As a kid, the thankfulness of Thanksgiving Day was somewhat lost on me. I can remember our basic Thanksgiving Day routine. Somewhere around mid-morning, the smell of baking turkey would begin to waft through the house. With each passing hour, the aroma of various cooking foods continued to fill the air. With great anticipation, I looked forward to the coming feast.
At long last, my dad would call all the gathered friends and family to the table for the long-awaited moment. And then, with the saliva nearly dripping down my chin, he would pause and say something like this: “Let’s all go around the table and say a few things that we are thankful for.” Are you kidding me? With all of this amazing food in front of us? Let’s eat already! But around the table we would go, each person sharing, in turn, their short list of gratitudes.
Once this agonizingly long exercise was completed, the prayer would be next. What is it about a holiday meal that brings out the long prayers? What this whole routine created for me was a sense that gratitude, and prayer, were formalities that needed to be endured before the “real” part of the holiday could begin.
In looking back, I can acknowledge that my attitude was quite ironic in light of the occasion. On the day known as Thanksgiving, I wanted to eat first and be thankful later, if at all!
As an adult, however, my experience is much different. This change has occurred not simply because I grew up and became the dad calling everyone to the table, but because the Pure Desire process taught me the true power of gratitude. Not only is gratitude more than a formality, but it has also become a cornerstone of what healing looks like for me.
For starters, many of us have come to believe that true healing is impossible without God. But how, exactly, do we put ourselves in contact with a loving God who wants to bring transformation in our lives? We are given this answer by David in Psalm 100:4, “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him and praise His name!”
More than being descriptive for us, I believe that David is prescribing a way in which we can bring ourselves before God: gratitude and praise is the entry point to His presence, because the moment we lift our eyes to the good in our lives, we are also lifting our hearts to Him.
Throughout Scripture, we find the authors turning their pen to describe the greatness and the goodness of God, inspiring gratitude in their lives. We can learn from them! We can also learn from research, which is now confirming what we see in God’s Word. Did you know that gratitude actually rewires the brain in a real, tangible way? Research is revealing actual brain change as a result of gratitude. When I make an intentional decision to look at what I have—at the goodness of God, rather than on what I don’t have—my brain begins to reorganize around those thoughts.
The truth for you and me during this holiday season—today on Thanksgiving and throughout the season—is that we tend to find more of what we’re looking for. Are we looking for a reason to complain? To grumble? To feel down and depressed? Guess what? We’ll find it! And when we do, our brain—and our heart—will succumb to emotions of sadness, grief, and despair. At the same time, however, if we are looking for a cause to celebrate, for a reason to reflect on the grace and presence of God in all things, we will find that too.
So may this day of gratitude produce in us more than a few kind thoughts toward God. May this day become an avalanche of praise that we continue to ride day after day. Just as one fantastic meal does little to nourish us for more than a day or two (no matter how many helpings of turkey we consume), so also one time of dedicated thankfulness will do little to transform our thinking.
A healthy diet changes us when we commit to consistent principles day in and day out. Over the weeks and months, we begin to see a noticeable change in our energy level, sleep patterns, and waistline. So it is with gratitude. As we commit to a regular, daily practice of gratitude, these thoughts can begin to shape our mood, our interaction with others, and our general outlook on life. Our whole life begins to “pull” in the direction of our thoughts.
Simply put, grateful people tend to be happy people.
Have you ever met a grumpy or angry person who is thankful? Me neither.
On the other hand, think about the most joyful person you know. Who comes to mind? You know what, I will bet you that they are grateful. I would guess that thankfulness is simply a way of life for them.
Even the very worst of circumstances can become opportunities for praise. Even in the midst of disease, we can find comfort in His love. In the middle of a relational breakdown, we can celebrate His faithfulness. In the midst of financial poverty, we can recognize His eternal Kingdom and His present provision. Dr. Ted Roberts calls this the “grown-up table” of praise—it’s praising God at all times and in all circumstances, no matter what.
So, no matter what table you find yourself seated at this holiday season—one of comfort and joy, or one of hardship and pain—I hope that you will choose a response of praise. On Thanksgiving Day, yes; but at all times, and in all seasons, gratitude. For this response of gratitude can become a pathway of change lasting into eternity.
Just remember to let the kids start eating while you go around the table with your list of gratitudes!
A Prayer for Thanksgiving
Heavenly Father, on this day we set aside time to remember all the ways in which you have poured out goodness on us. Whether we are in plenty or in want, we have reason to praise and thank you today. We thank you first and foremost for Jesus, who has come to set captives free and paid the ultimate price for that ransom. We rest in his love and his presence. We thank you for family and friends that are to us an echo of your relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We thank you for all that we have. And we thank you that in every circumstance—good and bad—we can celebrate your unwavering faithfulness and goodness to us. May we remember and thank you throughout this day and on all days to come. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.
Nick is the Executive Director of Pure Desire Ministries. He has been in leadership for 15+ years. He was in Pastoral Ministry at East Hills Alliance Church in Kelso, WA for 14 years. Nick is the author of Setting Us Free and Safe: Creating a Culture of Grace in a Climate of Shame.