Last time we learned that when we allow ourselves to depend on God in our service to him, our attitude changes. God has invested special gifts in us – both natural and supernatural. The gifts we are given became an opportunity to serve the Lord and others in a unique way. When we serve, our attention is in two parts – on God, and on the task at hand. Sometimes that task involves stopping for the one. Other times that assignment involves practical service so that needed infrastructure is there for ministry: feeding the poor, clothing the needy, loving broken people, encouraging people through arts that inspire and bless. That requires administration, health care, engineering, and many more skills that take hours to develop. When we serve, we need to keep our eyes on the one who loves us and gives us opportunities. It’s not like we have to serve out of obligation. If you are doing that, then it’s better to set aside the service for a while and just receive God’s love. If we never do a single thing for God, He will still love us very deeply. However, when we do serve, it gives us many ways to express our love and gratitude to God. That gratitude causes us to focus on Jesus and allow our hearts to be filled deeper and widened to contain more love.
How do we develop a thankful attitude? Some people have a hard time being thankful – especially if they feel entitled, and self-focused. How do we rid ourselves of cold hearts, entitlement thinking and ingratitude? A cold heart could be called a heart of stone; a heart where the conscience is seared and there is no compassion. The very opposite of thankfulness and gratitude is unforgiveness, bitterness and complaining. Do we really want to go there? Bitterness causes all kinds of complaints and mean spirited acts. Hebrews 12:15 warns us to not store up a bitter root grows up in our heart and so defile us (and many). When we are bitter and self-focused, we fall into a form of worshiping ourselves. Unfortunately this is the very heart of the old baby boomer motto of “me, myself and I” and “looking out for number one.” If you focus on yourself, you’ll find lots to complain about! And so the cycle spirals down into self-pity and what Leanne Payne calls the ‘hell of self.’ This self-affliction is a horrible prison to be locked in! While the barometer against entitlement is thankfulness, you still need a change of heart.
Thankfully, God gives us a promise through the prophet Ezekiel in Eze. 36:26-27: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” So God has the key to unlock our prison. Lord, please save us from ourselves! (Read Romans 7:7-25) I am thankful that I was drawn out of this kind of thinking – but if I’m not careful, it is easy to forget. I am thankful for God’s faithfulness and share the writer’s shout in 2 Chronicles 20:21. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever.”
Let’s go deeper to discover more. What is thanksgiving? Thanks isn’t just one of the “magic words” of politeness that we teach children (like please and thank you). A simple definition may be (according to Wikipedia) “Thankfulness is the expression of gratitude, especially to God.” This is especially true in the example, “he offered prayers in thanksgiving for his safe arrival.” Or thankfulness can be the appreciation of a benefit or a gift. Thankfulness can be shallow or very deep from the bottom of your heart. Most of us are thankful for something at some time in our life.
What am I thankful for? What are you thankful for? When I was living in the Kootenay mountains of BC’s southern interior, I was always thankful for the incredible beauty. Every day I chose to explore the mountain roads, lakes and ranges, I was thanking God for what I could see around me. And so one of the reasons why I remember Canadian Thanksgiving of 2013 is from the sermon that Jim Reimer gave at Kootenay Christian Fellowship in Nelson BC. It was the first time I remember such a talk, which was especially needed at a difficult time. So Pastor Jim started us off with things and people to be thankful for. Later on we shared communion together, and we were to share one word to reflect what or who was the reason for thanks. Jim held his microphone for each person to share, and my word was “church family.” Jim’s list included thankfulness for: Parents, family, friends, rainbows, sight, oxygen, hearing, touch, smell, taste, speech, a heart to pump, lungs, immune system, hands, legs, mind, health, tears, fears and pain, sadness to appreciate happiness, sun, sunset, rain, snow, rainbows, nature, animals, Internet, transport, technology, movies, time, job, music, bed, home, soul mate, best friend, enemies, lessons learned through mistakes, joy and love.
Recently I asked my Facebook friends what they were thankful for. Some were deeply personal about their faith, encouragement from others and family. Others drew connections between gratitude and forgiveness or thankfulness and happiness. I agree with these connections. But one statement stood out – from a friend in Sierra Leone, who has lived through war and the Ebola crisis. She was thankful for being alive… the most basic gift.
Thanksgiving is a holiday in North America. In the US, it is traditionally based on a Plymouth, Massachusetts celebration of a good harvest between 1621–23. Although there was an earlier time of “official” Thanksgiving at what became Berkeley Plantation in Charles City, Virginia (in 1619). American Thanksgiving is generally celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. In Canada, the origins of Thanksgiving can be traced back to 1578 and the explorer Martin Frobisher. He tried to find the northern passage to the Pacific Ocean and took a break off of Frobisher Bay (perhaps near the present-day Iqaluit). They held a formal ceremony and communion thanking God for surviving the journey through storms and icebergs. Others also trace Canadian Thanksgiving to the French settlers in New France (Quebec) in the early 17th century. Other immigrants added their own voice to Thanksgiving celebrations, although the United Empire Loyalists may have brought the turkey theme to the day. It is good to use Thanksgiving, or perhaps Christmas Day or New Year’s Day as foundational days to stop and be thankful. Yet, what if we chose to be thankful every day? Thankfulness is an attitude – perhaps of gratitude, but also thankfulness causes you to think outside yourself and your circumstances. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 reminds us to give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Giving thanks was what I was encouraged to do in October 2013, after I was let go by a radio station I was working for as an ad writer and producer. It’s no secret that the broadcasting industry is a cutthroat business, but still this was an opportunity for God to work something deep into my life: gratitude. My pastor comforted me, but also reminded me that “perhaps this was God’s timing for this to happen at Thanksgiving.” He encouraged me to keep thanking God in all the little things and that Jesus would carry me through. He told me “I feel God is up to some good things. I wonder what door will be open to you. He is our provider and source. In times like this all we can do is trust him. He will make a way…” And so he has. While I’m not working for pay (yet), I moved back to Ontario to be with my husband again. I volunteer in one of my churches in admin/reception and media team. I continue to write, teach and blog. I do prison ministry. I carry on and am thankful for all the little things God brings my way. That thankfulness for each little surprise and gift that came my way made a huge difference. It was like Jesus was carrying me, like the person in the Footprints poem. What happened was a deep outpouring of love from my church families and my own family – especially my parents and my husband.
So Christian living places thankfulness at the centre. We can express thankfulness in many ways. We give traditional thanks for the meals that sustain us physically. Jesus gave thanks as he broke bread and fed five thousand (Matt 14:19/Mark 8:6). The Apostle Paul gave thanks for a meal in the midst of a major storm at sea, and God was with them despite their circumstances (Acts 27:35). Rabbis even encourage giving thanks before a meal AND afterwards. (rabbi blessing link)
Thanksgiving is also is part of other prayers. Many times the Israelites gave thanks throughout the Old Testament. Often thanks are found connected with praise and testimony, such as: I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds (Ps 9:1)
Thanksgiving is also part of the ACTS acronym of remembering how to pray liturgically: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. It reminds us of the prayers that have already been answered before we add to our prayer list. This keeps us mindful that God will not forget what we have asked.
Thankfulness is also something that is deeply needed in the church. Sometimes when people minister to us, we forget to say thank you. We forget and think, ‘why should I? They know how much I am thankful.’ But no! That is not the case! Thanking someone isn’t trivial – the person who is thanked receives deep encouragement and it shows that their gift or action actually meant something. I was involved in the local Cursillo movement and have been deeply blessed by their ministry. Unfortunately it was frowned on to thank your sponsor and those involved in blessing you. Yet, does it really diminish the sacrifice of those who have given? Those who give most often just want to see the person happy and or blessed. Your true gratitude is a gift to those who have ministered to you. And for me, my best gift on holidays and birthdays is when you see the giftee’s face as they are receiving my gift.
Thankfulness also causes us to grow in our faith. The Apostle Paul encourages us in Col 2:7 to continue our walk in God, be established in our faith and overflowing with gratitude. Perhaps deepening faith and being thankful are like two poles that long distance walkers used to keep their pace and balance steady (Christian Answers link).
The Christian life is like that long distance journey. Some of the circumstances we encounter are more difficult than others – and it is then that we remember the thankfulness and trust connection. Paul reminds us in 1 Thess. 5:18 to give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. This does not mean to give thanks FOR all things, such as the difficult times, but to be thankful in some way at all times. Thankfulness is a lifestyle, almost like being an optimist – looking for how God can redeem a situation and make things better. Some of you may have read Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. In that book, Corrie shares about her family’s time in a WW2 concentration camp. They were sent there after they were discovered helping hide Jewish people from the Holocaust. Corrie and her sister Betsie were thrown into a building that had many fleas. While the fleas made life uncomfortable, Betsie was thankful for them! Why? Well, the Nazis avoided their bunker due to the fleas. That meant they could have uninterrupted Bible study and fellowship! So Betsie went even further for being thankful for something unpleasant, because she had the big picture in mind. She trusted that “everything works together for good with those who love God”(Rom 8:28)
Thanksgiving is also a deep part of worship. Psalm 110:4 ties thankfulness and praise: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” Think about it. Many Psalms and other scriptures are put to our worship music. Giving thanks and being thankful is a deep heart felt theme. Our thanks also touches God’s heart. Remember when Jesus healed the ten lepers? Ten were healed of leprosy, but only one returned to thank Jesus. When he did so, Jesus healed him in an even deeper way – beyond the leprosy. “One of the [lepers], when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well. His gratitude was connected to a deep healing and wellness. (Luke 17:15-19)
Andy Cook even likens the “faith has made you well” to faith has saved you, since the Greek word for well used in this passage is the same as salvation (σῴζω). (Andy Cook link)
And so, salvation is another thing to be thankful for as we focus on and worship the Lord. Let’s move beyond our day to day grumbling about the little things and be thankful for what is going right. Let’s be thankful for how God has helped us through difficult times; for kindnesses shown through others, for the big and little blessings he brings our way. They are there if we look. I thank God for your reading this article. May He bless you through and through as you (and I) learn more about thankfulness and our faith. Let’s examine ourselves, give thanks and encourage each other. Let’s sing as in the song “Give thanks with a grateful heart,” and allow God to enlarge our hearts. Let our hearts be filled with love as we continue to thank God in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19)
Have you given thanks today as an act of worship? Next time we will grow in gratitude as we share in the cup of Thanksgiving.
Bless you and Happy New Year!