What's the first thing that pops into your head when you hear/read that word? Is it a turkey? What about pumpkin pie? Or maybe family gathered around the food-filled table? That last picture is what comes to my mind.
While all those things are good, we know that Thanksgiving is about more than stuffing yourself with delicious foods. It's about being thankful.
Before Thanksgiving was ever a holiday, God established thanks-giving as a vital part of our relationship with Him. It is God's will that thankfulness is a part of who we are, not just the theme of a holiday we celebrate once a year.
So what does it really mean to give thanks as God commands? What does this look like? How can I be thankful always? And why is it God's will for me to be thankful?
These are the questions I would like to answer during the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. And I'm going to start with the last question from above: why is it God's will for me to be thankful?
God's Word is full of passages about thankfulness; expressions of gratitude to God for His works and blessings, and commands to be thankful.
In reading Scriptures on thankfulness, I've found that thanksgiving does two things for us in our relationship with Jesus: thanksgiving humbles us and thanksgiving uplifts us. At first reading, this may seem contradictory; how can thanksgiving humble and uplift? Let's look to God's Word to find out, and as we do, the question of why thankfulness is important will be answered also.
A basic definition of humble is “not proud or arrogant.” God calls us to be a thankful people to keep us humble and protect us from pride; to help us see His greatness and choose to let Him do great things in us, for us and through us.
Throughout Scripture, thanksgiving and praise go hand-in-hand. God is worthy and deserving of both. He is the one who created all things and holds all things together (Colossians 1:15-17). He has performed mighty deeds (Luke 1:51). He loves us with eternal love (Jeremiah 31:3). And He displayed this love through Jesus (1 John 4:9-10).
Throughout Scripture, thanksgiving also accompanies prayer. This is not just because when we are praying is a good time to offer thanks, but giving thanks in our prayers and with our requests keeps us from treating God like a genie-in-a-bottle, someone we go to only when we want something. In giving thanks, we recognize that God is Lord, and that He has the best plan.
There is much in life we can take for granted. And there is much in life we think we deserve or are entitled to. But when we give thanks to God, we are recognizing His providing hand in our lives. We are recognizing His blessings and gifts as just that... blessings and gifts that we could never ever earn, not-in-a-million-years, yet He has still lavished on us.
Thanksgiving keeps our eyes off ourselves and on Jesus. Our vision is not clouded by selfishness when we recognize the awesome love and power of God, and we can be humble.
The same quality of thanksgiving that humbles us also uplifts us: as we recognize the greatness of God through thanksgiving and are reminded of His love and power, we recall His promises to care for us, and this uplifts us when pain, worry and fear threaten to sink us.
The action of thanksgiving goes hand-in-hand with praise and prayer, and the attitude of thankfulness goes hand-in-hand with peace.
Because thanksgiving turns our eyes to Jesus, even when circumstances are hard we can still have peace and rise above the hardships. This comes in remembering all Jesus has done, and His promise to work things for our good (Romans 8:28). We can know He is faithful and we can discern His blessings even amidst the pain and sorrows of life.
God calls us to be grateful not just because He is deserving of our gratitude (and He definitely is!), but also because thankfulness helps us, keeping us from being arrogant and reminding us of God's unfailing love and working in our lives.
O Lord my God, I will give You thanks forever (Psalm 30:12).