So, if charities and such host “Christmas in August”, I think today we should have “Thanksgiving in July”! That works, right? Who doesn’t want to eat a nice, big turkey and mashed potato meal when its 100 degrees out and then shimmy into a spandex swimsuit?! Just kidding…that’s not a pretty picture.
But seriously. I have been doing a wonderful Bible study by James MacDonald and Barb Peil entitled “Lord, Change My Attitude,” and this week, the focus was on gratitude and thanksgiving. Now, when we hear “thanksgiving” we usually either think of the holiday, where we all trot out our cute signs that say “thankful,” or “blessed,” and dutifully think of something to say we are thankful for as our families gather around the table….OR we hold up our hands and count off the 5 elements of prayer that we were taught in Sunday school — Praise, Thanksgiving, Intercession, Petition, Confession.
We say things daily like “thank God” as a matter of course when something goes our way, or we narrowly miss disaster — we offer up rote prayers of thanks before mealtimes as a habit — we dutifully list our litany of thanks at bedtime “thank you for our friends and family and for our jobs”. But when did our gratitude and thanksgiving become so stale? When did we stop acknowledging all that we have and are is from God? Even if nothing else goes our way today, or we have nothing else, we should be thanking Him all day long for breath, for life, and for salvation!
In the Bible, thanksgiving is a command — God even goes so far as to say that our faith is rooted in our gratitude and our thanksgiving (read Colossians 2:6-7 ). If we can’t be thankful to God for the obvious things that we have, how can we believe the abstract things like He is God and He loves us? James MacDonald says “Proud people don’t say ‘thank you.’ Proud people never think that they get as much as they deserve. To be grateful at all is to see yourself as the benefactor of someone else’s grace. Humility, then, is the soil of gratitude.” When we recognize that all that we are is from God, and that we need God, then our faith is free to grow strong.
If you ever doubt the power of thanksgiving, spend some time reading the Psalms. King David may be one of my favorite characters in the Bible because even when he went through some crazy, difficult times, his songs to God almost always include thanksgiving for who God is, what He has done over the generations and for David personally, and God drew near to him and blessed him. I know that for me, when I am struggling to see the good in my life, or am burdened by something in particular, if I take some time to truly thank God for all that I have, I feel my mindset turn around almost immediately! God has even changed me so much in the past few years that I can truly thank Him for the difficult times — since I have gone through some difficult things, I have a deeper appreciation for what I do have, I am thankful for new dependence on God and I have also been able to connect with other people on a deeper level and help some of them through their own difficulties. “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
I am borrowing heavily on the direct quotes this week because they sum up what I want to say so perfectly — MacDonald says “gratitude is not based on whether or not we are enjoying our life but on the realities of our lives in God.” Gratitude is a choice and must become a habit and even a way of life for us. I was thinking of the word “discipline” and realized that just like I make a point to eat healthy foods, and have disciplined myself to go to the gym every night whether I feel like it or not, I must also be sure to cultivate the discipline of gratitude and expressing thanksgiving whether or not I’m feeling grateful at that moment. And the truth of it is that expressing gratitude even when you don’t necessarily feel it MAKES you grateful! You start to experience such blessings in your life when you acknowledge that you are blessed, and you have a closer relationship with God when you realize just how incredibly much He loves you by acknowledging what He has done for you.
I challenge you to make a list of things that you are thankful for ….the obvious ones, and the less obvious, and even to try to see the blessing in the hard things. For example, my beautiful girl is having an independent phase that results in battles of the will daily around our house. This morning I was frustrated and at the end of my rope by 10 am, but I thought to myself, I can even thank God for this — her independence is a gift, and her strong personality is going to help her later in life! Similarly, the nights where she wakes up during the night are hard, but they are also a blessing because then I can snuggle my big girl who is otherwise too active to allow cuddles.
Choose gratitude not only on Thanksgiving, but every day, and you will start to realize that you have a life that is overflowing with blessings!