So Thanksgiving week is almost here, the start of the “holiday season”. I always loved Thanksgiving as kid. It meant my dad got two weekdays off from work and we went deer hunting. It was also a time for gathering with the extended family for feasts. I loved everything about those feasts except for the turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. It always struck me as funny that what most people seem to love about the Thanksgiving feast I could do without. Time changes some things, I now love the Thanksgiving turkey, and I will eat pumpkin pie though I still prefer apple or chocolate pie (with graham cracker crust). Some things stay the same however, for example I still can’t stand cranberry sauce.
All families have their own traditions for the holidays; one that I always like was going around the table having each person say one thing they are thankful for. This seemed to fit nicely between the meal and the dessert; before the meal and nobody is paying attention while after dessert nobody is awake. After everyone has said their goodbyes and headed home, what is next for you? Does it feel like the big task of being thankful is now done and it is time to move to the next piece of the holidays? I would like to suggest to you that there is so much more to thankfulness than this.
Psalm 118:1 “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”
Psalm 106:1 “Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!”
Psalm 100:4 “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!”
Colossians 3:15-17 “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
It is clear all through the Bible that being thankful is very important to God. And why shouldn’t it be? He has given us everything, from the breath we breathe, to the very ability to rise up and live our lives. It is very easy to forget the wonder of it all as our day to day life takes over, and the amazing becomes ordinary.
The act of being thankful, in everything, is a conscious choice to rightly align your mind. It is acknowledging God’s place on the throne, and being grateful for what He has given. In our culture of “self-made” men and women we hear much more about what we deserve or earn than about being grateful. However, there are no self-made men or women. Any ability, talent, opportunity, or skill is all a gift from God. He gives good gifts to all people.
Matthew 5:45b “For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
All of God’s commands are for our good, including His often repeated command to be thankful. God is a loving Father, who wants what is best for His children. He also tells us why His commands are important. In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he opens with a detailed description of some of the causes and consequences of sin. I want to look at just a couple of pieces of it.
Romans 1:21 “For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
The part that strikes me is “futile in their thinking”. As you may recall from earlier writing, I went through a very dark time of active alcoholism. One of the things that I can look back at and see as a key contributing factor was that I was not thankful to God. I acted and felt like I was doing God a favor by showing up to church, or bothering to stop for a quick prayer once a day. Not very surprisingly, an inflated ego and self-made attitude quickly followed. God resists the proud, and chastens any son who is His son, a fact I am extremely grateful for today. If you talk to anyone who has recovered from addiction whether it was drugs or alcohol, you will hear one theme repeated over and over again; the importance of an attitude of gratitude.
It would not take a very detailed examination of my life as an active alcoholic to see a lot of futile thinking. Paul gives a good list of some of the ways that shows up.
Romans 1:28-31 “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”
I know that in my life, any time that I take the focus away from being thankful to God in all things, I can feel some of these mindsets start creeping in. If I stop being thankful, it is not long before the haughty boastfulness shows right up. When I am not thankful, I am taking God off from the throne of my life, but it will not stay empty. A throne needs something or someone to be on it. So if I remove God, something else is going to take His place.
I have traveled a long way down the road of putting something else on God’s throne, and it is an ugly, nasty road. Maybe you know what that road feels like. Maybe for you it isn’t drugs or alcohol, but it is something else taking God’s place on the throne; and that thing leaves you feeling empty and dirty inside. It leaves a pain and shame combination that can quickly lead to despair and misery which will leave you feeling isolated, unloved, unworthy, and undesirable to God or other people.
There is hope however, that hope is found in Jesus. Jesus, who loves us so much that even when we were in the midst of our most vile, futile lives, He went to the cross and took the punishment that we deserve for the things on these lists from Paul. By doing so He allows us to be restored to the Father and start or restart down the road with Him.
I say that thankfulness is a way of life. Paul actually addresses this in his final instructions to the Thessalonians (I Thessalonians 5:12-24). I want to highlight a couple of parts.
I Thessalonians 5:16-18 “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Vs 23-24 “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”
There are many parts about God’s will for my life that I do not know or understand. Here is one spot where it is spelled right out for me. God’s will in my life and in your life, is to give thanks in all circumstances. I most certainly am not an expert at this, but I will share how I have been trying to apply it to my life. When I wake up in the morning, before I even hit the alarm to silence, I try to thank God for where I am (I am home, sober, in bed, warm, etc.). After I get out of bed, and head downstairs to begin the day I talk to God about what is going on. As I go through my day, anytime I feel frustration or any of those dangerous mindsets beginning, I know it is time to intentionally be thankful. Give thanks in the moment. For example, if I feel envious of someone else’s truck, I can stop and be thankful that my 20 year old truck started this morning, that it is paid for, that it took me to my job safely, just like it has every other morning, that I have a job to go to in order to provide for my family, that I have a family to provide for…. Once God is in His rightful place on the throne of my life, thankfulness begins to flow, and the more time I am thankful, the easier it is to be thankful more.
One of the other benefits of being intentionally thankful through the day is that when I am thanking God, I know in that moment I am living in God’s will for my life. So for me yes, thanksgiving is a way of life, not a holiday. I love the holiday of Thanksgiving, and I hope you do too. I would encourage you however, to not relegate thanksgiving to a day. If you make it a way of life, blessings will flow from it; blessings such as peace, contentment, joy, things that cannot be purchased – they can only be given by a good God.