How do you celebrate Thanksgiving Day? Do you intentionally make the giving of thanks a part of your Thanksgiving observance? Or do you, as many other Americans, simply enjoy the meal with family or friends, oblivious to God’s many blessings in your life? If you are thankful, do you express your thanks outwardly?
Thanksgiving is not just something you do, it is also a state of mind, and an expression of faith that recognizes the benevolent unseen Being who is responsible for all good gifts that come our way.
As a child I felt there was something different between the Thanksgiving meal and other dinners, even though it was not the habit at our house to say a prayer of thanks to God on Thanksgiving Day; in fact there were not many prayers said for any reason at our house. When I became a Christian as a young teenager, I asked if we could say a a prayer before the Thanksgiving meal, and my father permitted me to offer a prayer of thanks. My parents were not unthankful, but they didn’t express gratitude in prayer. We were not taught that what we had came from God’s hands, though He got credit for the rain when we needed it for our garden.
Now, as an adult, with my husband and family, and others with whom we celebrate Thanksgiving Day, we make it a point to share at least one thing we are thankful for as we sit at the dinner table.
In these days of economic downturn, compounded with a slow recovery from the loss of jobs over the past several years, and the ever-increasing government debt, an attitude of gratitude does not come easy; it has to be cultivated.
Here are some “gratitude starters” to help you develop a thankful heart:
- a roof over your head
- food to eat
- clothes on your back
- friends (come on, you must have at least one)
- your job (your present job or one that’s coming in the near future because you are trusting God for it)
- freedom of speech (while we still have it),
- a free country that, in spite of its shortcomings, is still a place where foreigners are clamoring to get into
- a sunrise or sunset,
- trees and flowers,
- snow, rain and early morning dew
- the ability to walk unassisted
- the ability to read
- the senses of smell, taste, touch, hearing and sight
- art and music
- hundreds of other things
A Christian’s faith in a loving God is best expressed in the ability to see beyond present circumstances, as bad as they might be, and find things for which to be thankful. There are many blessings that appear to the person with a thankful heart.
There are numerous examples in Scripture of the offering of thanks, beginning with our Lord Jesus, who gave thanks to the Father every time He broke bread with the disciples and the throngs of people whom He fed with a few loaves of bread and a few fish (Matt. 14:17-21). In the Gospel of John, Jesus thanks the Father for hearing his prayers:
“ . . . Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” John 11:41-42
The apostle Paul frequently referred to giving thanks: he gave thanks for people (Phil. 1:3), for the faith of converts (Rom. 1:8), for obedience of believers (Rom. 6:17), for spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:18), for victory over sin (1 Cor. 15:57), for answered prayers (2 Cor. 1:11), for people who cared for others (2 Cor. 8:15), for the gift of grace provided through Christ (2 Cor. 9:15), for financial support of the ministry (2 Cor. 9:12), for believers (Eph. 1:16), for pleasant memories of people (Phil. 1:3), for joy (1 Thess. 3:9), for strength and being chosen for service for God (1 Tim. 1:12), for everything (Eph. 5:20).
When should we give thanks and for what?
Eph. 5:15-16,19-20 “ Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. . . . Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Phil. 4:5b-7 “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
It’s when we begin to express thanksgiving to God for everything and in the midst of everything, that our faith comes out and takes a bow and the peace of God settles around us like a warm blanket. Darkness is driven away and the glow of the Spirit shines in our inner being. This is true spiritual life – the life that Christ came to give us.
Col. 2:6-7 ”So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”
What more examples do we need of thankful living in the midst of difficult circumstances, than the examples of the Apostle Paul and our Lord Jesus Christ?
The Apostle Paul received death threats and had to be sneaked out of a city for his safety; suffered shipwreck while being transported as a prisoner; was snake-bitten and beaten with a whip on several occasions; went hungry; was imprisoned and finally killed. But in the midst of it all, he gave thanks to God.
Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, suffered persecution, criticism, verbal and physical abuse, lies about his character, rejection, misunderstanding (even from his closest followers), beatings, chains, an unfair trial, and death on the cross. But His life was a continual picture of trust in and thanks to His Father.
Why were our Savior and His followers, like Paul, able to endure hardships and constant crisis in their lives and still be at peace and full of joy? I believe it was because of their thankful hearts that came from their constant communion with God, punctuated with prayers of thankfulness, based on what they knew of the heart of our heavenly Father. They lived within the sound of His heartbeat.
May you develop a life of daily thanks to God for His gift of life through Jesus, and His continual provisions for you out of His heart of love. May hearing His heartbeat cause your heart to resonate with gratitude for every blessing.
©2013, Marcy Alves
- Thanksgiving = RESTFULNESS (gbmministry.wordpress.com)
- A Week of Thanksgiving: Be Thankful in All Circumstances by Mark D. Roberts (trinityspeaks.wordpress.com)
Is there anyone else out there who has this problem: someone in your family, or among your friends, or at your place of work, or in your church, does something for you that they think will please you, but it has just the opposite effect?
Let me illustrate: your friend is going to the grocery store and asks if she can pick up anything for you. You answer, “Yes, thank you. I need some garlic – the loose bulbs, not the packaged kind. I’ll pay you when you get back.”
Your friend returns later without the garlic, because she couldn’t find it in the produce section. But she hands you a bag of onions.
You just bought a bag of onions yesterday and your friend was with you when you made the emergency run to the convenience store. The kind of onion she bought today is not the kind you prefer; they are yellow onions and you like the sweeter taste of the Vidalia onion. You mentioned that to her yesterday when you had to buy the bag of yellow onions because the soup you were making for dinner needed onions and it was already 5:00 PM, so you didn’t have time to drive to the grocery store.
Your friend says, “They were on sale and I know that you use lots of onions in your soups, and they are organic, you don’t have to pay me, they’re a gift from me.”
Now, if you’re like me, you appreciate sales, especially on organic produce, and you like free stuff. But you don’t need or want more onions of any kind at this time. You have experience with onions that have been around for too long, some of the rings in the onion get mushy and they rot.
How would you handle this scenario?
I actually found myself in this situation recently.
Where I should have felt grateful, I didn’t. I had all I could do to not say something that wound sound ungrateful, let alone thanking my friend for her thoughtfulness. Plus, garlic is what I needed at the time.
Honestly, I felt kind of irritated. I was being put in the spot of expressing gratitude for something for which I felt no gratitude. Maybe I didn’t want to feel like I owed her? This seems to be happening to me more frequently recently. What’s up?
What I felt like saying was something like, “Please don’t buy me things unless you know I want them.” Or, “Well, since I already bought onions yesterday, maybe YOU could use these YELLOW ONIONS yourself; I prefer Vidalia, remember?” Said sweetly, of course; not in a mean way.
I’m not going to tell you what I actually said, except for “Thanks”. I’m a little embarrassed about my not overwhelmingly gracious response. I have a hard time faking gratitude – it’s always been a struggle for me.
I wrestled with the situation after my friend left. I prayed about it. I don’t want to be an ungrateful person. And I don’t want to discourage people from trying to do nice things for me.
I asked the Lord to help me learn something from these on-going encounters. Remember when the Israelites were in the desert and didn’t get the lessons God was trying to teach them? It was “Okay, guys . . . one more time around the mountain.” (Deut. 1:34-45)
As I laid it before the Lord, a light clicked on in my head. There are three things I sensed the Lord showing me:
- First, He reminded me of the Scripture that says: “Be thankful for everything.” (Eph. 5:20) Maybe this was a test from the Lord?
Or maybe the Lord had my friend buy the organic yellow onions for me because He knows I’ll be making lots of soup during this fall season and those who eat it won’t care what kind of onion I use. Or maybe someone else will need onions and now I have plenty to share?
Being thankful before figuring things out is an expression of trust in God, that He indeed oversees the circumstances of my life.
- Second, how about when I think of blessing someone else? Maybe I should ask them what I can do to bless them and not just do what I think will bless them?
Perhaps this is one of the explanations for many failed evangelistic efforts. Maybe our Gospel presentation is not reaching our neighbor, or our co-worker, or our family member, because they don’t see the need for what we’re offering them.
How can we expect people to be respond positively when we share God’s “plan of salvation” with them if they don’t think they need it? We have to first connect with them at the point of their “felt need,” even though we know their “real need” is a relationship with God through Jesus.
- Third, I wonder how often we offer our words or works to God and expect Him to be pleased when what we’re saying or doing is not what He wants us to say or do?
Is our Heavenly Father sometimes frustrated with us because we don’t ask Him before we enter into a flurry of activity that may have nothing to do with His desire for us? Busying ourselves with things – even good things – that have little or nothing to do with His best plan for us – activities that crowd-out intimate time with Him?
How can it bless our Father when we give the best part of our time and energy to what we think might please Him or what makes us feel good about ourselves, when what He really wants is to share His heart with us and to reveal His love to us.
I wonder if He ever feels like saying, “It’s nice that you spend so much time feeding the poor and cleaning the church building, but that’s not what I had in mind for you today. It would please me more if you would first spend time with me and get your marching orders from me.”
Jesus said he only spoke what the Father told him to say (John 12:49) and only did what he saw the Father doing (John 5:19). If Jesus sought his Father’s instructions for what he should say and do, shouldn’t we?
Anyway, I’m ever learning, and with God’s help I eventually come to the knowledge of His truth. He’s teaching me to be a considerate giver and a gracious receiver (ouch!).
How about you? Is God trying to get you to be “other” focused both in giving and in receiving? What’s God saying to you about your attitude of gratitude?
©2011, Marcy Alves
Photo by: David C. Alves