Why Thanksgiving is More Important Than Christmas

Happy Thanksgiving! This is a shortened version of a post I did for David C. Cook’s Spark ministry blog. You can read the whole article here: Why Thanksgiving Is an Important Response to God’s Gifts. 

Train our kids in Gratitude

As parents, we must both teach and train our kids in the spiritual discipline of gratitude. One of the most important disciplines we can master is thankfulness. Thankfulness is so telling because it reveals much about how we view ourselves and God.

“One of the most important disciplines we can master is thankfulness.”

Growing up, we didn’t have much money, but we had much for which to be thankful. Even though I was very grateful in most situations as I got older, I started to view my walk with God in such a way that I felt God was lucky to have me. I was thankful, but so often, I was thankful for the wrong things.

I can still remember the day the me-centered version of my faith came crashing down. It was horrible, it was painful, and it was beautiful. I realized for the first time that my salvation is a work that Christ has done for me, not a mental decision I make. I realized that the works I do are through the grace that He provides.

When you understand that everything we have is because of all He is, you understand He owes us nothing! He owes me nothing! I owe Him everything! Out of this understanding, we can indeed be grateful for all we have. We live in a state of perpetual gratitude because we didn’t do anything but respond to His calling and receive the gift that He gave.

Gratitude vs. Entitlement in Thanksgiving

When I see Jesus as my everything, I tend to operate from a place of gratitude. The minute I know what I have done I find myself living in a place of entitlement. When I don’t get what I feel that I deserve, I get angry at the person I feel owes me. I did that. I now understand more and more the freedom gratitude brings because God owes me nothing, and I owe Him everything.

Pastor and poet George Herbert understood that even a grateful heart was a gift and a work of grace. Herbert closes his poem entitled Gratefulness with these two powerful stanzas.

“Wherefore I cry, and cry again;

And in no quiet canst thou be,

Till I a thankful heart obtain

Of thee:

Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;

As if thy blessings had spare days:

But such a heart, whose pulse may be

Thy praise.”

Herbert says that he desires that gratitude would so fill our hearts that our hearts will pulse with praise. That thankfulness from us would be the reflexive response to God’s empowering grace.

Christmas and Easter are gifts that we do nothing but receive. Thanksgiving is our right and necessary response to so great a salvation.

 

Thanksgiving.

Thankgiving

We have so much to be thankful for. Every aspect of life, every breath is a gift. Thanksgiving is a reminder that we are limited and God is limitless in Love and provision to us and for us. When I think of all that God has given me the thing I realize I need most is a grateful heart. God has given so much to me the only thing I need more of is gratitude.

In his final stanza, Herbert says this.

Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Thy praise.

This is so convicting because often my thankfulness is conditional on when “It pleases me” rather than thanksgiving being a reflexive action that leads to praise. Happy Thanksgiving. May your thankfulness and mine not be limited to just statements of thanks but I pray that we would see beyond the gift to the giver and be moved to praise.

Below is the full poem by George Herbert. Herbert is a gift. I rarely read one of his poems without being moved deeply by his understanding of himself and his fellow man as well as his understanding of the God who saved him. I pray on this Thanksgiving day as you read you are filled with thanksgiving and moved to worship.

GRATEFULNESS

by George Herbert (1593- 1633)

Thou that hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart.
See how thy beggar works on thee
By art.

He makes thy gifts occasion more,
And says, If he in this be crossed,
All thou hast given him heretofore
Is lost.

But thou didst reckon, when at first
Thy word our hearts and hands did crave,
What it would come to at the worst
To save.

Perpetual knockings at thy door,
Tears sullying thy transparent rooms,
Gift upon gift, much would have more,
And comes.

This not withstanding, thou wenst on,
And didst allow us all our noise:
Nay thou hast made a sigh and groan
Thy joys.

Not that thou hast not still above
Much better tunes, than groans can make;
But that these country-airs thy love
Did take.

Wherefore I cry, and cry again;
And in no quiet canst thou be,
Till I a thankful heart obtain
Of thee:

Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Thy praise.

A Thanksgiving Prayer

God thank you for who you are
Remind me today of my limits
in Prayer, in love, and in Christian service
Remind me today of your limitlessness
in love, in goodness, and in forgiveness

Thank you for Jesus.
Remind me of the power of the cross
Of my need for the cross
Of the reach of the cross
Of the totality of the cross
Oh the wonders of God in the cross of Christ.

Help me today never forget
Your benefits and my sins
Your beauty and the ways I betray such beauty for selfish gain
Your bounty and my need
Your blessing and my want

Thank you for salvation
Thank you for Jesus
Thank you for the million ways
you protect
you provide
you preserve
of which I am only aware of two or three.

Preserve me that my life may be a praise of your mercy.
Protect me that my ways may be a testimony of your power
Provide for me that I may confess my lack and your unending sufficiency all the days of my life.

Thank you for the Holy Spirit my helper, my guide, and revealer of Christ
Thank you for Jesus crucified, risen, ascended, and coming again.
Thank you, Father, you are and always will be that you are all in all for the glory of your name.

Amen

Gratitude Versus the American Dream

How the Gospel Confronts Entitlement

This time of year most Christians in particular and non-Christians in general stop and give thanks. We pause if only for a moment to remember the gifts that we have been given. The act of remembering and the discipline of Gratitude are central to the Christian faith and to the development of any disciple of Christ. The challenge of gratitude is that it requires humility. You can not properly give God Glory or give honor to others if you believe that you achieved what you have on your own.

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The irony of the Puritanical work ethic that came from an understanding of Salvation by grace alone that led to good works has changed over the years to a work hard to achieve the American dream. In America you are told if you work hard enough you can have anything you want, you can be anything you want and do anything you want. This is true as long as we maintain a clear understanding that our lives our not our own. Freedoms that are not based in ultimate truth become cruel taskmasters. Our country has evolved from a land founded by flawed but gracious leaders who gave birth to generations who worked hard to get what they wanted who then gave birth to future generations who believe that this country owes us things that only God can give. We have moved from the land of the free and the home of the brave to the land of the safe and the home of the entitled.

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We rightly lament the loss of meaning of Thanksgiving with more and more mega sales creeping into to the time mean for family, humility and reflection. We as a nation as a culture must fight the idea that we are owed a good life, which we deserve certain things and learn to be grateful for the good gifts that we are given. Entitlement is the very antithesis of the Gospel. It is what Paul calls in Galatians “another gospel.” Entitlement sees everything in life not from the lens of what God had done for us in Christ but from what we believe we deserve because of our social standing, race or economic status. Paul tells Timothy this very thing contentment is not settling and a lack of faith but is evidence of who has your heart, where your affections lie and whom you ultimately trust.

1 Timothy 6:6-9

But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and[a] we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.

Are riches bad no but they are deceitful because if we do not learn the value of contentment, humility and gratitude we will never have enough. Our right desire for good things turns into an over desire for things that are not ultimate things. Gratitude is central to the life of a believer because if you do not see salvation as a gift you will go about in a thousand ways trying to earn the security that your heart desperately needs and longs for. You fight to earn what can only be given. Teaching our kids the spiritual discipline is small things connects everything to the most important thing, the Cross of Christ.

When we say thank you we are in a small way recognizing the soverignty of God in all things. Prolific writer and blogger Ann VosKamp explains how she passess gratitude to her children. cultivating a life of gratitude is a long process. “It’s not instant. You can feel like you’ve arrived, but there will always be a situation that can make you un-arrive very quickly. But even that is good news because it’s the Lord’s way of saying, ‘You know what? You need me.’ And you’re back to being laid low before the cross again.” Voskamp emphasizes that writing down her gifts is not about gratitude. “It’s acknowledging the sovereignty of God in all situations and recognizing that God can redeem any situation. He’s using everything to refine me more and bring me into Christ. And we are made to give God glory. That’s what this list is for me. It’s seeing God’s work in any situation. It leads me back into his presence and the fullness of his joy.”

Strong, J. (2014). Ann Voskamp: Seeing God at Work.

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True gratitude leads us to worship. To see all things in light of the work of Christ and position as adopted sons and daughters who receive all that we have including the ability to work hard soli deo gloria – for the glory of God alone.

This week at your dinner table don’t just dig in we fight for gratitude.

Ask your kids these questions.

  1. What is the greatest gift you have been given?
  2. Write down 3 things you are thankful for.
  3. Take turns praying have each person thank God for the five following things that R.T. Kendall outlined in Understanding Theology.  Think of things about God and his Word:
    (1)      Thank him for being as he is.
    (2)      Thank him for Jesus and his blood.
    (3)      Thank him for the Holy Spirit.
    (4)      Thank him for the Bible.
    (5)      Thank him for saving you.

Gratitude will always lead you away from what you have done and if followed logically to the end conclusion and by Divine revelation you will be lead to worship. I pray that you and your family enjoy each other the gifts you have been given and the God who graciously gave them to you.

Soli Deo Gloria

The Spiritual Discipline of Gratitude  

There are many disciplines in the Christian life. When you start to quantify them you usually get into trouble. Of all the disciplines that can be practiced and demonstrated in the Christian life I believe Gratitude is the singe most important discipline. Gratitude is the byproduct of something we can’t produce ourselves. Gratitude is something we feel when we have been given what we don’t deserve. Gratitude happens when we experience grace and it happens with regularity when we understand grace. Gratitude strikes at the heart of the gospel. If you have ever been to a sporting even in the past 40 years you would have seen the large happy fan of any given team holding up a sign that says John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he Gave….” Gratitude is us understanding what we have been given and receiving it with joy.