‘I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.’ – G.K. Chesterton
I come from a country where thanksgiving is a national holiday, where workers are given the day off and students revel in a long weekend.
When my husband—born and raised in Australia—first came with me to my family’s Thanksgiving dinner, he didn’t know what to expect. Now that we’ve moved to Sydney, he’s convinced we need to host a Thanksgiving dinner with friends every year. And we do.
It’s not that the idea of setting aside a day to give thanks has any nationalistic hold or government allegiance. Sure, the U.S. holiday itself is founded in historic lore about Native Americans caring for Pilgrims after a long winter, and eventually Abraham Lincoln signing it into law. Now it’s become a tradition for families, a time crammed more with football, food and frivolity than, well, gratitude. It’s also morphed into a materialistic precursor to Christmas, with its predawn sales frenzy the day after Thanksgiving. (Don’t get me started.)
But to claim a day of thanks as an exclusive right for one country is to negate its essence and gravitas. Giving thanks and expressing gratitude are, after all, common and essential threads in all cultures. We’re wired to express and celebrate thanks; even science links health benefits to the power of thanksgiving. Gratitude is the key to resilience.
For the follower of Jesus, every day is to be a day of thanksgiving, of cultivating a heart of gratitude, of turning our eyes to the Giver of all good gifts. ‘Thank you’ and praise fall easily from our lips. Our minds focus on daily blessings, and we turn to scripture repeatedly to, ‘give thanks to the Lord; for he is good. His steadfast love endures forever.’
At least that’s how God wants his people to live. We all know it’s not that easy and too often we grumble at how things are, rather than giving thanks for that which is. Giving thanks, then, can be a challenge as much as it is a muscle, but the more we use it the better we become at it. The more we allow ourselves to wonder at the many gifts we have been given, the more our ‘gratitude and happiness are doubled’, as Chesterton said.
That’s why we have to be intentional in asking God to foster in us thankful hearts. It’s why we (at Baptist World Aid Australia) join Christians around the world who regularly set aside seasons of thanksgiving, who incorporate it into their worship and community life together. While we hope to nurture genuine thankfulness all year, sometimes we need intentional and gentle nudges, at specific times, to say thanks.
So during this current season of thanksgiving, we remember that gratitude is a powerful and humbling way to acknowledge God’s character and his many gifts to his people across the globe. It helps us regain perspective in the day-to-day challenges of our work together, work that dreams of a world without poverty.
We look to scripture (like the passages listed below) to renew our minds and celebrate its regular theme of thanksgiving. We do so in part because God invites it, but also because it genuinely ‘re-sets’ our hearts to what is good, right and true.
Giving thanks keeps us on track in what he’s called us to do during our time on earth.
In other words, something happens in our lives when we say, ‘Thank you, God.’ It’s as if thanksgiving opens the door to God’s Holy Spirit in forming us more into the image of Christ. It reminds us of how full our lives really are. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, ‘In ordinary life, we hardly realise that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.’
That Bonhoeffer would say it at all is no small thing given he was a German pastor, theologian and writer who saw Hitler decimate his country with unthinkable atrocities. Bonhoeffer died in a concentration camp at 39 years of age for his failed attempt to overthrow the Fuhrer. Yet even as he was going to his execution, a guard commented on how contented Bonhoeffer was.
So when we consider Bonhoeffer’s lived example—as well as the plight of so many today living under dictators or tragic circumstances, confronting poverty and injustice daily—we are especially humbled. We remember how much we have to be thankful for, and as we do, our ‘lives become that much richer’. We ask God to ‘re-set’ our hearts and to cultivate this great attribute as people called to care for the most vulnerable.
Whether in work, service or church, whether with our family or friends gathered around a dinner table, thanksgiving flows from this place of corporate recognition for all we’ve been given. And so, our prayer in this—or any—season is simply that God might anchor us and those who around us in deep gratitude, an anchor that steadies us regardless of what lies ahead.
Passages from God’s word that invite thanksgiving
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever! (1 Chronicles 16:34 ESV)
I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. (Psalm 9:1)
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Saviour, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign LORD comes escape from death. (Psalm 68:19-20)
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations. (Psalm 100:4-5)
The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. (Psalm 116:5)
From them will come songs of thanksgiving and the sound of rejoicing. I will add to their numbers, and they will not be decreased; I will bring them honour, and they will not be disdained. (Jeremiah 30:19)
I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king. (Daniel 2:23)
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? (Matthew 6:26)
Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. (John 6:11 )
I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge… (1 Corinthians 1:4-5)
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (2 Corinthians 2:14)
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
Saying, ‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign… (Revelation 11:17)
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (Revelation 21:3)