The Life-Giving Discipline of Thanksgiving

November 16, 2022
By: Aaron Armstrong

Thanksgiving is challenging. I don’t mean the holiday, of course. The holiday is easy, for the most part. If I’m busy in the kitchen, roasting a turkey, prepping side dishes, and making a cheesecake or some other decadent dessert, I’m set. (Although all the socializing can be a bit tricky for me if I’m being completely honest.)

So even though Thanksgiving isn’t too challenging, thanksgiving is. I’m a bit of a grump by nature, always looking for a gray cloud to correspond with every silver lining. So, my natural disposition is not to be thankful. Yet, this is God’s will for us— “in everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18).

Thanksgiving is How We Worship

Everything. It’s hard to think of a more exhaustive, all-encompassing word. The picture it gives is of being thankful in times of joy and sorrow; when we experience gladness and strife. That thankfulness transcends our circumstances because it is not rooted in what we face, but in the One we worship.

In fact, it’s probably best to say that a way we worship God is through our thankfulness. This was modeled by the psalmists, who called on the assembled people of God to “give thanks to the Lord” (Ps. 105:1) and expressed it in their own experience (Ps. 118:21). The Apostle Paul described a lack of thankfulness as an indicator of lack of love and reverence for our Creator—that the rejection of God is expressed by a lack of thankfulness to Him (Rom. 1:21).

Practicing the Discipline of Thanksgiving

If thanksgiving is an act of worship, it is a discipline. It is an intentional practice that should be a part of the rhythms of our lives, one that helps us grow more and more into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). So how do we practice thanksgiving as a discipline?

Give thanks for Jesus’s reconciling work.

The grace and mercy God has shown us in the gospel is an incredible gift. Through faith in Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, God takes people like you and me who were His enemies in our sin and declares us His beloved children in Christ (Rom. 5:10; 1 John 3:1). He takes enemies and calls them family. There is no greater gift than this. There is no greater thing for which we should be thankful—so be sure to give God thanks for the gospel.

Give thanks for the blessings God gives.

As if our salvation weren’t enough to be thankful for, God gives us countless blessings. In fact, every good and perfect gift comes to us from the Lord (Jas. 1:17), which means that we have unlimited opportunities to give thanks. So, we can give thanks for the ways God specifically answers our prayers: when a loved one believes the gospel, when someone experiences physical or relational healing, or when a specific need is met. We can give thanks for the daily provisions of life, such as food, shelter, employment, and the freedoms we enjoy and often take for granted.

Give thanks for what God withholds.

When we think of thankfulness, we typically do so from the perspective of what God gives us. But how often do we give thanks for what God withholds? If I’m a typical example, the answer is rarely—at least in the moment. But as time passes, it becomes much easier to see how the occasions when God says “no” to what we think is best is because He has something much better in mind, even if we don’t understand why or how.

Give thanks for how you see God at work in the lives of others.

We have a practice in my church that we call “honor time.” The big idea is that we take a moment to share how we see God working in the life of another person. But it’s not just to say, “I see God doing XYZ,” to the individual, it’s a powerful way to also thank God for what you see Him doing in that person’s life.

Giving Thanks in All of Life

The different ways we give thanks, and all the reasons for which we give thanks, are a call to worship:

  • To take our eyes off ourselves and put them on the giver, our Father in heaven who gives good gifts to all who ask (Matt. 7:11)
  • To better see His great love at work in every moment of every day in every area of our lives (Eph. 2:4)
  • To see our love for Him grow ever deeper as a result—and to become more like Him the more we give thanks

What can you thank God for right now?

Aaron Armstrong

Aaron Armstrong is an author based outside of Nashville, TN, and serves as a Marketing Director for Thomas Nelson Bibles.

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