Devotional

Always Thankful

I love Thanksgiving! I love fall in general with its warm, vivid colors. If I could (and honestly, who is going to stop me?) I would decorate my house for fall all year long. I love the colors of the changing leaves. I love the rustic decor of pumpkins, scarecrows, Indian corn, dried corn stalks, straw bales, mums, and anything else that represents fall (except scary Halloween decorations – I don’t like those!). I look forward to Thanksgiving praise services at church where we focus on singing praises to the Lord and sharing with each other what we are thankful for. The highlight for me is enjoying a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with my family where the menu of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, grandma’s rolls (made by me), and pumpkin pie with whipped cream on top rarely changes. After dinner, we pass the time by sitting around talking about a variety of topics and planning our Christmas get-together, playing our favorite board and card games, and simply enjoying each others’ company all while the kids make their own fun, running, laughing and entertaining themselves. Usually someone brings black Friday ads to look through, and if we’re really ambitious, some of us might brave the late night crowds and attempt some early Christmas shopping. It all seems so relaxed and carefree, but is that what Thanksgiving has always been about?

History books tells us that the first Thanksgiving celebration was held by the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock to celebrate a successful harvest in the year 1621. The pilgrims had left England in September of 1620 and spent 66 days crossing the ocean. They were crowded into a small ship, suffering sickness, hunger, and exposure to the elements. They endured crowding, boredom and all the issues that we can imagine would go along with living in close quarters with others for a long period of time.

When they finally reached the new world, they had to stay on the ship for months until they could build shelter on land. During the winter, almost half of them died from either cold or sickness.

In the spring, they moved ashore and learned how to plant corn and other crops. That fall, after a successful harvest, they met with the indians for a three-day celebration, which involved eating and recreation.

With all the suffering and hardships the pilgrims endured and after losing so many members of their group, it seems like they wouldn’t have much to celebrate. Yet they joined together to celebrate with each other and to thank God for what they did have.

While this is an over simplified summary of the occasion, it gives us an idea of who the pilgrims were and what their mindset was. Surely they mourned their losses and had lasting physical and mental effects from their suffering, yet they lived in the moment and were thankful for what they had.

As we approach Thanksgiving Day, a day we as Americans have set aside to count our blessings and thank God for what we have, what is our mindset? Admittedly, we have all had an interesting year in 2020. The Covid 19 pandemic has changed all of our lives with schools and businesses being shut down, many of our activities being cancelled, restaurants moving to drive through or carry-out only service, and church services going online. We have been forced to wear masks in public, social distance from others and prohibited from visiting loved ones in hospitals and nursing homes. Many have been sick and some have died. People expressing strong opinions all around have affected relationships. And then throw in a presidential election in the midst of it all and it seems like a total disaster. On top of all this, our personal lives don’t stop and there are physical, emotional, spiritual, financial and interpersonal issues that continue to rage in our lives. How in the world can we be thankful with so much going on?

God has the answer for us in His Word. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Giving thanks in everything isn’t just some good advice or a positive thinking exercise, it is God’s will for us as Christians! We must be intentional about giving thanks.

It is all about attitude, our way of thinking. It’s a mindset, as one of my children likes to say. Our way of thinking becomes a habit. We can get into a habit of complaining, criticizing, entitlement and unthankfulness. Or we can develop a habit of gratitude and thankfulness.

In my own life I have noticed several benefits of being thankful.

First of all, I believe it changes my focus. Being thankful takes my focus off of myself and my problems and it causes me to focus on God and the blessings He has given me. For example, earlier this year I could have complained about how I was in a situation, due to no fault of my own, where I was struggling to pay the bills for a couple months, or I could have thanked God for generous, compassionate people in my life who so graciously stepped in and helped get me through. I chose to be thankful! I praised the Lord; I wrote thank-you notes; I rejoiced with my family! When I make a deliberate effort to be thankful, my focus shifts from feeling sorry for myself for what I don’t have to being thankful for what I do have.

Second, it changes my thinking. Complaining becomes a habit, but so does being thankful. We can develop a mindset of always seeing the negative in life, or we can practice seeing the good and being thankful. I become happier and more satisfied with life when I have an attitude of thankfulness.

It also makes me a more pleasant person to be with. I think we all have experienced being with a truly negative person – someone who can only complain and see the worst in every situation. That person is never satisfied with life. They make you feel discouraged and depressed by the time you walk away. When a person begins to be thankful, they begin to have a more positive mindset and to become a more pleasant person to be with. We all are encouraged and uplifted to be around someone who speaks positively and finds even little things to be thankful for in any situation.

Giving thanks lifts my spirit and helps me encourage others. I think of all the Thanksgiving praise services I have taken part in over the years. I always love that time of sharing with fellow believers. I find it encouraging and uplifting to listen to each person share what God has done for them over the past year from the traditional thanks for salvation, forgiveness, and God’s mercy, to more specific praises of restored health, financial provisions and other personal blessings. Psalm 105:1 confirms that this is a good tradition. It says, “O give thanks unto the Lord; call upon his name: Make known his deeds among the people.” Thankfulness shouldn’t be kept to ourselves, but should be shared with others.

Finally, it can be good for my health. I have heard that people with positive attitudes are less likely to get sick and are quicker to recover from illness. The opposite of thankfulness is complaining, bitterness, anger. All of these affect our mental state and eventually our physical health. Practicing thankfulness will keep our attitudes in check and keep us more calm, relaxed and in better mental and physical health.

Is giving thanks important to God? There are over 100 verses in the Bible that talk about thanksgiving or giving thanks. The Old Testament is full of passages where Israel offers sacrifices and songs of thanksgiving to God. The Psalms are full of verses of thanksgiving. Psalm 92:1 says, “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, And to sing praises unto thy name, O most High.” One of my favorite and most well-known verses is Psalm 100:4 – “Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: Be thankful unto him, and bless his name.”

Why do we give thanks to God before we eat a meal? The New Testament includes several passages where Jesus gives thanks before sharing food with others. I Corinthians 11:24 gives an account of Jesus sharing the last supper with his disciples, “And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.”

Paul gives thanks repeatedly throughout his epistles. He thanks God for his fellow Christians and he also thanks God for what He has done.

So how can I practice thankfulness in my life every day?

  1. Say “thank you” a lot. Thank your children and spouse for the little things. Thank your server at the restaurant. Thank the cashier at the store. Thank everyone for everything they do for you.
  2. Write down one thing a day you are thankful for. It can be something as simple as your warm slipper socks on a cold morning (yes, I’m extremely in love with my slipper socks!)
  3. Thank the Lord each morning when you wake up for the opportunity to live another day to serve Him.
  4. Memorize scripture on giving thanks. Here are a few passages to get you started and there are many more you can search on your own. Let me challenge you to do a study on thankfulness. It could change your life!

Psalm 92:1

Psalm 106:1

1 Corinthians 15:57

Ephesians 5:20

Philippians 4:6

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, may we focus on the Lord and his many blessings to us. May we have hearts that rejoice and give thanks to Him for all He has done. Whether your year has gone smoothly the way you wanted it to or it has been full of trials and bumps in the road, remember there is always something to be thankful for!

Wife, mom, grandma, and country girl. I am living by faith and encouraging others to do the same. I integrate faith, family and country living.

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