Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.
For the Lord is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.
We arrive again at that time of year when the idea of thanksgiving becomes so familiar that it is almost forgotten. The busyness of cooking, traveling, making arrangements for others, watching football, and, more recently, shopping for Christmas tends to crowd out the actual idea of giving thanks. Add to that the increasing secularization of society and the concept of giving thanks to some invisible deity seems antiquated and meaningless. But we would all profit by adjusting our thinking and heeding the wisdom of those who came before us, faced tremendous struggles, and still found cause to give thanks to God.
William Ward, the great Methodist leader and author of Fountains of Faith, asked a simple question: “God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say thank you?” The very fact that you live and breathe is gift because it provides you the opportunity to demonstrate love and be a blessing to others. It’s far too easy to take our time for granted, but when we see the value of it, we appreciate every moment we are given. This enables us to heed Paul’s exhortation, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Ingraining this attitude may require a shift in perspective. The writer Sam Lefkowitz said, “When asked if my cup is half-full or half-empty my only response is that I am thankful I have a cup.” Often, we struggle between the good and the bad in life – the half-full and half-empty. But our joy must not be determined by the level in the glass, so to speak. It is God’s promise that He can work all things for good that gives us hope. It’s not that everything is good – it’s not. It’s the truth that He can take the wrongs of the world and make us right that gives us hope and makes us thankful. We do not celebrate disease, disaster, and other difficulties. Instead, we look forward to the good things God promises to bring as He carries us through every hardship. All of the time, we know that He is the very cup that holds us through whatever level of triumph or tragedy we face. For this, we can always be grateful.
The Roman philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote, “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues.” Cultivating an attitude of gratitude lifts our joy, encourages kindness, and instills peace. It’s an outlook that those around us will appreciate, but it benefits us personally most of all.
Developing this virtuous trait motivates us to help others. President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds.” The true measure of our thankfulness cannot be ascertained by what we do or say on one Thursday in November, but how we live each day throughout the year. Godly gratitude composes our words and choreographs our actions every single day.
The Reverend Samuel Pugh, known for his poetry and other writing, carried Roosevelt’s sentiment one step further in his beautiful Thanksgiving prayer:
O God, when I have food, help me to remember the hungry;
When I have work, help me to remember the jobless;
When I have a home, help me to remember those who have no home at all;
When I am without pain, help me to remember those who suffer,
And remembering, help me to destroy my complacency;
Bestir my compassion, and be concerned enough to help by word and deed, those who cry out for what we take for granted.
So as we celebrate this traditional holiday, let it foster an attitude that consumes us far beyond the long weekend. Let us look beyond our television set to the needy world outside our windows. Allow the Lord to instill the joy of His grace into your life so that it grows into a spirit of thankfulness. Out of that, He can work in every area of your heart to fill you with a bountiful harvest of spiritual fruit that you can, in the true spirit of thanksgiving, share with those who need Him most.
Governor William Bradford, who signed the Mayflower Compact and is credited with the first harvest festival in the Plymouth Colony, wrote about the potential of a grateful attitude when he said, “Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and, as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shone unto many, yea in some sort to our whole nation; let the glorious name of Jehovah have all the praise!”
Let’s all light that candle of praise as we celebrate this Thanksgiving. Let it shine in your home so that it may be seen in your neighborhood and begin to illuminate the entire country one life at a time.