Anybody having trouble getting into the Thanksgiving spirit this year? It seems like with the economy doing a tank job, the Congress doing a great deal of compromising, and all the other stuff happening to make our spirits roar (not soar), it would be really tempting to just curl up in a ball, hide in a corner somewhere and shout “Bah! Humbug.”
Almost everywhere I go people are complaining that they are between a rock and a hard place and are not quite sure what to do. No matter what the setting, whether it be in ministry situations, family situations, work situations or whatever, often there seems to be no easy or effective solution in mind or in store for our dilemma. And if we are not careful, that quandary can indeed defeat us, discourage us, and drive us into a cloud of despair.
But I am here to tell you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is not the headlight of an oncoming locomotive. In the words of one philosopher, “”There’s only one way to conquer discontentment — remember the biblical practice of thanksgiving.” And as G.K Chesterton put it, “I would maintain that thanks is the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
A growing body of research has supported those thoughts and has tied an attitude of gratitude with several positive emotional and physical health benefits. An article in The Wall Street Journal from some years ago summarized the research: “Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly, and have greater resistance to viral infections.
“Now, researchers are finding that gratitude brings similar benefits in children and adolescents. Studies also show that kids who feel and act grateful tend to be less materialistic, get better grades, set higher goals, complain of fewer headaches and stomach aches, and feel more satisfied with their friends, families and schools than those who don’t.” (Melinda Beck, “Thank You. No, Thank You,” The Wall Street Journal, 11-23-10).
We all appreciate being thanked, don’t we? And the research is showing that thanksgiving is good for your health, not only mentally, but also physically and spiritually as well. The Scriptures tell us that, “It is fitting to thank the Lord and to sing praises to His name.” (Psalm 92:1) Over and over again, we are challenged to give thanks to the Lord for He is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble.
Have you ever asked someone how they are and they say they are “all right, under the circumstances”? What are they doing there – “under” the circumstances. According to the Scriptures, should we not be thankful no matter what the circumstances are or where we find ourselves in relation to them?
Thanksgiving is time for us to be thankful for God’s bountiful provision for us, no matter where or in what stage of life we find ourselves. He has given us much to enjoy, and to share. And it is good for us to do so.
A good friend of mine, Bill Thrasher, (“Putting God Back in the Holidays”, pp. 88-90) has suggested a week’s worth of Thanksgiving activities for us to use to guide our hearts and our lips to a more grateful existence. Here is his list:
“Day One: Read and meditate on Scriptures that speak of thanksgiving. Especially look at Psalm 100; Colossians – especially Colossians 1:3, 12; 2:7; 3:15, 17; 4:2; and Luke 17:11-19.
Day Two: Read Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:3-14. Then make a list of the spiritual and material blessings you have received from the Lord.
Day Three: If we define gratitude as “learning to recognize and express appreciation for the benefits I have received from God and others”, then make a list of family members and write down one thing about each person for which you are grateful. Thank God for each member of your family. Then, through a note, a phone call, or even face-to-face, express your gratitude to them for the specific quality in their life for which you are thankful.
Day Four: Expand the list which you made in Day Three to include people outside your family – friends, neighbors, pastors, teachers, authors, leaders of Christian ministries and others. Don’t forget to include people like your barber, auto mechanic, and others who faithfully serve you.
Day Five: As you consider this list which you have made (Understandably, this may be a quite lengthy list) take the time this day to express to some of them the ways God has ministered to you through them.
Day Six: Begin today by reading 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Think about this verse and its meaning and application in a practical way in your life. As you go throughout this day, make an attempt to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in consciously giving thanks to God for all things no matter how small or big. Corrie ten Boom talks about thanking God for the lice she and her sister had experienced in their dormitory in the concentration camp during World War II, because the lice kept the lascivious Nazi guards from taking sexual advantage of the women in the dorm.
Day Seven: Today, focus on thanking God for the circumstances, the people, and the events which provide special difficulty in your life. Write down the difficult things for which you choose to give God thanks. Realize that God uses such difficulties to expand and grow you in your relationship with Him.
Why not try to use this list this coming week to help you be more thankful this year?
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at [email protected].