“…giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (CSB – Read the chapter)
This is a day for giving thanks. It is Thanksgiving, after all. At least it is in the United States. If you are one of the many folks reading somewhere else in the world today is probably just Thursday where you are. A few other nations around the world have some sort of national day set aside for giving thanks, but not very many. There is a reason for this. As you pause for a moment in your busy preparations for food and family (and probably football) later today, let’s talk for just a moment about why we give thanks.
The reason Thanksgiving is such a big deal in the United States is directly connected to our unique religious heritage. Let me be more specific. This nation was deeply rooted in the Christian worldview at its founding, and though we are drifting rather determinedly away from that, the roots nonetheless run deep. No, this doesn’t mean we are or ever were a “Christian” nation. But our worldview roots lie deep in ideas that have only ever come out of the Christian religion. Our Founders were smart enough to not make our nation politically beholden to any one religion, but our founding ideas only make sense in one worldview framework.
Here’s why all of that matters on a day like this one. The whole spirit behind having a celebration is thanksgiving is not simply so that we take one day out of 365 to pause and give thanks. It is about remembering that gratitude matters. It is about developing a habit of gratefulness that extends to all of the other days in the year.
The thing is, though, that gratitude is a reactionary mindset. What I mean is, when we are grateful, we are necessarily grateful for something. We are grateful to someone. Yes, we should aim to carry a mindset of gratitude with us wherever we go, but there has to be something to prompt that in us. The question, then, becomes to whom or for what are we grateful.
This is where things get interesting. It is easy to find at least something to be grateful for. Perhaps someone once held a door for you as you entered a building. There, thanksgiving and gratitude are universal. Why are we even thinking about this? Well, those kinds of isolated things are certainly worthy of our gratitude, but they are not likely to create in us a deeper sense of ongoing gratitude. And, if you are the kind of person who goes out of her way to not have to rely on anyone for anything, then it becomes fairly easy to develop the idea that not only do we really not have anything to be grateful for, but even that gratitude isn’t all that big of a deal in the first place.
Allowed to flourish, this kind of thinking—as subtly as it develops initially—can create a society that is fairly miserable to inhabit. When gratitude becomes scarce, people become angry and entitled and selfish. Building meaningful, life-giving relationships becomes difficult because we don’t want to open ourselves or become dependent on anyone.
The question here begins to develop in a new direction. How can we grow a sense of ongoing gratitude in our hearts and minds? Well, again, gratitude is reactionary. So, what we really need is not a string of isolated acts that prompt minor and momentary gratitude, we need something or someone bigger than ourselves in whose debt we find ourselves constantly placed by their doing things for us we could not do for ourselves.
And I’m not talking about someone who has taken away our rights and ability to do anything for ourselves as if we were slaves. Such gratitude is false and externally forced. That’s not gratitude at all. We don’t need that. The character of this person must be benevolent at every point. So then, who might such a person be who is able to constantly do for us what we could not do for ourselves, and who is genuinely willing to do so without becoming tired of giving? That is, who will do this and is always and only motivated by love in every single instance without fault or fail?
Here’s a suggestion: God.
A healthy belief in God engenders gratitude in a way nothing else does. Let me put that another way: Christianity gives us grounds for gratitude in a way no other worldview does. In no other worldview do we find a God who is purely benevolent in all His actions toward us. He also does for us what we cannot under any circumstances do for ourselves. We must rely on Him entirely. And the things He does for us are good things.
Belief in God allows us to be grateful not just in isolated instances, but in all of our moments. It allows us to develop a heartset of gratitude so that we are grateful all the time and for everything. The reason for this is simple: God is good and He does good things for us. What has He done? Let’s start with creating us. Then we can go to sustain us. After that, giving us an incredible universe in which to live. Somewhere in there (at least for followers of Jesus) we should probably include our salvation and a way out of the sin that otherwise destroys our lives. We could go on, but that’s a pretty good list to start from.
Bottom line: faith in God—genuine faith in God, not mere lip service to it—makes us grateful people. Our nation’s Christian roots have created a culture in which gratitude and thanksgiving are recognized as virtues. Other cultures are not so endowed. That doesn’t mean their people are ungrateful. Far from it. It simply means that cultures shaped by the Christian worldview have a special enabling of gratitude that others don’t.
So, today as you celebrate (if indeed you are celebrating), pause to give thanks. Then pause a bit longer to give thanks that you have a reason for giving thanks in the first place. Then, begin developing an outlook of gratitude that will make your life infinitely better than it will be without it. Give thanks to God in Christ. He’s worthy of it and you’ll be better for it. So will the world around you.