Thanksgiving is next week! That means my sister will be home from college, I'll get to see lots of family, and eat lots of delicious food!
In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I'm writing about, well, thanksgiving. Last week the post answered the question, “Why is thanksgiving God's will for me?” I wrote about the power of thankfulness to humble and uplift.
This week, I'd like to answer another question: How can I be thankful always?
Since thankfulness is God's will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), how can we develop a grateful heart, an “attitude of gratitude”, and truly be thankful?
A life of thanksgiving comes from living in Jesus:
We see in this verse that a growing relationship with Jesus results in an overflowing of thanksgiving. When we live by the Spirit, we do not give in to sinful desires, such as selfishness, pride, and jealousy (Galatians 5:16-21). These are things that get in the way of thankfulness.
When our eyes are turned to ourselves and what we want, we fail to acknowledge (or even notice) God's working. We cannot be grateful for what we have and what God has done because we are to busy wanting more and wishing we were better off. And that is a dangerous place to be.
As we grow in Jesus, our heart becomes more grateful, and as our heart becomes more grateful, there is less room for selfishness and pride to creep in.
Thanksgiving is all about Jesus. Each expression of thanksgiving should be an acknowledgment and praise of the perfect character of Christ. We thank Him for His blessings, as they reveal His love, kindness and generosity. We thank Him amidst hard and painful times, trusting Him to provide and protect. To to know what true gratitude is, and how to be thankful, we must start with the reason for our thankfulness: Jesus.
During this meal with His disciples, Jesus gave thanks for the drink and the bread. Now, He wasn't giving thanks for your average meal. Jesus Himself spoke of this meal as a foreshadowing of what was going to happen to Him; of the gruesome, painful, horrible death He would suffer. He knew He was about to be betrayed by one of His disciples and arrested. He knew another would deny Him as He was spit on, beaten and mocked. He knew He would be taking the punishment you and I deserve. Yet He still gave thanks to God.
Jesus knew that, though there was death before Him, there was also joy before Him. God's will and promises would be fulfilled, Jesus would be raised to life, and it would possible for us to have right relationship with Him. So as He stared death down, Jesus looked to God in thankfulness, and endured. The verse above promises that we, too, will endure when we look to Jesus.
If we base our gratitude on what we have, or how we feel. or our situations, then, when you didn't get enough sleep because you were studying for a test, which by the way you didn't pass, and you're not getting along with your coworkers, and your friend just gossiped about you, and you just broke up with your boyfriend, and your childhood pet died, and your having to skip going to the movies because you don't have enough money, and your feeling insecure about your body because you just discovered that cute dress no longer fits, and there is no ice cream in the house, and little sibling just got on your last nerve, and on top of all that you're feeling lonely, sad, confused... at those times thankfulness will go down the drain, taking joy and peace along with it.
But if our gratitude is based on Jesus, who He is, what He has done and is doing, and what He has promised, then when those hard situations and feelings arise, our eyes will be on Jesus and thankfulness will overflow.
This doesn't mean we have to like the situations, or thank God for the bad that comes, but rather, thank Him that He is still there, still loving, still good, still hearing, still working, still in control.
To develop a grateful heart, we must daily choose to live in Jesus and to focus on Him rather than ourselves or our circumstances. This takes some work on our part. We must learn to check our thoughts and attitudes. When we find ourselves complaining or grumbling, we must replace that with thanksgiving and praise.
Below are some Scripture verses of thanksgiving to God for who He is, what He has done and His promises. Perhaps you would like to pick a couple to memorize or write on an index card to have as a reminder anytime you find yourself being ungrateful.
Let us overflow with thankfulness.