As I sat down to have my morning devotions, ‘Feliz Navidad’ played faintly on the radio upstairs. Jose Feliciano wanted ‘to wish me a Merry Christmas’.
I was happy to accept, but we hadn’t even reached Thanksgiving yet.
I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but early Christmas music and store displays illustrate our culture’s tendency to look right past Thanksgiving as we anticipate Christmas. And our own tendency to neglect not just the holiday, but the life-giving practice of being thankful.
Let’s take a quick look at the importance God places on being thankful, then talk about a few practical ways we can grow in gratitude.
What’s Wrong With The World
It’s easy to feel like having a thankful heart is just one small part of a balanced, Christian life. Kind of like making sure you have a little dairy or protein in your diet.
But when Paul tells us what’s wrong with the world, listen to what he says:
Although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)
Whoa. Ingratitude, Paul says, is at the very heart of our problems. It will make our thought lives ‘futile’, ineffective and pointless. And fill the core of who we are (our ‘hearts’) with spiritual darkness.
But maybe Paul was coming off one of his sleepless nights and overreacting a bit.
Thanksgiving: No Minor Theme
Or, maybe not.
- In the (ESV) bible, forms of the word ‘thank’ occur 162 times.
- Forms of the word ‘praise’ show up 238 times.
- The bible also uses many other, related words like ‘magnify’ and ‘exalt’ that reflect the importance of this theme.
Many of the psalms – Israel’s hymnal – focus on giving thanks. Examples include Psalms 34, 100, 117, 118, 135, 136 and several others.
Not surprisingly, Jesus was a man of deep gratitude. For example, in Matthew 11:25,
Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.’
Paul picks right up where Jesus left off, often urging us to put thanksgiving at the center of our lives. Colossians 3:15-17 is one especially powerful example:
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
This is just a small taster, of course. The bible goes on and on about how critical it is to have a heart filled with gratitude. For small, everyday blessings like the food on our tables, but especially that the ‘God of gods… who alone does great wonders’ has such unending, ‘steadfast love’ for us (Psalm 136:2, 4), even in the face of our rebellion.
Becoming people who are filled with gratitude is an essential, life-giving practice we need to keep developing.
Three Practical Ways We Can Become More Thankful
I’ll be honest with you: I tend to be a glass half-empty guy. I remember my elementary gym teacher sarcastically calling me ‘Smilin’ Jack‘ because I didn’t smile all that often. So I’m sharing this with you as someone who needs to grow here, probably more than you do.
But let’s use this Thanksgiving as another small opportunity to become more grateful. Here are three simple, practical ideas we can try.
1. Write your own psalm of thanksgiving.
Choose a psalm of thanksgiving as your template, and write your own song of praise to God. For example, Psalm 135 focuses on giving thanks for God’s goodness in choosing his people (3-4, 14), his sovereign control over creation (5-7) and Israel’s history (8-12), and how he exposes our idols as worthless (15-18).
What would it look like for you to write out your own prayer of thanks, following the general outline of this (or another) psalm?
Many of us spend regular time reading the bible and praying. Those practices are the heart of our relationship with God, where we hear from him and respond.
But singing to him is a part of our life with God that many of us neglect. Maybe – like me – you don’t consider yourself very ‘musical’. Or, it’s hard to find a truly quiet place to be alone with God as you sing.
Try getting up before everyone else, going on a quiet walk, or just singing in the car. I think you’ll be surprised at the way singing adds a new layer to the intimacy you experience with God, even if no one confuses you with Chris Tomlin.
And, as a serious bonus, singing has a ton of health benefits, like increased pleasure and reduced stress, anxiety and depression. It’s almost like God planned it that way… 😉
3. Start A Gratitude Ritual
Most of us live full, busy lives, especially during the holidays. It can be hard to develop new habits, especially ones that go against our nature like becoming thankful.
This is where starting a ritual of gratitude can be helpful. There are lots of simple options:
- scribbling a few things in a notebook at the end of the day
- make a quick voice recording on your phone on the way home from work
- simply rehearsing what you’re grateful for as you fall asleep at night
I’m trying a free, online ‘gratitude challenge’ from thnx4.org. There are different options, but the main things are recording what you’re thankful for in an online journal and recording how you’re feeling on a given day. They remind you to do it, and at the end you even receive personal insights on how the challenge has helped you. You can also do it as part of a group.
Get Started, Keep Going
It’s not about getting this perfect or coming up with some big master plan. The bottom line is that God is good, and he’s given us a million reasons to be thankful. Our holiday of Thanksgiving is another, natural opportunity to give this biblical, life-giving practice some renewed attention.
How will you begin to cultivate more thanksgiving in your own life? (Join the conversation in the comments below!)