Judging by the holiday’s name, the way to celebrate Thanksgiving seems pretty straightforward: What could be simpler than counting your blessings and saying a prayer of thanks for them?
But the beauty and simplicity of the day have, for many, become complicated by a host of things that divert attention from the object of our gratitude: the Lord. Expressing thanks can be difficult when our mind is preoccupied with expectations (our own as well as others’), a loved one isn’t there to celebrate with us, or hot-button issues aren’t given the day off. Add to that the strain of a heavy travel day and getting the jump on Christmas shopping, and no wonder it’s so common for Thanksgiving to be a high-stress occasion.
The truth is, on a day set aside for being grateful, many people feel miserable. In fact, Christians are no exception. Many of us experience the gloom that comes with the holiday season regardless of how cheerful we may be on any other given day. However, regardless of our feelings, the Bible tells us to constantly give thanks to the Lord.
Read Ps. 100:4; Phil. 4:6; Col. 3:17; and 1 Thess. 5:18
Before opening your Bible, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what He wants you to take away from these passages. Then read the selections, jotting down your first impressions: What questions do you have? Is anything confusing? Which verses speak into your present situation, and how?
Two reasons many of us don’t get the principle of thanksgiving right are somewhat opposite to each other:
1. We give thanks only for the things we feel thankful for.
2. We speak words of thanksgiving out of habit without truly feeling grateful.
In the first case, we fall short of the goal laid out for us in God’s Word—namely, to give thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18). In the second case, we’re behaving religiously on the outside without being transformed on the inside. Instead of giving the Lord our gratitude, we are offering Him platitudes.
It’s easy to feel grateful when the circumstances in our life look sunny or when God answers a prayer with a clear “yes”—an ailing loved one is healed, a job opportunity becomes a sure thing, or your child decides to follow Christ. But the apostle Paul said “in everything.” That may not seem logical or even possible at first. How can you give thanks when your teenager is rebelling, when a co-worker constantly undermines you, or when you feel as if you’re drowning in debt?
Write your thoughts in a journal.
One of the wonderful mysteries about knowing Jesus is that we are able to do something the world would deem crazy or weak—to give thanks in difficult circumstances. We know that our hardships are great opportunities for reflecting God’s love and setting an example of humility and gratitude. And yet many of us still find it hard not to grumble over minor inconveniences. So what’s the problem?
It’s easy to feel grateful when circumstances look sunny. But the apostle Paul said “in everything.”
If we find ourselves complaining instead of recognizing God’s hand in any given situation, there may be a weak link in our connection with the Lord, such as:
1. Greed—We’re not satisfied with what we have and are unable to feel grateful until we have everything we want.
2. Lack of faith—We doubt that God is watching over us and fear our current situation will ultimately result in harm.
3. Entitlement—We feel that we have earned or deserved any good thing in our life and, therefore, don’t see the need to thank anyone for our blessings.
4. Pride—We believe we shouldn’t have to suffer, and we feel resentful when God lets us face trials.
5. Tunnel vision—We are blind to the suffering of those in worse circumstances than ours—people who’d be glad to have just a fraction of the privileges we enjoy.
• Can you think of some other reasons one might fail to feel gratitude toward the Lord in any given situation?
• Could you relate to one (or more) of the items listed? If so, what might you do to address that issue?
Through Jesus, we are able to do things the world would deem crazy or weak, such as giving thanks in difficult circumstances.
• In what way do Proverbs 11:28 and Jeremiah 9:23-24 relate to the list of weak links?
• What does Scripture suggest? (See Jer. 29:11-14; Col. 3:12-15; and James 1:17.)
• Ask the Lord to reveal anything that might be hindering you from recognizing all you should be thanking Him for. Confess any unwillingness to express gratitude for circumstances that seem unpleasant or unwelcome.
•Thomas à Kempis said, “Be thankful for the smallest blessing, and you will deserve to receive greater. Value the least gifts no less than the greatest, and simple graces as especial favours. If you remember the dignity of the Giver, no gift will seem small or mean, for nothing can be valueless that is given by the most high God.” How might his words apply to you?
• This week, take time to write a gratitude list, but compile one with a twist. Instead of making note of the obvious blessings in your life—the things you like and enjoy—write down all the things you are tempted to complain about. Each day, focus on one or two, pray about them, and ask God to help you be grateful even if you can’t immediately recognize the blessing in those situations.
• By the end of the week, try to come up with one reason that you can give thanks for each item on your list.
• Meditate on (and try to memorize) Psalm 95:1-7.