It is the time of the year when many people will start to look forward to the thanksgiving meal that will be enjoyed by friends and family throughout the country. As time approaches, it’s typical for people to start discussing the things they are thankful for and the blessings they are glad to have in their lives. For Christians, thanksgiving should not be a one-time event that we engage in seriously once a year or on one day a month. Thanksgiving is something that God expects and commands His people to do throughout their lives.
For example, thanksgiving floods the Psalms as the people of Israel praise God with the knowledge that, without Him, they would not have made it as far as they did (Pss.105:1; 106:1; 107:1-2; 108:3; 111:1; 118:1). The New Testament also emphasizes the need to thank God for all he has done and is doing in the lives of His people (Lk. 17:11-19; Eph. 5:20). In fact, Paul says one of the things that invite the wrath of God is the sin of ingratitude (Rom. 1:21). Timothy would recognize the last days were upon him when he looked around and saw the ungrateful hearts of his contemporaries (2 Tim. 3:1-2).
In our land of blessings and opportunities, we might be experts in creating wish lists and amateurs in thanksgiving. We might be better skilled at letting God know all that we want, need, and desire than we are at thanking Him for all that He has already done. God is not against our requests, but He does want us to give thanks along the way. Thanksgiving is healthy for us as Christians because we need to be reminded that everything we have comes from above and not from within (1 Cor. 4:7; Jas. 1:17). The good we enjoy in our lives comes as God blesses us and gives us all things richly to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17).
Thanksgiving also serves as an antidote to negativity and pessimism because it reminds us that we have more blessings than burdens in our lives no matter how bad things may seem. We may find ourselves often giving thanks for our food before a meal and rarely about anything else. But, if we are going to mature in Christ and have the outlook on life that God wants us to have, we must be thankful. It is not enough to feel thankful; we need to express it to God. Here are six ways we can improve in our thanksgiving.
#1: Keep Track of Answered Prayers
Most churches have a prayer list (and this is a good thing) but few keep track of prayers that God has answered. It is true that there is a sense in which God answers every prayer in some form or fashion, but the answers I have in mind here are the times when God blesses us with what we desire (1 Sam. 1:27; 1 Jn. 3:22; 5:15). Keep track of times when you pray about something for yourself or others and God hears and answers in the way you were hoping. Keep a note on your phone or somewhere where you can see it often. Every time you see it, remember to stop and give thanks to God (Ps. 6:9).
If we do not pause and reflect on all that God has done before, we will not be impressed with what God will do in the future. Make yourself aware of God’s involvement in your life by noting the times He’s heard and answered you. This will give you confidence for your prayers in the future, but most importantly it will remind you to give thanks for what He has already done.
#2: See Life from Heaven’s Perspective
Improving in thanksgiving involves us seeing life from heaven’s perspective. Paul told the Thessalonians to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). This does not mean that Christians need to be thankful for everything that happens in life. There are genuinely bad things that happen to us and others. Still, when we view things from God’s perspective, we realize that God can bring good out of every situation. In fact, if you’re a Christian, God is working all things together for the ultimate good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).
If we want to increase and improve our thanksgiving, we need to start viewing our circumstances with eyes that look for all the good God may be accomplishing in every situation (cf. Gen. 50:19-20). We should thank God for exercising His sovereignty in such a way that there is nothing that can happen in our lives that can ruin His will for us individually and His ultimate will for His people collectively (Rom. 8:35-39).
#3: Desire to Do God’s Will
Simply put, giving thanks is a part of God’s will for His people (1 Thess. 5:18). A heart that wants to please God will give thanks because God said to do so. We are to give thanks to God through Jesus Christ for everything He has done for us (Col. 3:17). Even as we pray and make our requests made known to God, we are to do so with thanksgiving (Phil. 4:6).
There are some things in the will of God that are extremely difficult to do (cf. 1 Thess. 4:3; 1 Pet. 2:13-15). However, practicing regular thanksgiving does not involve any special talent or any superior intellect. Thanksgiving will occur when we realize how much we have received that we do not deserve, and we desire to please God.
#4: Pray “Thanksgiving Only” Prayers
Improving our thanksgiving will involve some concentrated effort. Pray some “thanks only” prayers where you do not ask for anything, but you just spend time thanking God for everything you can think of. Psalm 136 is a great example of how this is done as the psalmist bursts forth into praise and recounts all the things from Israel’s history that should bring about a thankful heart for God’s people. Psalm 103 is similar, as David emphasizes a variety of reasons to bless the Lord. This might require us to pray with our eyes open so we can see all the things God has done for us and allow it to build our appreciation.
How long could you pray without asking for anything—just thanking God for His goodness and for being who He is? These prayers may start off short and difficult to pray, but over time they may become some of your favorite ways to commune with God. God is to be loved, praised, and thanked simply for who He is. Thomas Merton is right when he says, “But if we love God for something less than Himself, we cherish a desire that can fail us. We run the risk of hating Him if we do not get what we hope for.”
Maybe on the way to work or on the way home, just focus on thanking God and nothing else. Perhaps when you first wake up in the morning spend the first ten minutes in prayer simply thanking God and requesting nothing in return. Remember, God welcomes our requests, but He is also worthy of our thanksgiving.
#5: Maintain a Thanksgiving Journal
Writing things down helps us to think clearly and helps us to recall things later on with ease. What if every day you wrote down one thing you were thankful for in a journal and tried to never repeat yourself? At the end of the year, you would have more than three hundred things that you can reflect on and praise God about. There is a growing body of research about the benefits associated with being thankful and noticing the things we should be thankful for. Clinical psychologists are pointing out what the Bible has been saying for centuries, being thankful and expressing it is good for the human soul (Ps. 92:1).
This habit might help you see the bright side of every day and have a more optimistic outlook on your day-to-day activities. In a world where negative news is easy to come by, it would be helpful for us to create our own good news and gratitude journal to regularly remind ourselves of the good. This practice will cause us to scan our day looking especially for the goodness and grace of God that was present throughout it and that can only change us for the better (Ps. 27:13)!
#6: Thank Him Right Away
Sometimes our thanksgiving is not what it should be because we postpone it. Instead of waiting for the perfect time to thank God, just do it immediately when you think of a reason to thank Him. Jesus would often thank God spontaneously for things God was doing or in advance for things He knew God would do in the future (Matt. 11:25-26; Jn. 11:41-42).
Our planned thanks may turn into unthankfulness if we delay too long. Do not delay giving God thanks. Rather, determine to do it right away when you realize you should. When you are spared terrible news, hear a good report, arrive safely at your destination, or receive an unexpected blessing—thank Him immediately.
God has blessed us in more ways than we can count. Rather than skimping on our thanksgiving, let us be those who overflow with gratitude regularly. Of all the things we can thank God for, Jesus must be at the top of the list. Everything that God wants to give us ultimately comes from Him. Our response should be: “Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words!” (2Cor. 9:15, NLT)