Heidi Howerton: Welcome everyone on this special holiday week. Heidi Howerton is here with Jani Ortlund and we are so glad to spend some time with you today.
Jani Ortlund: Wow what a busy week this can be for so many of us, can’t it Heidi?
Heidi: Yes it can be very, very busy, or very slow depending on what you’re doing for the season.
Thanksgiving this year
Jani: Yes. We really wonder what our listeners are doing right now as they’re listening in. Maybe you have to work today? Maybe it’s Wednesday and you’re driving to work and you’re thinking about having tomorrow off. Maybe you’re packing for a trip, maybe you’re cooking and cleaning for company, like Heidi is. Heidi, tell us about what your week is going to look like.
Heidi: Yeah. I’m really looking forward to Thanksgiving this year Jani. Our Thanksgivings have looked a little bit different through the years because Mike and I have never lived with family. Some years we’ve done the nine hour road trip up North, but this year my sister and her family that live in Knoxville are coming over and my aunt, who lives about 30 minutes away, is coming over and it will be our first year to spend Thanksgiving in the farmhouse and I’m excited to just have space to welcome everyone in and make the Turkey and also have some help. Some years I’ve had to host Thanksgiving where it’s just been us and our little family and that’s a lot of work. I love it, but to think, “Oh, I need to make every side!” So this year, to get to spend it with family and have my sister help and bring some dishes, is going to be really special. What are you doing for Thanksgiving this year?
Jani: Well, we have one of our four children coming in, Krista, our daughter with our beloved son-in-law, John, and their three children are driving down from Wheaton to Nashville and we’re going to spend Thanksgiving with dear friends. So there’ll be quite a crowd. I won’t be doing the cooking—our friend is—and Krista is going to be helping her.
Heidi: Oh how wonderful!
Jani: So it’s going to be really, really fun. I look forward to tomorrow and all the wonderful leftovers afterwards.
Heidi: Yes that’s one of my favorite parts, eating turkey sandwiches all week.
Jani: Yes, yes.
How to Give Thanks to God
Jani: Well, we want to share some of our family traditions towards the end of our podcast today, but before we do, we’re asking the Lord to use the next few minutes to restore our souls as we walk through our Thanksgiving weekend. And so we want to go to Scripture to see what it says to us about giving thanks. And we want to think about this in three different ways: how to give thanks to God, how to give thanks to God for other people in our life, and how to even thank him for every circumstance that we’re going through right now. So Heidi, let’s begin by looking at Psalm 107. Could you read Psalm 107:8-9?
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,Psalm 107:8-9
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things.
Jani: Oh, I love that, the “hungry” soul.
Jani: Psalm 69:30 says,
“…I will magnify him with thanksgiving.”Psalm 69:30b
Jani: Oh, we can thank the Lord God for how he satisfies, how he delights, how he gratifies the yearnings and desires of our souls.
Jani: I’ve wondered, dear listener, do you realize that your soul has appetite just as your body does? I mean, that’s even one of the reasons why we named our podcast, “He Restores My Soul.” That means the very name of it, restoration of our soul, means that our souls can become depleted or dry or discouraged. And you know the longings in our souls are more important than even our physical yearnings because our souls are eternal. We can be surrounded with abundance and still feel sad or empty inside. Maybe some of you feel that way today.
Jani: Anyone who has ever experienced soul satisfaction knows the overflowing gratitude that comes from God meeting her in her inner need way down deep. And that calls for thanksgiving! That verse in Psalm 69:30 that talks about magnifying him with thanksgiving, that means, call attention to his greatness, point out his goodness, glorify him, adore him, magnify him with thanksgiving. Praise him in such a way with your thanksgiving that as others listen, their awe of God and delight in him will grow.
Heidi: Jani, it makes me think of that Bible verse in Psalm 29:1 that says,
“Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,Psalm 29:1
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.”
Jani: It’s so important for us to learn how to honor him and glorify him with our mouths. That’s because it doesn’t always come easy. That’s something that I’ve been working on this year.
Jani: Yes. Thank you, Heidi. That’s the joy of having a holiday where we especially think about giving thanks. It helps us obey verses like this and enter into them wholeheartedly.
Give Thanks to God for Other Believers
Jani: Well, we do want to be very thankful to the Lord for his love, but we also get to thank God for others. Look at Colossians 1:3-4.
“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith and of the love that you have for all the saints…”Colossians 1:3-4
Jani: “We always thank God when we pray for you.” We’re not alone anymore, Heidi. Oh, we’re part of the body of Christ. Jesus invites us to enter into this close communion. I love the fact that I’m not walking alone through life. The Lord has given you to me, Heidi, and I so appreciate our friendship, and I think Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to thank the Lord and to thank others in the body of Christ for our Christian fellowship.
Jani: Yes, and for being family. I think of so many years that different members of the body of Christ welcomed Mike and I in as we’ve been away from family when they say, “Come spend Thanksgiving with us.” I’m so thankful that the Lord gave us family in the church.
Jani: Yes, we always thank God when we pray for you. It’s so fun to think of other believers who know him and we’re joined to.
Give thanks for the various circumstances in our lives
Jani: So on Thanksgiving, we can thank God for himself and those deep yearnings within us that he satisfies. We can thank him for other believers to walk through life with and thank him for the whole body of Christ, that we’re part of a body and we’re not alone. We also can thank him for the various circumstances in our lives. I love how Paul talks about this in Ephesians 5:15-20. He talks about walking as the wise person, understanding what the will of God is and being filled with the Spirit. And then, in verse 20, he says something that really catches our attention. Heidi, will you read it?
“…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,”Ephesians 5:20
Jani: Whoa, giving thanks always and for everything. That kind of pulls me up short sometimes in my spirit. What does that mean, Lord?
Jani: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Heidi will you read those for us?
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Jani: This Thanksgiving, we can thank him for every circumstance that we’ve entered into between today and a year ago when we were anticipating Thanksgiving last year. Be thankful in everything in all circumstances. This attitude of gratitude shows that we trust God to be lovingly governing all things, the ups and downs, the joys and the sorrows—all of our experiences, this side of heaven. We can thank him that we’re not in charge. God Almighty is supervising every minute detail according to his infinite wisdom.
Does “giving thanks” in every circumstance mean I have to be happy?
Jani: Now, some of those details, I don’t understand why he supervising them in that way. Some things are are hard to be thankful for. I think in our own family of our 14th grandchild, little Hope Anastasia who was still born with Trisomy 18. But faith means trusting God for what we can’t see, what we don’t yet understand and that means giving thanks in all circumstances.
Jani: Now I’ve had to work that out in my own life. I don’t know about you, Heidi, but I’ve had to learn what being thankful really means. It doesn’t mean a giddy happiness necessarily. I mean, it can be. Sometimes I’m really thankful over something and I am very, very happy and kind of giddy over it. But it doesn’t have to be that. What I think being thankful in all circumstances means is recognizing our debt to God Almighty, appreciating his “God-ness,” so to speak, in this situation: “Lord, I’m thankful that you’re in charge. I don’t understand why this happened. I actually really am sad that this happened, but I thank you that you’re in charge and I’m not, so I’m going leave it with you.”
Jani: So there are many things we can be thankful about this season: thankful for God’s steadfast love, for others to walk through life with, for his ruling his universe with infinite wisdom and love. Dear listener, I hope there are other things you can think of to be thankful for.
Thanksgiving Traditions in our Homes
Jani: We’d like to carry on in this podcast and apply how we carry out Thanksgiving in our own homes. Heidi, will you share with our listeners a little bit about what the Thanksgiving day looks like? How do you help your kids understand what Thanksgiving’s about? What do you do in your family?
Heidi: Yes, Jani, I’d be happy to. I wanted to mention, though, when you were talking about giving thanks in all circumstances, that one of the things that helps me in that is being thankful that God is always with us. So even if we don’t understand what we’re walking through, or going through sorrow, we can remember that verse in Matthew 28:20 that says, “And behold, I am with you always…” And so even though it’s so painful, in that moment that helps my heart find thanksgiving: “God, thank you that you will never leave me, that you’re not leaving me right now.” That’s really helpfull, Jani. Thank you for mentioning how thankfulness and happy feelings don’t always have to go together and how we can be thankful to God in those hard circumstances for who he is and that he’s always with us.
Heidi: It makes me think of a sermon that Ray gave a few years ago. I’ll never forget, it was before Thanksgiving and Pastor Ray looked at the congregation and he said, “You know, what if instead of sitting around the table and sharing all the things you’re thankful for this year, what if you encouraged your family to share about one attribute of God that they’ve been especially thankful for this year?” And so that’s something that we like to do with our kids to think about what is one aspect of God, who he was to us this past year, that we’re especially thankful for. So that’s one tradition we have. The one that I’m really thankful for this year is that I’ve really been thankful for God’s faithfulness, and that he’s always with us no matter if we’re on a mountain or if we’re in a valley, that he’s always faithful.
Heidi: Another one of our traditions is we’ll cut out a little turkey for the month leading up to Thanksgiving and each kid will have a little turkey body, and we’ll put it on the wall and I have feathers that I’ve cut out of construction paper. Each morning I tell the kids to write down one thing they’re thankful for or I write it down for them. And then as we get closer to Thanksgiving, by the end, our turkeys are full of feathers. So that’s really fun.
Jani: Oh, I love that.
Heidi: And then Jani, one of my last Thanksgiving traditions that’s really special and that we love and have done for a few years, is the the night or two before Thanksgiving, we’ll make cinnamon rolls and we will go deliver them to different friends and different family. Oftentimes it’s friends because we don’t live near family. I deliver them raw and with instructions for cooking so that they can wake up on Thanksgiving morning with fresh cinnamon roles because with all the hustle and bustle, who has time to make cinnamon rolls for breakfast? It’s something that we love to do and it’s a way to show people how much we love them, too.
Jani: And I have had those cinnamon rolls and they are wonderful, oh my goodness gracious!
Heidi: What do you like to do for Thanksgiving? How did you teach your kids about Thanksgiving? Teach me, Jani, what Thanksgiving looked like as you were raising your children.
Jani: Well, I’m afraid the teacher in me came out. I just would get books about Thanksgiving. In fact, I brought a couple of them this morning to our little studio here: “The First Thanksgiving” by Jean Craighead George is one of our favorites. It gives a faithful account of who the pilgrims were, why they came to America, the hardships they suffered, their courage and most of all their faith in God.
Heidi: Yes, they were remarkable Christians. We were surprised last year, we were watching “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and I didn’t realize all the hardships they went through, but also their strong faith in the Lord.
Jani: Yes, yes. I think it’s good for children to understand the history of Thanksgiving, that it is a national holiday. In fact, when we lived in Britain for four years, we still had an American Thanksgiving in our home even though the children weren’t off school. We would do it that evening or the following Saturday. We would talk about why we celebrate Thanksgiving, and I think it’s wonderful for children to have Christian heroes. I mean that was really hard. One of these books talks about how over half of the pilgrims died that first year, so you can imagine how hard that would have been.
Jani: So we read books usually Wednesday or Thursday morning. We have, of course, the regular, “normal” (if I could call it that) American Thanksgiving feast with dressing and all the fixings. We love that and love to eat off it the next week or two.
Jani: One thing that we do in our family that we started about 30 years ago when the kids were in elementary school, was a family holiday journal. So on Thanksgiving day we’d ask each person to enter something in the journal, what they’re thankful for. We’d have guests enter things, we’d have the children try to write out something. Ray and I would as well, let me read a few of the entries in our journal.
Heidi: Oh, I wish you guys were here to see this! It’s a sweet old journal with flowers on the cover and green and pictures, you’re always so good at putting pictures in journals, Jani.
Jani: Well, the wonder of this is that I can look back now. I’ll just read to our listeners some of the entries. This was Thanksgiving day, 1992 so our kids were young and I’m just going to read an entry that I wrote in that day. It’s a little bit embarrassing, but it says,
“I’m so thankful for my children. Dane, who’s our third child, really cheered me up last week with a warm compliment. He said, ‘Mom, you are so nice.’ Now, Lord, I just need you to help me to live up to it.”Jani Ortlund, Thanksgiving 1992
Jani: It just meant so much.
Jani: Here’s one from Ray. Let’s see, it would have been Thanksgiving of 1993. He says,
“I’m thankful that my first book will appear in about five weeks.”Ray Ortlund, Jr. – Thanksgiving 1993
Heidi: Oh wow. What a moment.
Jani: Yes. So we can look back in 1993, it was the first of many books he’s written, but he was very grateful for that.
Jani: Or here’s one when the three older kids were all in college. It was 1998 and we had moved down south for Ray to pastor First Presbyterian church in Augusta, Georgia. We loved being there, but it was our first holiday without our kids coming (our three older kids, we had Gavin with us) and it was a little hard for me, Heidi. I remember crying that day as Ray and I took a walk. I said, “It’s not supposed to be like this. We’re supposed to be able to get our college kids home.” But we were really tight financially because we had three kids in college and had just moved. So we had Gavin with us and a lot of friends, and I was able to buy a dining room table and chairs. So this was my entry for that year, 1998:
“I’m thankful for my new dining room table and chairs and for friends to help fill the empty places I feel with the older kids gone.”Jani, Thanksgiving 1998
Jani: I can hardly read that without tearing up and remembering.
Heidi: I’m sure alot of our listeners can relate to that, too. I’m sure everybody has Thanksgivings where people are missing and that’s heart-breaking over the holidays.
Jani: That’s right. It really is.
Jani: Well, here’s one final one I’ll share. It was Thanksgiving 2013, this is what I said:
“We returned late last night from mom Ortlund’s memorial service. The Perry’s have had us over for a wonderful meal. Grateful from the bottom of our hearts for family and friends.”Jani, Thanksgiving 2013
Jani: It meant so much that we could come back from that memorial service and go be with Christian friends. They knew her, loved her, and welcomed us in, and it was just such a comfort to be together.
Jani: So all of these things are recorded in our family Thanksgiving and Christmas journal. There are a lot of Christmas Eve entries. Maybe I’ll read some of those when we talk about Christmas. But I would encourage you—you know how sometimes you think, “What did we do last year?” It’s just great to have a little memory. Take a photograph and copy it off and slip it in, too. It’s really fun.
Heidi: What a great gift that’ll be to your kids one day to pass along and for them to be able to say, Oh, this is when mom was little and this was what a Thanksgiving was like.
Jani: Yeah, that’s a good idea, Heidi.
We are thankful for you!
Jani: Well, one other thing we’re thankful for is you, our listeners. We hear from many of you and we’re so grateful for your interactions. We’re also grateful for Renewal Ministries, which makes this podcast possible. If you’d like to say thank you with a gift, just visit our website at renewalministries.com for ways you could do that. We hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. We thank the Lord for you.