Gift of thanksgiving with confetti

Focusing on the gift of Thanksgiving

The altar is groaning happily below a rainbow of vegetables, fruits, and loaves of bread in a stunningly creative display of communal art. Beautiful music echoes from every corner of the building by musicians and choristers who have been practising for weeks and are joyfully praising God on behalf of the congregation. The coffers are full of hard-earned gifts and hearts overflow with heart-gifts.

This is Thanksgiving.

But not this year.

This year we will not be decorating the altar and we will not be slogging through long choir practices. We will not even see each other. This year Thanksgiving has been hijacked, like so many other aspects of our lives, by a nasty little virus that threatens our lives, our livelihood, and our sanity.

During this crazy pandemic, isn’t it crazy to want to give thanks?

What do we have to be thankful for?

The world is turned upside down and life, as we know it, has changed (seemingly forever). We have lost our fellowship, our jobs, our freedom, and our health. How can we still be grateful?

Because it is the only way to survive – and to thrive – in times like these.

1. God created us for gratitude

God created man and placed Adam in the Garden of Eden for his glory and for the purpose of gratitude towards him.

 “Appreciating both who God is and his actions for us — in creating us and sustaining our lives — is fundamental to proper human life in God’s created world.”

David Mathis

But alas, Adam and Eve became hungry for more.

Although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 1:21

Satan wants us to focus on the global disaster unfolding around us so he can distract us from what is true, and what has always been true: God is always good. Satan has been trying to sow ingratitude since the very beginning.

In her book, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp explains the First Sin with a beautiful perspective:

From all of our beginnings, we keep reliving the Garden story.

Satan, he wanted more. More power, more glory. Ultimately, in his essence, Satan is an ingrate. And he sinks his venom into the heart of Eden. Satan’s sin becomes the first sin of all humanity: the sin of ingratitude. Adam and Eve are, simply, painfully ungrateful for what God gave.

Isn’t that the catalyst of all my sin?

Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.

One Thousand Gifts – Ann Voskamp

Let that sink in: The origin of all sin is that we are not satisfied with God and what He gives. In the Garden Adam and Eve lived in perfect relationship with God, having access to all his goodness. Yet it was not enough for them. When they ate of the fruit from the tree of knowledge good and evil (Genesis 3), they could finally see the ugliness in the world too – the lack and the loss.

Satan is cunning enough to use all our circumstances to blind us to the truth. He will even use the “garden” of COVID-19.

In this article, Steve Fuller likens gratitude to putting on pair of spectacles for the first time. (So, you can imagine how this analogy interested me.) Fuller explains “gratitude is like glasses, as it helps us see the glory of God’s mercy more clearly. And therefore, because our greatest joy is seeing God’s glory, gratitude increases our joy.” Through practising gratitude, we can get a glimpse of the goodness of God again. We can grow to the relationship Adam and Eve had with our Father before they took that fateful bite.

It is not enough to make a generalizing statement like “I am thankful for everything”. That is like the myope who sees a big green blob and knows it’s supposed to be a tree. You need to look at each individual leaf and appreciate the detail and intricacies – the miracle of the photosynthesis in every vein. This is how we should practice gratitude. We must make ourselves aware of every single simple gift that comes from our Lord.

It is not enough to try and utter the “magic words” as we teach young children and just say the words “Thank you.” John Piper explains it as a thanksfeeling rather than a thanksgiving. Our thankfulness must emanate from our being, not just be a habit to please our Parent.

2. Grace is everything, and everything is grace

It is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. 

2 Corinthians 4:15

Both Ann Voskamp and John Piper explain how the words “grace” and “gratitude” are closely connected in the original Greek Paul used to write this passage. The Greek term for grace in this context is charis and the term for thanks is eucharistian. Do you see the connection?

So, the passage should read:

 “It is all for your sake, so that as grace (charis) extends to more and more people it may increase gratitude (eucharistian) to the glory of God.”

Gratitude is a good feeling created by the realization that the giver has given you a gift you do not deserve. The bigger the gift, or the more undeserving the receiver, the greater the feeling gratitude. Gratitude is a response to graciousness, but this graciousness must be recognized for the gratitude to be felt.

3. Thanksgiving leads to joy

I do not think any of us can complain of having too much joy in this season. We read in scripture how thanksgiving and joy is inextricably linked.

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! (Psalm 95:2)

Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name! (Psalm 97:12)

Let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy! (Psalm 107:22)

When we name the gifts God gives us, we realize how undeserving we are of these gifts leading us to humility and complete gratitude. This should cause great joy in our hearts.

“Thanking God leads to seeing more of God, and seeing more of God is our greatest joy.”

Steve Fuller

Challenge yourself to name the gifts

Gratitude journal

In her book One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp was looking for a thousand gifts, but we will start small.

I challenge you during these next three weeks to start a new habit of recognizing the gifts God has bestowed in your life every single day. Decide if you would like to do this as a morning reflection or an evening mediation – but make it a routine. I have tried to do this in the mornings but mine can get a bit crazy, so I am going to use the moments of recalling the days blessings as a way to prepare for rest.

The rules are simple:

  1. First, start your day by praying to ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes to the gifts God will give you during the day.
  2. At your own appointed time, write down at least 5 gifts. These should be as simple as possible. They must also be different every single day.
  3. Ponder the value of these gifts.
  4. Praise God for them.

You will be surprised how you start looking for things to write down. It’s great to be thankful for your job or your marriage etc. etc. But the purpose of this exercise is to acknowledge the small hugs from God throughout the day. Things like the delicious taste of your first cup of coffee or a parking spot right next to the entrance to the grocery store all count as small gifts from our Father.

Writing them down is crucial. Psychologists agree that practicing written recollection of gratitude is great for our mental and physical health, improves our relationships and helps us cope better with life and with stress. A study by the University of Berkeley found that writing down “gratitude letters” showed that changes the structure of the brain through fMRI scans and that “practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time.” This benefit started after only four weeks, but the biggest changes were found after three months.

So, you can’t just think it – you must write it down.

Show me your gratitude journals and start writing. If you’ve done it for 21 days it becomes a new habit and you are on your way to a more joyful and fulfilled life. (With a new brain.)

Please share these lists with your Bible Study buddies in the comments below, or by using #namingthegifts.

Invitation to Give Thanks Bible study #namingthegifts

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