Counting our blessings, and naming them one by one (with apologies to the old hymn writer) is always a good thing. We would all do well to take whatever opportunities we have to express our gratitude. And, there’s no better time to do that than in a season of the year set aside for that specific purpose.
As I wrote in this space a few years back, though Thanksgiving Day is not a distinctly Christian holiday, thanksgiving as an act is a major biblical teaching. Scripture is full of admonitions to give thanks, and examples of those who did. There is no more specific exhortation than the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 5:17: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
There you have it. It’s not only a good idea, it’s God’s will, and even a Biblical command to be obeyed. But for whatever reason, sometimes we are more like one of the nine lepers whom Jesus healed and walked away without even saying thanks, than we are the one who came back to express his gratitude. “Where are the other nine?” Jesus asked them, and I believe He asks that even today.
In fact, thanks-giving in and of itself is not a natural act for self-centered people like us. It must be learned, and in fact, it’s something we’re always learning. I know as a parent we tried to consistently stress that our children learn to say two things: “please” and “thank you.” Sometimes it was like pulling teeth to get those “magic words” out of their mouths, but it was more than just the words, or good manners, it was the expressions of hearts of gratitude we were trying to develop.
I read something from pastor and author Steve May on that very subject. He wrote of a friend who mentioned that she would never force her son to say “Thank you” unless he really felt like saying it. She said, “If I teach him to say ‘thank you’ when he doesn’t feel thankful, I’m teaching him that it’s okay to be a hypocrite.”
That may sound nice on the outside, but it’s all wrong. Feelings have nothing to do with genuine thanksgiving, or how we express it. Gratitude is not an emotion, it’s an action. The act of saying “thank you” is not so much a feeling, but a choice, and when we are thankful to God (as commanded) it is an act that puts our lives in proper perspective.
That’s why the Psalms so often refer to the “sacrifice of thanksgiving.” It’s an act of obedience, to a gracious God, in recognition of His goodness of our behalf. Like children, I believe that all of us as Christ-followers must learn how to express our gratitude, and the best way we learn it, like most everything else, is by practicing it on a regular basis.
So, while I’m at it, let me take this opportunity to say, like the apostle Paul, that “I thank God every time I remember you,” (Phil. 1:3), and that I am very grateful that God has blessed me by allowing me to serve as your pastor. I pray for each of you, that His grace would abound in your life, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.