Thanksgiving as a whole so often gets overlooked. The festivity of costumes and carving pumpkins quickly gets swapped for binge shopping, predictable Hallmark movies, and twinkle lights. The core of Christmas is sacred, of course. But when we mentally skip Thanksgiving, we miss out on a unique opportunity to stop and reflect to what degree we’ve been living a life of gratitude and how we can better ourselves in that area.
Thanksgiving was around long before the Pilgrims and Native Americans shared a meal—perhaps not the national holiday, but the act of thanksgiving is no American invention. All throughout the Bible we see examples of God’s people giving thanks, praising their God, and showing their gratitude. You see songs of praise in celebration: from Moses and Miriam after God’s delivering them from Egypt, to Hannah after God gives her a son, to all of David’s numerous Psalms of praise, and to Zechariah and Mary in the book of Luke.
We also see God’s people taking time to thank God even when you wouldn’t think circumstances warrant such. In the book of Job, after he has lost all his children and livestock, he falls to the ground in worship to God and says “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (1:21) Again, after he is afflicted with sores all over his body, he tells his wife, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10)
Likewise, David’s Psalms are littered with “I will praise the Lord,” “give thanks to the Lord,” and “he has been good me.” Even in his songs of lament, where he is laying out all his woes to God, he takes time to praise and thank the Lord. Psalm 13 begins with David speaking of his real hurt, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” However, David moves from the pain to trusting in God’s goodness. He closes with, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.”
This trend continues into the New Testament as well. The apostle Paul, primary evangelist and missionary for the newly formed Christian church, often starts and ends his letters with a list of thanks. He praises God for all the ways the believers and new churches are growing.
Paul and our other God-following predecessors were on to something. Practicing gratitude gets our minds off of ourselves and onto our God; it keeps us in a place of humility. If we are in a place of blessing, it reminds us from whom our blessing flows. If we are in a place of despair, giving thanks reminds us of the hope we have in a compassionate, merciful God who comforts the brokenhearted. It reminds us that he is good, even if our circumstances are not. Giving thanks can also provide us with perspective. During many of Paul’s letters he was writing from a jail cell, imprisoned for preaching the name of Jesus. Paul’s letters could have been lists of how horribly everything was going. But by giving thanks for all the ways God was using his suffering to further the kingdom of God, it changed the whole perspective. His suffering wasn’t in vain.
The challenge going forward is actually putting this into practice; actually shifting our heart and focus to those of more gratitude.
Each day, try to think of specific things you can be thankful for, regardless of your circumstances.
This might mean writing on your 21 Day bookmark or ritually opening a journal each morning and physically writing out these things:
- “I’m thankful for that smooth cup of coffee that was shared over laughter with a friend.”
- “I’m thankful for the way I could see Your artistry in the sunlight hitting the fall leaves, Lord.”
- “I’m thankful for the kids sleeping past 6am and having a quiet moment before their incessant talking takes over the morning.”
It might mean taking turns around the dinner table with your spouse and children:
- “I’m thankful for playing games with Dad.”
- “I’m thankful God helped me through my math test.”
- “I’m thankful we have teachers that really care and get creative when you don’t understand something.”
Or it might simply be taking intentional time to think about those areas of gratitude while you drive to work, sit in the airport for the next business meeting, wait in the pick-up line at school, or fold the 5th load of laundry for the day:
- “I’m thankful for those 5 minutes of real conversation with my teenage son last night.”
- “Thank you that the nurses are kind and compassionate while Dad recovers in the hospital.”
- “God, I’m thankful you are faithful and steady, even though life feels so turbulent right now.”
There is no official formula to shaping our hearts into ones of gratitude and humility. However, there is no denying its effects when we put thanksgiving into habitual practice, as opposed to a once a year moment while we pass the turkey and gravy. Steadily, attitudes of discontent become an awareness of overflowing abundance. Downcast days are provided with sustenance. Moments so quickly passed over become places to stop and worship our majestic Creator God.
Will we be followers of conformity who blindly miss all the small blessings woven into each and every day? Or will we be followers of Christ who fearlessly trust and give thanks to their God through both blessing and trial?