135,000 strong). Then he put flaming torches in jars and surrounded the Midianites. When his 300 men shouted, they broke the jars and the Midianites mysteriously began turning on one another. Jehoshaphat The prophet of Jehoshaphat’s day told the people, “do not fear and do not fight.” Instead of a battle plan, Israel was invited to stand still and let god fight for them. But the armies of Judah did not just walk onto the field and watch the enemy destroyed. No, they marched onto the field singing a song of gratitude.
Try to imagine this picture. Your king orders you to march onto a battlefield to face a hostile multitude made up of three nations who completely outnumber your army and he wants the singers stationed in front. Not the foot soldiers, not the cavalry, the singers. Carrying guitars and piccolos, no doubt. Furthermore, they were told to sing loudly – a sure-fire way to announce their coming to the enemy host. Strangest of all, the singers were told to sing a hymn of thanksgiving for something that had not yet happened. That’s right, they were proclaiming a victory not yet won. I don’t know about you, but the last time I thanked someone was after they had given something to me or done something for me, not before. In the case of Jehoshaphat vs. the invaders, the battle plan was to give thanks for a promised future victory that had not yet happened.
The story of Jehoshaphat sounds very much like what my favorite neuroscientist, Dr. Joe Dispenza, teaches. Some people call it Law of Attraction. I call it the power of energy. Whether or not you believe it, your thoughts have energy. Inside the body, thoughts produce chemical reactions that then produce proteins which affect your DNA and genetic code. Outside of the body, your thoughts also produce reactions. How many times have you been influenced by the charisma, passion, or emotions of someone else? Happens all the time.
What Dr. Joe has learned about the brain is that gratitude produces a different frequency than fear. Love a different vibration than anger. Joy a different chemical than regret. All of these emotional energies translate into our physical world in some fashion. I am certainly not trying to say that we can use gratitude to destroy our enemies. I do not even believe the world works like that, nor that destruction of others is a worthy goal in the first place. What the story above teaches is that gratitude has the power to bring marked change to your circumstances. Whether you are fighting a health issue or having marital problems, higher emotions like love, compassion, and thankfulness can drastically change the energy both within the body and without.
What ‘enemy’ are you facing today? And how is your current battle plan working for you? Could it be that a change is in order? What if gratitude really does have the power to bring an envisioned event into your life? And what if changing your attitude towards your enemy could transform your fear into hope, your shame into compassion, your anger into love? The worst that could happen is that, like your other attempts at solving the problem, it too fails to produce your desired result. But in the meantime, you could possibly find happiness along the way.
I recently heard a quote worth repeating: “There can be no happy ending to an unhappy journey.” What if the only way to a happy ending is to learn to be happy along the way? Gratitude, love, compassion, peace, joy … these are the emotions of happiness. I cannot help but wonder what might happen if people began to live by them rather than fear, hatred, anger, and so on. Thanksgiving is an excellent place to start. Try making a gratitude list a part of your Thanksgiving routine. I promise you won’t regret it as much as that extra slice of pumpkin pie.
Happy turkey day everyone!
* All Bible quotes from the NAS.
Based on a Thanksgiving message presented to the PWOC chapter in Ft. Meade, MD, November, 2006.