Thanksgiving is my favorite national holiday because it’s one time when our nation seems to embrace a uniquely Christian virtue. We aren’t talking about the social grace of saying “thank you,” but what Webster calls “a feeling of thankful appreciation for favors or benefits received without payment or obligation. A warm, appreciative response to kindness.” We call it a Christian attitude of gratitude.
Our society has moved to a “survival of the fittest” mentality. This philosophy says that if I have a blessing, it’s because I am more fit, and I have earned it. If I give a blessing, it is because I expect to get something in return. In contrast to this view, the Bible instructs followers of Jesus to have an attitude of gratitude—to be in constant thanksgiving. (See 2 Corinthians 9:11-12; Ephesians 5:4; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 2:7 and 4:2; 1 Timothy 2:1 and 4:3-4.) You develop and grow in this attitude because being thankful means caring about others more than yourself. The more mature a Christian becomes, the more gratitude they will have.
Most of the ills in society today are because we have turned away from having a Christian attitude of gratitude and have turned to the survival of the fittest mentality. Divorce happens when we don’t look for the good things our mate brings to us. We must be thankful for their strengths instead of dwelling on their weaknesses. Parents can damage children’s self-image by not expressing genuine gratitude for the positive things children bring to their lives. Old age becomes a real challenge when the family focuses on the burdens the senior brings to them instead of the blessings the person has given through the years.
Romans 1 describes the decadent world in which we live. Verses 21 and 22 tell about an ungrateful person: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.”
God does not instruct us to be thankful because He has a huge ego that needs praise. We need to be grateful for every blessing in life because that will shape us into the kind of person we should be. Be thankful to live in America, to have medical solutions for life’s ills, to have enough to eat, a warm home, and loved ones. Whatever blessings you have, don’t take them for granted. Develop a Chrisitan attitude of gratitude and have a thankful Thanksgiving.
In 1863, the Civil War was in progress when Abraham Lincoln made a Thanksgiving Day proclamation asking U. S. citizens to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise.” Special days of thanksgiving had been observed in the colonies for centuries beginning with the pilgrim thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, with the Wampanoag people in 1621. It wasn’t until 1941 that Congress finally designated the fourth Thursday in November as “Thanksgiving Day” thus creating a federal holiday. What are the benefits of thanksgiving, and I don’t mean just the holiday?
A person’s belief system affects how they observe and participate in the holiday. As America has become more prosperous and science and technology have made our lives more comfortable, we have bought into the idea that we are the sole controllers of what we have and what we will have in the future. “Survival of the fittest” has led to a mindset that we must be the fittest in every area of life. Some religions have adopted this mantra to justify the extermination of those who are not part of their faith. Genocide, abortion, euthanasia, racism, and abuse of all kinds are rooted in the mindset that “survival of the fittest” produces.
God has always encouraged His children to view thanksgiving as essential. In Leviticus 22:29, God told the Israelites to participate in a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Jesus Christ in Matthew 5-7. turned the notion of survival of the fittest upside down. He gave statement after statement about behaviors and beliefs that did not promote the survival of the individual but submission to and promotion of others. In Ephesians 5:4, Paul takes all of the loose talk, crudeness, and covetous behavior and says, “Instead let there be thanksgiving.”
So what are the benefits of thanksgiving? I don’t mean just the holiday but the daily and weekly way we think and act? Look at the living things all around and the stars and planets in the night sky. Look at family and friends. Look in the mirror and reflect on how blessed we are to be alive. A person who is not looking to how they can subdue someone else or get what someone else has is a person who is at peace. When Jesus calls us to live at peace with everyone, turn the other cheek, give to others, and show mercy and gratitude to others, He calls us to the real, meaningful things in life.
Nobody likes to be involved in stress, fighting, bickering, and war. As long as “survival of the fittest” is our key to living, those destructive drives will be a part of our makeup. They jeopardize our health, our relationships, and our joy at being alive. A key to joyous living is one of the benefits of thanksgiving. An attitude of gratitude should be a daily, hourly activity. Pause to give thanks every time you eat. Spend some time looking at your family and those around you. For the past four days, we have talked about faith in God as a foundation for our lives. With that faith, you can be thankful that God has made you a person who doesn’t have to live in fear of death and dying. Rejoice in the knowledge that this life is only a small snippet of our total existence.
When we read the teachings of Jesus in Matthew chapters 5 through 7, we see how different they are from any other religious teaching in the world. Following those teachings would benefit all of the inhabitants of this planet. Jesus taught an essential attitude toward possessions and wealth. I have always enjoyed the phrase “attitude of gratitude.”
Americans have moved from an attitude of gratitude to an attitude of entitlement. There is no reason to give thanks for something if it was owed to us in the first place. We seem to jump from one “gimmie festival” to another as we go through the holidays. The result of this is stress, worry, anxiety, and all of the physiological disorders that go with this self-induced pressure.
Many years ago, Dr. Stephen Post, a physician at Case Western Medical School, shared some data on how people benefit from an attitude of gratitude in Guideposts Magazine (November 2007, page 78):
Just 15 minutes a day focusing on things you’re thankful for will significantly increase your body’s natural antibodies.
Naturally grateful people are more focused mentally and measurably less vulnerable to clinical depression.
A grateful state of mind induces a physiological state called resonance that’s associated with healthier blood pressure and heart rate.
Caring for others is draining. But grateful caregivers are healthier and more capable than less grateful ones.
Recipients of donated organs who have the most grateful attitudes heal faster.
How do Christians develop a natural gratitude that affords them these benefits? In the Psalms, the Hebrew word for thanks occurs 31 times. Psalms is a worship book that concentrates on praise to God. Thanksgiving is a vital part of the praise and worship of God. In the New Testament, there are 50 occurrences of the word “thanks.” The Hebrew word “towdah” and the Greek word “eucharista” convey pure worship and are translated “thanks.” Giving, being thankful, feeling gratitude for our blessings is pure worship, and it culminates in service to others.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27, NIV). Materialism is a serious source of pollution to our spiritual living. An attitude of gratitude can help to clear that pollution.
Three the things which separate humans from our animal friends are creativity, worship, and thankfulness. Humans, created in the image of God, display that image in our own creativity. We express creativity in various artistic and productive ways. One important area of human creativity is music. Birds sing, but all individuals of any species of bird sing the same song, and they have for as long as we have known that species. They are singing the song they were programmed to sing. The only exceptions are a few birds that imitate various sounds or imitate the songs of other birds. Imitation is not creativity. Humans sing and play, many different styles of music, and we are constantly creating new songs. We even combine worship with our creativity in music as we sing to honor God. Music moves us, excites us, and touches us deeply, making it a natural outlet for worship.
Thankfulness is another area that separates us from the animals. A couple of years ago, my wife and I were leaving a sandwich shop where we ate lunch. An elderly woman with a smile on her face came up to our car window holding a sandwich. I rolled down the window to see what she wanted, and she said, “Are you the ones who paid for my sandwich?” She said the employee in the store told her that a person ahead of her had paid, so she didn’t owe anything. I told her that I was glad for her, but we were not the ones who had done this generous act. As she went away, it was evident that the small kindness had made her day, but she was disappointed that she didn’t get to thank her benefactor.
There is something about humans that makes us want to express gratitude.Our pets are loyal to us because we feed them, and they get excited when they see us open the food container. But only humans are motivated to express true gratitude. We often show thankfulness toward each other, but our greatest debt of gratitude is to God. G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “the worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.” One evidence of God’s existence is that not only does He give us many good things, but He also has given us the desire and ability to say, “Thank you.”
We had just left a sandwich shop where we ate lunch. A woman with a smile on her face came up to our car window holding a sandwich. I rolled down the window to see what she wanted. She said, “Are you the ones who paid for my sandwich?” She said the employee in the store told her that a person ahead of her had paid, so she didn’t owe anything. I told her that I was glad for her, but we were not the ones who had done this generous act. As she went away, it was obvious that the small kindness had made her day, but she was disappointed that she didn’t get to express her thankfulness to her benefactor.
We have many people to thank, such as soldiers, police, firefighters, and teachers; but most of all our thankfulness should be directed toward God. There is something about humans that makes us want to express our gratitude. It’s part of what makes us different from the animals. Our pets are loyal to us because we feed them, and they get excited when they see us open the food container. But only humans are motivated to express true gratitude. The Psalms often express thankfulness to God for the things He has done. Reformer Martin Luther called thankfulness “the basic Christian attitude.” G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.”
We often show thankfulness toward each other, but our greatest debt of gratitude is to God. One evidence of God’s existence is that not only does He give us many good things, but He also has given us the desire and ability to say, “Thank you.” In Romans 1:21 the apostle Paul wrote about godless people, “…they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”