Every autumn we throw a scrumptious Thanksgiving feast on campus at Cornerstone University. Our students love it! Last year a group of students played a game at their table. They challenged each other to name something they were thankful for—in three seconds or less—without repeating what someone else had said. Anyone who got stymied was out of the game.
There are all kinds of things that students might gripe about—tests, deadlines, rules, and a host of other college-type complaints. But these students had chosen to be thankful. And my guess is that they all felt a lot better after the game than they would have if they had chosen to complain.
While there will always be things to complain about, if we look carefully there are always blessings to be thankful for. When Paul describes our newness in Christ, “thankfulness” is the only characteristic mentioned more than once. In fact it is mentioned three times. “Be thankful,” he says in Colossians 3:15. Sing to God “with gratitude in your hearts” (v. 16). And whatever you do, be sure to be “giving thanks to God the Father” (v. 17). Paul’s instruction to be thankful is astonishing when we consider that he wrote this letter from prison!
Today, let’s make the choice to have an attitude of thankfulness.
Emily listened as a group of friends talked about their family Thanksgiving traditions. “We go around the room and each one tells what he or she is thankful to God for,” Gary said. Another mentioned the last Thanksgiving meal with his dad before he died and went to heaven: “Even though Dad had dementia, his prayer of thanks to the Lord was clear.” Randy shared, “My family has a special time of singing together on the holiday. My grandma goes on and on and on!” Emily’s sadness and jealousy grew as she thought of her own family, and she complained: “Our traditions are to eat turkey, watch television, and never mention anything about God or giving thanks.”
Right away Emily felt uneasy with her attitude. You are part of that family. What would you like to do differently to change the day? she asked herself. She decided she wanted to privately tell each person she was thankful to the Lord that they were her sister, niece, brother, or great-niece. When the day arrived, she expressed her thankfulness for them one by one, and they all felt loved. It wasn’t easy because it wasn’t normal conversation in her family, but she experienced joy as she shared her love for each of them.
“Let everything you say be good and helpful,” wrote the apostle Paul, “so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Eph. 4:29 nlt). Our words of thanks can remind others of their value to us and to God.
My son is learning to count from 1 to 10. He counts everything from toys to trees. He counts things I tend to overlook, like the wildflowers on his way to school or the toes on my feet.
My son is also teaching me to count again. Often I become so immersed in things I haven’t finished or things I don’t have that I fail to see all the good things around me. I have forgotten to count the new friends made this year and the answered prayers received, the tears of joy shed and the times of laughter with good friends.
My ten fingers are not enough to count all that God gives me day by day. “Many,
Let us join David as he praises God for all His precious thoughts about us and all He has done for us, when he says, “How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand” (139:17-18).
Let’s learn to count again!
It's only a keychain. Five little blocks held together by a shoelace. My daughter gave it to me years ago when she was 7. Today the lace is frayed and the blocks are chipped, but they spell a message that never grows old: “I ♥ DAD.”
The most precious gifts are determined not by what went into them, but by who they are from. Ask any parent who ever received a bouquet of dandelions from a chubby hand. The best gifts are valued not in money but in love.
Zechariah understood that. We hear it in his prophetic song as he praised God for giving him and his wife Elizabeth their son John when they were well past their childbearing years (Luke 1:67-79). Zechariah rejoiced because John was to be a prophet who would proclaim God’s greatest gift to all people—the coming Messiah: “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us” (Luke 1:78
The sweetest gift we can receive is God's tender mercy—the forgiveness of our sins through Jesus. That gift cost Him dearly at the cross, but He offers it freely out of His deep love for us.
After Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan scored a goal against Germany in the 2014 World Cup, he and his teammates did a coordinated dance step. When Germany’s Miroslav Klose scored a few minutes later, he did a running front flip. “Soccer celebrations are so appealing because they reveal players’ personalities, values, and passions,” says Clint Mathis, who scored for the US at the 2002 World Cup.
In Psalm 150, the psalmist invites “everything that has breath” to celebrate and praise the Lord in many different ways. He suggests that we use trumpets and harps, stringed instruments and pipes, cymbals and dancing. He encourages us to creatively and passionately celebrate, honor, and adore the Lord. Because the Lord is great and has performed mighty acts on behalf of His people, He is worthy of all praise. These outward expressions of praise will come from an inner wellspring overflowing with gratitude to God. “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord,” the psalmist declares (150:6).
Though we may celebrate the Lord in different ways (I’m not encouraging back flips in our worship services), our praise to God always needs to be expressive and meaningful. When we think about the Lord’s character and His mighty acts toward us, we cannot help but celebrate Him through our praise and worship.
When our kids were young, one of them bluntly said “no” when we passed him some peas for dinner. To which we replied, “No what?” We hoped he would say, “No, thank you.” Instead he said, “No peas!” That led to a discussion about the importance of good manners. In fact, we had similar discussions on numerous occasions.
Beyond good manners—which are external—our Lord reminds us that we are to have a heart of gratitude. Scripture contains dozens of reminders that expressing gratitude is of primary importance in our relationship with God. Psalm 118 begins and ends with the exhortation to “give thanks to the Lord” (vv. 1, 29). We are to give thanks when we come into His presence (100:4). And the requests we bring to Him are to be wrapped in a spirit of thanksgiving (Phil. 4:6). Such an attitude of gratitude will help us remember our abundant blessings. Even in the midst of trouble and despair, God’s presence and love are our constant companions.
It’s no wonder, then, that the psalmist reminds us to “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Ps. 118:1).
The outreach activities of our church culminated with a city-wide service. As the team that had organized and led the events—comprised of our youth music group, counselors, and church leaders—walked onto the stage, we all excitedly applauded and poured out our appreciation for their hard work.
One man, however, was hardly noticeable, yet he was the leader of the team. When I saw him a few days later, I thanked and congratulated him for his work and said, “We hardly noticed you during the program.”
“I like to work in the background,” he said. He was not concerned with getting recognition for himself. It was time for those who did the work to receive appreciation.
His quiet demeanor was an entire sermon to me. It was a reminder that when serving the Lord, I need not seek to be recognized. I can give honor to God whether or not I’m openly appreciated by others. A Christ-first attitude can subdue any petty jealousies or unhealthy competition.
Jesus, who is “above all” (John 3:31), “must become greater; I must become less” (v.30). When we have this attitude, we will seek the progress of God’s work. It is Christ, not us, who should be the focus of all we do.
“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” says the Westminster Catechism. Much of Scripture calls for joyful gratitude and adoration of the living God. When we honor God, we celebrate Him as the Source from which all goodness flows.
When we praise God from our heart we find ourselves in that joyful state for which we were created. Just as a beautiful sunset or a peaceful pastoral scene points to the majesty of the Creator, so worship draws us into a close spiritual union with Him. The psalmist says, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise . . . . The Lord is near to all who call on him” (Ps. 145:3,18).
God does not need our praise, but we need to praise God. By basking in His presence we drink in the joy of His infinite love and rejoice in the One who came to redeem and restore us. “In your presence there is fullness of joy,” the psalmist says. “At your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11 esv).
We gave our 2-year-old son a pair of new boots recently. He was so happy that he didn’t take them off until it was bedtime. But the next day he forgot all about the boots and put on his old sneakers. My husband said, “I wish he knew how much things cost.”