Back in October I began thinking about Thanksgiving and decided to make the entire month of November a season of giving thanks. I ordered a used book entitled Thanksgiving: An Investigation of a Pauline theme written by David W. Pao and published in 2002.

I finished the book in about week reading some of the 174 pp. every night in bed before going to sleep. It was just what I needed to carry out my plan for the month; and even though the title refers to Paul’s writings, Pao includes more than just Paul’s letters.

This week I am going through the book again and noting things I underlined in my first reading. As I have reviewed what I underlined I thought some readers of my blog might be instructed, encouraged, and challenged by reading a few of Pao’s observations about being thankful. (I underlined a lot, but can only include a few.)

“One of the prominent ways to express thanks to God for what he has done for his people is to offer him praise” (p. 25).

“Praise and glory are offered as a grateful response to the awesome work of God” (p. 32).

“When God is acknowledged as the Lord of all, thanksgiving becomes a humbling admitting act admitting the dependency of human existence” (p. 35).

Submitting to God and following Jesus “is not to be understood as a way to earn favor in the presence of God. Rather, it is a response to the divine acts of Grace” (p. 44).

“To give thanks to God is to remember what he has done for us” (p. 60).

“Thanksgiving is not an isolated act of gratitude. It is to be lived out as a life of worship” (p. 98).

“To be ungrateful is not simply a state of absent-mindedness. It is the failure to acknowledge God as the creator and Lord of all” (p. 157).

“Thanksgiving in Paul points us back to the past, exhorts us to live our present lives in light of the past, and provides hope as we anticipate the consummation of God’s promises in the future” (p. 58).

One of my favorite verses in Paul’s writing is I Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Note this instruction does not say give thanks for all circumstances,” but give thanks in all circumstances.

One of my favorite verses in the book of Psalms is 107:1, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

Here’s a challenging quote from C.K. Chesterton, “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.”

In all of life, but especially this week, let’s not take things for granted with ingratitude, but take them with gratitude.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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The way the question above is asked suggests that Thanksgiving isn’t a big deal. However, I disagree – the holiday of Thanksgiving is a big deal and so is the giving of thanks.

The Thanksgiving holiday is not the only day of the year we should be thankful, but it is a day of emphasis and focus on being thankful. If someone is not in the habit of expressing gratitude on a regular basis, at least once a year the holiday does raise the subject.

I don’t know if the holiday is a big deal to God or not, but giving thanks seems to be. The Bible includes numerous calls and instruction to be thankful as well as examples of expressing thanks (especially in the book of Psalms). Luke 17:11-19 tells of an occasion when Jesus healed 10 lepers; only one returned to thank him and while Jesus appreciated the one who did return, he was apparently disappointed the other nine did not.

I think the importance of being thankful and expressing it is seen in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians. In a three verse section he underscores being thankful three times: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:15-17). Giving thanks seems like a big deal to Paul, doesn’t it?

God’s call to us as his children is not just to be thankful on the holiday, but all year long. And the challenge is not just to be grateful to him, but to all those who serve us, care for us, bless us, and enrich our lives. What we must guard against is just going through the motions of politely saying thanks without really feeling gratitude. Hopefully, those to whom we express thanks appreciate it; but expressing thanks is also good for us!

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day with family and/or friends, a tasty and satisfying meal, and a meaningful public or private time of expressing gratitude. And thank you for reading this post.

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As we come to Thanksgiving this week I want to pass on some edited selections from a lengthy article about gratitude I have had for a couple of years. I would like to give credit for these challenging observations, but I have no record of the source. I encourage you to take the time to read and savor what follows as you think about the discipline of gratitude this year. This is a longer post than usual; for a quicker read just note the parts in bold.

Gratitude is often trotted out around Thanksgiving as a seasonal interest, and then put away for another year.

While basic gratitude is passively evoked by external events, the spiritual discipline of gratitude is intentionally chosen, deliberately trained, and exercised in all circumstances. It is not dependent on changing conditions, but on mindset.

The spiritual discipline of gratitude is practiced not just because it feels good, but because it’s the right thing to do — not just for one’s own good, but for the good of one’s family, community, and society. The discipline of gratitude is in fact not a feeling at all, but a moral virtue.

The practice of gratitude results in a number of very practical, tangible benefits to body and mind. Research has shown that practicing gratitude boosts the immune system, bolsters resilience to stress, lowers depression, increases feelings of energy, determination, and strength, and even helps you sleep better at night. In fact, few things have been more repeatedly and empirically vetted than the connection between gratitude and overall happiness and well-being.

Becoming more grateful does not involve a denial of the reality of life’s hard edges and sharp sorrows. Rather, while gratitude recognizes the dark corners of existence which readily attract our attention, it also notices all the Beauty, Joy, Goodness, and Truth that is typically overlooked. In this, gratitude in fact opens one’s eyes to a more expansive view of reality.

It’s like putting on a pair of long-needed glasses for the first time: “Oh, wow, here’s what I’ve been missing.” Through the lens of gratitude, you come to better recognize the good, to see the many gifts, benefits, and mercies that are present in your life that might otherwise remain hidden and ignored.

Gratitude is arguably the foundation of good character, or as Cicero puts it, gratitude is the “parent” of all the other virtues. Conversely, ingratitude is the root of all vice; St. Ignatius called ingratitude the “most abominable of sins” as it is “the cause, the beginning and origin of all sins and misfortunes.”

The presence of gratitude counteracts the negative vices — envy, resentment, and greed — that its absence begets. When you are grateful for what you have, you spend less time comparing yourself to others, and less time making poor, fruitless decisions based on those comparisons.

Recognizing that the good in one’s life comes at least partially from outside the self develops a vital sense of humility, as well as the motivation to reciprocate these gifts and return goodness for goodness by practicing the positive virtues.

Gratitude turns our gaze outward instead of inward, helping us recognize realities outside ourselves. We recognize that we are not completely self-sufficient and independent and instead exist in a web of interconnected relationships. We recognize the help (human and divine) that’s gotten us to where we are today, and the help we continue to rely on to sustain our lives. In this, gratitude allows us to appreciate and affirm the worth and value of the people, structures, and supernatural powers around us rather than taking them for granted.

Unsurprisingly then, research has found that gratitude has a huge effect on improving relationships. Studies show that grateful people experience greater feelings of connection and closeness with others and with God, and are more compassionate, forgiving, generous, and supportive than the ungrateful.

As already stated, when you realize what you’ve been given, you’re motivated to give back: the more you recognize what others have done for you, the more you want to do for them; the more you appreciate the world, the more you want to make it better. But the virtuous effect of gratitude ripples out further still.

Research shows that when you thank someone for what they’ve done for you, they not only are more likely to help you again, they are more likely to help other people, period. Cultivating and then expressing gratitude thus starts a web of virtue; it spreads goodness like a very positive contagion that can literally transform families, workplaces, communities, and the world at large.

Given the very real benefits and positive effects of practicing gratitude both generally and as a spiritual discipline, why do we so often struggle to develop and express this virtue? There are obstacles to getting in a gratitude-driven mindset.

One obstacle to greater gratitude is simple busyness and distraction. We may feel a sense of thankfulness for someone or something, but it quickly evaporates as our phone pings, our kid cries, or another thought simply intrudes on the moment.

Another obstacle to gratitude is an ingrained penchant for noticing the negative over the positive.

A third obstacle is envy. It’s hard to be happy with what you have, when it seems like other people have better things. Envy destroys gratitude, and it’s harder than ever to avoid when everyone can show off the highlight reel of their lives on social media.

While these obstacles can be significant stumbling blocks to the discipline of gratitude, if this virtue is predicated on humility, then the very biggest barrier to its practice should be obvious: pride.

Such pride is rooted in the inability to admit dependency on anything or anyone. The truth is, we all rely on others to meet our physical and emotional needs. Humans are interdependent; sometimes we give and sometimes we receive.

Of the different “flavors” the pride that blocks gratitude takes, a sense of entitlement is undeniably the most significant. This sense of entitlement says: “Whatever I’ve got, I’ve earned. I deserve this. I had it coming.”

While we assuredly should take a healthy satisfaction in the things we have largely earned on our own, we should also recognize that the very possibility of achieving those things at all was foundationally premised on a whole lot of factors outside ourselves and our control.

So much of what we have was placed in our laps by sheer dint of happening to be born in a certain time and place. So much of what we have is due to simple luck and serendipity. We didn’t, couldn’t, do anything to deserve it.

Certainly, one is under no obligation to say thank you for acts and services that fall below what would normally be expected. But even when an expectation is fulfilled in a basic in a basic, average way – even when it does not go above and beyond, we ought to still feel gratitude for the act, and in fact, experience it as a gift.

Once you start practicing the spiritual discipline of gratitude, you come to see that while you can expect things of people with whom you enter into a relationship or exchange, you’re never wholly entitled to the material and emotional goods they produce. Once you realize life doesn’t owe you anything, everything in it becomes a gift.

That there are many obstacles pitted against practicing gratitude is the bad news. The good news, fortunately, is that despite these barriers, anyone can intentionally cultivate gratitude as a spiritual discipline. By regularly training your gratitude “muscle” you can make gratitude a matter of steady discipline rather than fluctuating mood and changing circumstances.

While becoming more grateful takes significant intentional effort at first, over time it will become easier; what begins as consciously chosen behavior will eventually become an ingrained attitude — your default response to the world.

Gratitude ultimately depends not on circumstances you can’t control, but on the perspective and attitude you decide to take; you can’t always choose what happens to you, but you can always choose how to respond. Outwardly acknowledging the gifts we receive checks our pride, humbles our souls, and forges a link that will expand beyond ourselves to become an ever-widening chain of service and virtue.

Even though those two words are so easy to say, most people don’t express them often enough. We get in that mode where we don’t feel like we should be grateful for people just doing what’s expected of them – just doing their job. We forget that life doesn’t ultimately owe us anything, that nothing is guaranteed, that we’re not wholly entitled to the good things we get. We forget that everything is a gift. But it is.

So say thank you to everyone, for just about everything. Not just when someone went above and beyond, but when someone simply did what they were “supposed” to – heaven knows that even when something “should” happen a certain way it often doesn’t! Be grateful to anyone who holds up even the basic end of the bargain, who doesn’t follow the path of least resistance.

If it isn’t already, start making a simple “thank you” a frequent, fundamental part of your daily language. Thank your wife, cashier, doctor, pharmacist, car mechanic, mailman, waiter — everyone who makes an effort on your behalf.

Let’s trot gratitude out again this Thanksgiving, but let’s not then put away for another year.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and I thank you for reading.

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As we come to Thanksgiving this week most of us will be focusing on what we are thankful for. The past week or so I’ve been asking myself some questions related to the emphasis of the holiday.

One of the things I’ve been asking myself is what is the opposite of being thankful? If your first thought is ingratitude, that’s what I thought as well. But now I’m not so sure. Ingratitude is the absence of gratitude, but is it the opposite of gratitude? I’m ready to nominate complaining and/or grumbling as the opposite of being thankful. In I Corinthians 10 the Apostle Paul warns us to not repeat the mistakes of the children of Israel when they left Egypt for the Promised Land. In verse 10 he concludes his list of things to avoid with “do not grumble as some of them did.” Throughout the record of their traveling in both Exodus and Numbers we read about their grumbling and complaining. It’s hard to be thankful when we are grumbling.

Another question I have been asking myself is what gets in the way of our being grateful? I reread the account in Luke 17:11-19 of Jesus healing 10 lepers and wondered  why the one returned to give thanks, but the other nine did not? I cannot speak for the nine, but I think for some of us we are not as grateful as we might be because of a sense of entitlement. For some reason we think we deserve the good things and blessings in our lives. And if we deserve them, we don’t really need to be thankful for them.

I don’t have a Bible verse for it, but a third question I’ve been asking is shouldn’t we not only be thankful to God, but also to the people He has brought into our lives who are blessings to us? My answer is yes, but why aren’t we more grateful to them? I think the answer for many of us is that we take these people for granted. I’m determined to be intentional about not taking them for granted — not just for this week’s holiday, but all the time.

A final question we might ask is are we really thankful if we don’t express our gratitude? We certainly could be, but wouldn’t it be much better if we stated it? After all, the holiday is called Thanksgiving.

Here’s an illustration from a sermon entitled A Thankful Life by Kevin Harney. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

This is a story I have never shared. It’s a story that goes back to my childhood when we would go for Christmas to my grandmother’s house. My grandmother would give us a gift and then we would always get a gift from Aunt Elaine and Uncle Vernon. I’d never met them. They lived in Flint, Michigan, and we were in Orange County. But we would get a little gift and then a check for fifteen dollars. Back then fifteen dollars was like a million dollars. Every year I would get this check and this little gift from Aunt Elaine and Uncle Vernon, and my mom would say this, “You kids should write Aunt Elaine and Uncle Vernon a thank you note.” And every year my sisters Gretchen and Alison wrote a note, and I didn’t write a note. So one year we got to Grandma’s house, she gave us our little gift, we opened it, and she gave gifts to Alison and Gretchen from Aunt Elaine and Uncle Vernon, but there was no gift for little Kevin. And I looked and I said, “Don’t I get a gift?” And my mom said, “Aunt Elaine and Uncle Vernon let us know that you’ve never written them a thank you note, they will not be sending you Christmas gifts anymore.” I’ll never forget that and I thank God for it. I’m really good at writing notes now. And it’s not just so I get another gift. They probably thought, “He just doesn’t appreciate it, he just doesn’t care,” and they stopped giving the gift.

If we do not express our gratitude do you think God or others may think we don’t appreciate or care what they do to enrich our lives?

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Some readers know immediately what their favorite holiday is and others I’m sure would really struggle to choose just one. I hope no one is thinking of their birthday as I’m confident it isn’t a national holiday. (My birthday wouldn’t even be in consideration because at my age they come too often!)

I haven’t done any polling, but I would guess the majority would choose Christmas. And Christmas is no doubt a wonderful holiday and celebration. Easter would certainly be in consideration for some Christians,and not because of egg hunts and candy, but because of what Jesus’ resurrection means. Dedicated patriots might opt for July 4th or Veteran’s Day and a few romantics for Valentine’s Day. Some sentimentalists may lean towards Mother’s Day and I would hope a few might consider Father’s Day. New Year’s Eve and Day have a lot to offer and may be the choice of a few. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day or President’s Day may be in the running for some.  A lot of people enjoy it, but I doubt anyone would choose April Fools’ Day.

Because I haven’t mentioned it, and because it is this week, I’m sure you know I am going to say my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. More than any of the other holidays, the focus of Thanksgiving (expressing gratitude not the eating or football on TV!) is something we should do throughout the year. As John Stott observes, “Thankfulness ought always to characterize the people of God.”

Having a thankful heart is important to God and not having a thankful heart displeases Him. In Romans 1:21 Paul notes about some that “although they knew God [through creation], they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him.” In Luke 17:11-19 Jesus healed ten lepers and was disappointed only one returned to thank Him and give praise to God. The book of Psalms is filled with both calls to give thanks as well as expressions of thanksgiving.

My favorite passage dealing with this subject is I Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continuously, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” While all three charges are God’s will for us in Christ Jesus, it’s the third one that I want to underscore. Sometimes people misread verse 18 thinking it says “give thanks for all circumstances,” but that’s not what Paul is saying. We are called to “give thanks in all circumstance.” God doesn’t call us to give thanks for every circumstance we find ourselves in, but He does want us to find things in every circumstance for which we can be grateful.

Whether Thanksgiving is your favorite holiday or not, I hope you have a great day Thursday and use the occasion to express gratitude.

Father in Heaven,

Thank you for the holiday of Thanksgiving. We have a sense of how important it is for us to cultivate thankfulness; how good it is for those to whom we say thanks as well as how good it is for us do so. Help us to be aware of our blessings and help us grow in our desire to express gratitude. Draw us to yourself and fill us with your Spirit that we might walk with You. 

We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

If you have a favorite holiday reply below and feel free to share this post on Facebook.

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