Thanksgiving is not the normal human heart condition. If newborn babies could talk, they would not immediately give thanks to God for giving them life. They would not offer up praise to their parents for all the amazing food, toys, shelter, and onesies. As these youngsters grow up, parents fight the constant battle of grumbling, whining, complaining, and overall demanding selfishness. Ah…but then children become teenagers. Certainly with the panoply of material goodness given to adolescents, they would be the most thankful of all! But, most often, their parents just end up being thankful to receive a morsel of gratitude on birthdays or major holidays.
So what about adults? Certainly, as we mature, we learn to say more words of thanksgiving to other people. Christians can even become more grateful as we reflect on all the good things God has given us. But what happens when things aren’t going so well? In these times, it’s tempting to revert to our immature self-centeredness, dwelling in self-pity and despair. Too often, the experience of suffering simply reveals that our hearts of thanksgiving are linked only to the perception of God’s goodness in our lives. Instead of God being good all the time, He is only practically good when we are enjoying our own definition of good.
How then, as followers of Christ, do we increase thanksgiving in our own hearts as well as in the hearts of our children? Do we need more holidays that force us to reflect on all that we have been given? Do we need to go through dark, wilderness times in order to remember how good we really had it in the past? Do we need to have our minds renewed so we can see a greater God of goodness and mercy? These efforts certainly may help; but they also can end keeping our thankfulness merely connected to self. To truly increase our thanksgiving, we must get outside of and beyond ourselves!
The Apostle Paul briefly describes this essential thanksgiving principle:
15 For 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. (II Corinthians 4:15)
How does seeing the grace of God extend to more and more people increase your own thanksgiving, as it did for Paul? It should do the following things:
- It makes life all about God and His work in the lives of people. It takes me out of the center of my own universe.
- It increases our compassion for people, pining our own thanksgiving to the transformation of others.
- It benefits our own lives to have family, friends, and former enemies come to Christ and grow in grace.
- It reminds us of our own great salvation, and how it must be the ground for all of our thanksgiving.
When our eyes move from looking at ourselves to truly seeing a world that is lost and dying, we will endure much grief and sadness. We will lament and weep over all the violence, conflict, division, and suffering. But, then, by the grace of God, we can increase our thanksgiving when we watch the saving grace of God draw people from the kingdom of darkness to the marvelous light of Christ. When you think about it, what will increase your thanksgiving more than to see God glorified by the work of His own powerful and gracious hand?
So, this should be the lesson at the dinner tables of Christian homes on Thanksgiving Day: Increase your thanksgiving by focusing on God’s grace for others! Sure, we should also give thanks for all our spiritual and material provisions. We must certainly teach our children to move from selfish complaining to constant and consistent gratitude. But wouldn’t it be amazing for the entire family to give thanks for all the lives God has graciously saved this past year? Our thanksgiving for all that Christ has done for us will increase more and more as we take our eyes of self and look to God’s most perfect work of granting eternal life to sinners. No human president, government, or community organization can save even one soul. Give abundant for the only way to everlasting life–King Jesus, our Lord and Savior!