Thanksgiving is over. So what’s next? What are we supposed to do after the crowd leaves? What are we supposed to do when we return home to work, school, and the routine of life?
Jesus faced a similar problem after his feast of thanksgiving. His crowd was much larger than most of us faced at Thanksgiving. He fed more than five thousand followers at his feast (Matthew 14:21). After he had given thanks (John 6:11), he multiplied a boy’s five barley loaves and two small fish into enough food to feed the hungry horde (John 6:9). Some, like Jesus, came to the feast needing time alone to grieve the death of someone they deeply loved (Matthew 14:1-13). Others came to the meal thrilled with what God was doing in their lives (Mark 6:30). Many were tired and a long way from home (Luke 9:12).
Feeding the group, by any measure, was an expensive undertaking (Mark 6:37). Careful planning had been needed to ensure that everyone would enjoy the meal and be fully served (Mark 6:39-30). When everyone had eaten, they each had all that they wanted (John 6:11-12). Jesus’ closest friends then collected the leftovers so that nothing was wasted (John 6:12-13). Jesus’ words upset more than a few who went home angry (John 6:41, 60, 66) when Jesus dismissed them (Mark 6:45). For Jesus’ closest friends, the journey after this feast was both terrifying and amazing (Mark 6:47-52). But, thankfully, they all arrived at their destination in time to start a new chapter in their lives (John 6:21).
Sounds pretty much like the Thanksgiving many of us have experienced. So, let’s learn what we can from Jesus and his work with his disciples so that we can know what to do after the crowd has gone.
First, we need physical, spiritual, and emotional rest after such a big and challenging undertaking, especially rest that is focused on time with our Father in heaven.
After feeding the five thousand, Jesus withdrew to pray and be alone with God (Matthew 14:23). He needed time alone with the Father to grieve the death of John the Baptizer who had died right before the crowd showed up for the feast. He needed to rest from his teaching ministry and feeding of the crowds. He also wanted his disciples to have protected time to be alone together to rest from their repeated involvement in victorious ministry. So before Jesus left to spend time with the Father, he dismissed the crowds (Matthew 14:22). He wanted his closest followers to receive their long overdue rest and time away from the crowds (Mark 6:31).
After an intense time of joy, sorrow, conversation, family stresses, and joyous conversation during our Thanksgiving season, we need time away, too! We need to rest, recharge, and be alone with the Father. We need to be insulated from the demands made on us by those we serve by being with those closest to us who know the loads we carry. We need a time of no demands, no ministry, and true rest. For us to ignore our physical, spiritual, and emotional need for rest and recharge is as dangerous for us as it is foolish. Taking time for rest, recharge, and time alone with closest friends and the Father is not being lazy or irresponsible. This kind of rest away from the demands of the crowd is essential and God-honoring.
Second, as life returns to normal after a big event like Thanksgiving, we may face some of life’s hardest challenges, but not without Jesus’ presence to help us.
After such an overwhelming display of the Lord’s power through his disciples in ministry before the feeding of the five thousand and the Lord’s use of them during the feeding, the disciples left only to face a vicious storm on the Sea of Galilee. This storm, much like the challenge of feeding the five thousand, was beyond their ability to navigate. Even the experienced fishermen in the boat were terrified. Jesus came to them in their time of fear and weariness, but they did not recognize his presence with them at first. They were not expecting their Lord to come to them THROUGH the storm. The Lord reminded them that he was with them, literally describing his presence as “I AM” who was coming to help them (John 6:20; Exodus 3:13-14). When they did recognize him, they welcomed Jesus into their midst. As they did, the storm and their fears calmed, and they arrived safely at their destination (John 6:21).
We must not doubt the Lord’s presence with us just because his presence is not obvious and our challenges seem so overwhelming. The evil one often attacks us with fierce and unexpected life-storms when we are weary or fresh off a great spiritual experience. The deceiver wants to twist our times of joyous fellowship and ministerial victory into times of terror, grief, uncertainty, and rejection. Rather than blaming God for abandoning us during these unexpected and undeserved storms, Jesus reminds us to look for him and listen for his voice reassuring us, “Take courage! I AM. Don’t be afraid” (Matthew 14:27 Tree of Life Version).
Third, a great Thanksgiving experience doesn’t mean returning to the normal pace of life and our everyday responsibilities will be easy.
One of Jesus’ hardest confrontations with the common people of the crowd happened the day after he had fed them. Because Jesus refused to do another feeding miracle for them and because he taught them a truth hard to understand, many turned away from following him (John 6:22-66). Importantly, Jesus would not give away his life’s mission to the will and wants of the crowd. He would not compromise truth to remain popular. He didn’t avoid the needed hard conversation with the crowd just to make things easier on himself. He told the truth. He stayed on mission. He challenged and nurtured his disciples. And, he remained true to himself despite being tired from exhausting ministry and full of grief at the death of his cousin John.
Most of us have returned to our normal routines after our brief holiday feast. However, we carry the weariness of the Thanksgiving holiday even as we anticipate the stress of December with its end of the year deadlines, shopping demands, and social obligations looming ahead of us. Unfortunately, unresolved conflicts await us at home and at work. Misunderstandings and inequities still crowd into our lives during this busy and stressful time. Some of those whom we thought were “on our side” can suddenly turn on us or abandon us. What will we do?
We will follow Jesus’ example. We will remain true to our mission. We will not compromise our character or the truth we hold to remain popular. We will have the needed hard conversations with gracious compassion and righteous character, choosing to compromise neither of these important godly virtues. We will not neglect time focused on those closest to us — whether they are people and children we mentor or those who mentor and pour their encouragement into us. We will choose to be who we are — salt and light for a world in darkness, a people who welcome Jesus into their every moment and not just when the Christmas ornaments come out of the closet and the Crèche goes up on the mantle.
We will take the time to rest and recharge spending the time alone with the Father. We will find safety and nurture among those who love us and encourage us.
When the storms of life and the coming season hit, we will look and listen for the Lord Jesus to come to us through the storm. We will trust that the great “I AM” who spoke to Moses and came to the disciples through the storm will show himself to us.
We will not be surprised by those who disappoint us or abandon us. We will stay on mission for the Lord and remain people of gracious compassion and righteous character. We will not compromise to be popular, but live up to the truth we profess.
Thanksgiving is over, but a new chapter of life lived with Jesus has just begun!
All Jesus era images courtesy of the Lumo Project and Free Bible Images.
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