The Discipline of Thanksgiving

The Discipline of Thanksgiving Hero Image The Discipline of Thanksgiving Hero Image

Once a year, our whole country stops for a day to give thanks. (Or, at least, that’s the original intent behind the “Turkey Day” holiday).

For Christians, though, every day should be Thanksgiving. Gratitude is supposed to mark the life of every believer. We are to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). That’s all circumstances, not just the one where you get the permission to overeat and watch football on a Thursday.

But it still makes sense that we have a day dedicated to Thanksgiving, because we need that reminder. In fact, we need reminding far more often than just once a year. Gratitude is a discipline; if we are to do it constantly, then we have to develop it consciously.

To help cultivate a heart of gratitude, here are seven things to remember:

1. Remember that every good gift comes from God.

Every good thing in your life, ever, is a gift from God (James 1:17). Your life itself, and every second of that life, is a gift. You didn’t do anything to earn such gifts; God just chose to give them to you.

We should be thankful for these gifts. The problem is that we usually don’t recognize them as gifts. In fact, we may not think about them at all. We typically don’t consider the great value of the gifts we have been given until they are taken away from us. For example, when is the last time you gave thanks for your sense of hearing? Or your ability to walk or stand? There are people who have lost limbs, or senses, or abilities, who know exactly how valuable those gifts are.

Without thankfulness, you are unlikely to fully enjoy those gifts or utilize them fully. Give thanks now for everything you have been given, and put your gifts to good use while you can.

2. Remember that God doesn’t owe you anything.

Entitlement keeps us from genuinely appreciating the Lord’s many gifts. When we feel entitled to something, we fail to appropriately offer thanks. To combat an entitled way of thinking, we must remind ourselves that God doesn’t owe us anything. All that we receive from His hand is an expression of His kindness because, apart from His grace, we deserve judgment. By realizing that we are not owed anything good, we can be grateful for the many, many good things God has given us.

3. Remember that the eye is never satisfied.

Envy, greed, and lust are enemies of gratitude. They leave us unsatisfied with the good things that we do have, causing us to focus instead on what we don’t have yet. We think that if we only had that thing, then we would be happy. Then we could be thankful.

The problem is that the eye is never satisfied (Ecclesiastes 1:8; Proverbs 27:20). If you are not thankful for what you have now, you will not be thankful when you get that promotion, or that new car, or that marriage you’ve always wanted. You’ll just start longing for the next thing. I’m sure there are items you once desperately wanted that are now gathering dust in the attic, or accomplishments that you relished for just one day before setting your sights on the next step up in your life.

Instead of lusting over what you don’t have, appreciate what you do have. Be content, and be thankful.

4. Remember that gratitude doesn’t come naturally.

Thankfulness is something you learn, and something you need to teach to others.

This is easy to see when you have young children. Kids are not naturally thankful; they are naturally selfish and entitled. You have to teach them to be thankful and provide an example by consistently showing gratitude yourself.

Even when it seems really obvious that people should be thankful, they often aren’t. When Jesus miraculously healed ten people of leprosy—which was a terrible, uncurable disease at the time—only one of them came back to give thanks (Luke 17:11-19). This was a miracle that radically changed their lives for the better, and yet 90 percent of them didn’t bother to express gratitude. Don’t be an ungrateful leper; learn to recognize and give thanks for the miracles in your own life.

5. Remember that gratitude is best expressed when we speak specifically, not generally.

When you thank someone, thank them specifically for what they did. “Thank you for spending hours cooking this delicious meal for the family” means a lot more than “Thanks for dinner.” Acknowledge all of the ways in which the person has sacrificed to serve you. Doing so not only serves them well, but it also helps you recognize all the things you have to be thankful for.

6. Remember that the Lord promises to use everything for our good.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says to “give thanks in all circumstances,” not for all circumstances. You don’t have to be dishonest and pretend you are thankful for bad things.

However, it is possible to cultivate gratitude even in hard situations. Romans 8:28 says that “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” God is able to work through all circumstances, even those we would not have chosen for ourselves. When you keep that in mind, you can give thanks even for circumstances that seem bad, because you can trust that God will eventually use that situation for good.

7. Remember to thank God with every prayer.

Thankfulness and prayer are often mentioned together in the Bible. “Give thanks” is practically a synonym for prayer.

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” So, ask God for what you need in prayer, but always do so “with thanksgiving.” Giving thanks reminds us that God is good and that we can trust Him with our requests.

My prayer is that all of us will grow in gratitude this Thanksgiving, and that we will continue to give thanks every day after that. Let us be known for our gratitude. Let’s be the leper who returned.