Beyond Gratitude this Thanksgiving


Earlier this week my children were excitedly discussing the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday. Considering they are yet to come off their Halloween sugar high and the fact that Christmas is right around the corner (not to mention upcoming birthdays for two of them), I was extremely pleased that they were looking forward to a holiday like Thanksgiving which seems considerably less materialistic in nature. As I continue to listen from the other room, one of them runs in and says, “Dad, you know why I can’t wait for Thanksgiving!?” Anticipating something meaningful was about to be shared, I said “Tell me why, buddy.” He then blurted out with great excitement, “Because then you will let us listen to Christmas music!”

I had to laugh, because his answer pretty much reflects the reality of the season at our house. We intentionally do as much as we possibly can to put off the celebration of Christmas until after Thanksgiving is over. There is certainly some flexibility to this decision and it in no way indicates any kind of disdain for Christmas. We just feel that it is very important to take advantage of the holiday of Thanksgiving to help emphasize the importance of practicing a lifestyle of thanksgiving. Unfortunately, just like Christmas, there is great danger that the true meaning behind Thanksgiving can be obscured by our materialistic culture and values.

Before you start nodding in agreement and mumbling to yourself about all of those ungrateful pagans out there that don’t acknowledge that God is the giver of all good gifts, let me be clear that I am especially talking about the materialistic culture and values of those that are within the family of Christ. I am not saying that we as Christians are not thankful to God for what he gives us; I am merely saying that gratitude for stuff is the shallowest kind of thankfulness and still reflects that our priorities are material in nature. True thanksgiving is not about merely being thankful for stuff (though we certainly should be). It is not about being thankful for gifts; it is about being thankful for the giver. It isn’t even about being thankful for God’s blessings; it is about being thankful for God Himself.

I was recently struck by the truth and simplicity of this fact while reading Psalm 107:8-9. “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” Notice that we are grateful for God’s love and works, but he is the one for whom we are ultimately thankful. He is the one that satisfies the longing soul. It is not for the stuff he gives, but for he himself that we give thanks. We are compelled to offer our thanksgiving to God because He is the only one that can satisfy – only he can fill the emptiness within us. If we become fixated on the gifts we receive from God like health and wealth and relationships and toys then we will never be satisfied. While those things are good, they are never enough. However, when what we want is God, then we are content no matter what other blessings we receive. This is the key to true thanksgiving!

Today, as you offer thanks for family and friends and for turkey and pie and football and killer Black Friday deals don’t forget to spend some time going deeper. I challenge you to go beyond mere gratitude this Thanksgiving and contemplate God and his endless love and infinite goodness. Consider the immense spiritual blessings he has bestowed upon you like forgiveness and salvation and strength and power and courage. Offer thanks that he is your deliverer from trouble and distress. Thank him for being your wise guide through the difficulties of life. Be thankful that he is your protector, provider, friend and sovereign king. Have a truly happy and blessed Thanksgiving while practicing the words of the psalmist, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the LORD say so!” (Psalm 107:1-2).


Some Thoughts on Thanksgiving


Thanksgiving as a holiday is many things to many people. It might be little more than a day off to one or a significant and profoundly meaningful day of reflection to another. It could be about turkey and football or the end of fall and the beginning of Christmas. Perhaps it is a day for family gatherings, parades and Charlie Brown specials. Whatever your Thanksgiving entails, I’m guessing that in the midst of it all there will be a time of reflection and giving of thanks. For the Christian, this should be a special day filled with worshipful gratitude to our heavenly Father, but even for those who are not a part of the family of faith it is generally a special day filled with greater than usual gratefulness.

It’s about more than more.

Though gratitude should be a constant companion of every Christian, we generally find ourselves putting forth greater effort over the holiday season to “be thankful” and “count our blessings.” Along with everyone else, I usually focus on the quantity of my thankfulness. You know the drill: more thankful for more stuff more often. While this is certainly good and commendable, I have found my thoughts going in a little bit different direction this year. I’ve been thinking more about the quality of my thankfulness.

Don’t forget quality!

I don’t mean how good I am at being thankful, but rather the quality or substance of that for which I am thankful. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I should be thankful for everything. However, I recently read a statement that caused me to consider the types of things for which I am most frequently thankful. The quote by D.A. Carson is this: “…by and large, our thanksgiving seems to be tied rather tightly to our material well-being and comfort. The unvarnished truth is that what we most frequently give thanks for betrays what we most highly value.”

While a general attitude of gratefulness and thanksgiving is important and becoming in the life of a Christian, it can also be an effective gage of where our priorities really lie. This realization has led me to consider whether all or most of my gratitude is focused toward material things, possessions and physical blessings. There is much to be thankful for that is outside of the scope of the material realm.

Expand your thankfulness.

Here are some areas to consider as you offer thanks this holiday season and the rest of the year.

  • Spiritual blessings and not just stuff. Are you as thankful when you are shown grace, mercy and patience as you would be if you were given cash or some other material gift?
  • Meaningful relationships. Do I value people or am I merely thankful for I get from those relationships?
  • The Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence. Are you truly grateful for God’s direction in your life and His Word that is available to you?
  • Spiritual growth. Do you feel as grateful when your children manifest Christ-like character as you do when they excel in school or sports? Are you as thankful for personal spiritual growth as you are for career or personal success?
  • Trials and difficulties. Are thankful for the hard things God places in your life or are you only grateful when life is easy?

Be thankful for your treasure.

Obviously we should also be thankful for material blessings and personal comforts, but that isn’t world that we should be most preoccupied with. After all, Jesus tells us in Matthew 9:19-21 that we should “…not lay up … treasures on earth…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Make it your goal this season to evaluate what is truly most important to you. If necessary, make some adjustments and be sure to offer thanks for your real treasure.

Enter with Thanksgiving

Tomorrow we celebrate the wonderful, though often overlooked, holiday of Thanksgiving. I say overlooked because Halloween and Christmas seem to collide leaving no room for Thanksgiving decorations. I say overlooked because it commemorates no particular event, battle, person or birth. I say overlooked because by the time we do get around to celebrating, we often focus on all the wrong things. We get excited about feasting on a grand turkey dinner, watching football and parades and even shopping.

While none of these things are wrong and I certainly look forward to some of them myself (you can guess as to which ones they might be), I am reminded that the roots of thanksgiving are not in excess, but in contentment; not in leisure, but in struggle; not in getting, but in giving. Our nation has a rich history of setting aside time to give thanks and I believe it is this heart of thankfulness to God that formed the fertile soil in which our great nation has grown. And it isn’t just a holiday, good idea or national heritage; it is a biblical mandate for all of us. The Bible repeatedly urges believers to give thanks to God (Col 1:12, 3:17) and abound in thanksgiving (Col 2:7). We are also told to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (I Thess 5:18).”

For most of us, this should be easy! We certainly have a lot to be thankful for, don’t we? In the midst of all the celebrating, remember that Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity to “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name (Psalm 100:4).” As you make your plans for this Thanksgiving Day, make sure to leave room for giving thanks.