As we re-enter life fresh off the gravy train (literally!), there is a great opportunity to prevent the “thanks-high” we experienced last week to fizzle. What is interesting about these back-to-back holidays is that the practice of thankfulness can prime our hearts to contemplate the deeper things of Christmas - and it primes our culture as well. Our nation has, in general, taken a week off singing alongside Ariel, “I want more!” (my daughter loves princess songs, so the lyrics are fresh!) And instead we have given an intentional look at the gifts we have stacked up in our little treasure troves; we took a break from the “who cares, no big deal” attitude and have acknowledged the presence of grace in our lives. That is the primer: acknowledging the existence of grace.
What it means to give thanks
When we give “thanks” we are actually bearing a testimony that the things we are thankful for are not owed to us, and are often undeserved, i.e., they are examples of grace made tangible. What is occurring is a perspective change that relieves us from the pressures married to the “more mentality.” Others have pointed out the psychological benefits of regularly acknowledging the graces we have received, including increased satisfaction in life, strengthened self-esteem and greater enjoyment of relationships. The result is a humility in seeing what we have as gifts - undeserved graces. But the benefit can go deeper, connecting our heart to the One who has provided for our ultimate needs.
The phrase “Give Thanks," or some form of it, is recorded over 100 times in the Bible. A majority of the uses land in one of three categories: Giving thanks 1) for some character quality God possesses (Ps. 54:6, 106:1); 2) for something God has done for or given to His people (Ps. 9:1, 105:1; Dan. 2:23; Matt. 15:36); or 3) for what God promises to do or give in the future (Lk. 2:38; 1 Cor. 15:57). Noting the pattern, when Scripture focuses on giving thanks the perspective shifts from man’s strengths and accomplishments to God’s strengths and gifts.
For example, when the days-old Jesus is brought into the temple courts a devout elderly woman named Anna reacts with a thanksgiving that moves her to spread her reason for thanks:
she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38)
To those who were waiting she spread the great news that God’s provision of life had arrived! And as we move from Thanksgiving to Christmas, there is a natural bridge that we can easily invite others to walk - from acknowledging the tangible graces in our lives, to hearing of an even greater grace: the redemption of God through Jesus.
Thanks as a Grace: What to do...
Thankfulness is good for the soul. Let’s be thankful … continually
Practically speaking, we cannot overlook the benefits of a thankful heart. By acknowledging what did not have to be ours we are being drawn out of quick complaints into greater contentment, out of a self-focused mentality into more others-focused and out of the misery of discontentment into the joy of experiencing the life we have been given.
The shift in perspective that occurs as we give thanks makes us quick to acknowledge God’s goodness. The more often we flex that muscle the more natural of a reflex it becomes, even in moments of stress, struggle and disappointment. It is more than looking for the silver lining, a change in what we look for (i.e., trying to see “good” in all situations), because what is occurring is a change in our sight. Thankfulness causes us to see life through a lens of grace which helps strengthen the heart. With Anna, we begin giving thanks to God for what He has done. So let us practice simple and continual thanks giving.
Thankfulness directs attention to greater life. Let’s Give others reason for thanks
As we approach Christmas, we have the opportunity to do as Anna did: speak of Him to all who are waiting. Part of our human nature is a desire for greater depth in life, a firmer sense of personal security, a fuller grasp of purpose. In other words, there is a sense of waiting on and pursuing wholeness ... a personal redemption of sorts, that people long for. And the good news is - we have good news!
From the thanks-high of Thanksgiving we can turn to the greatest display of grace, the most wonderful reason for thanks we can have: The Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God who has come near.
Let us speak of Him, for “to us a child has been born ... a Savior, who is Christ the Lord,” and invite others who are waiting to come and see.