The Practice of Thanksgiving – November 10, 2013
Psalm 107:1-16, Colossians 3:12-17
November 10, 2013
This sounds like I’m jumping the gun today, doesn’t it? It sounds like I’m starting a Thanksgiving sermon. Well, let me just say that the way the calendar falls this year, jumping the gun would not be a bad thing! Thanksgiving and Advent and Christmas are all going to be squashed together. It will all happen in almost the shortest time possible! So be ready!
But that’s not the reason for this message about Thanksgiving. The reason actually has to do with something I’ve been noticing on the internet. Maybe you follow FaceBook. (How many do?) If you do, maybe you’ve been noticing a stream of comments about giving thanks each day this month. Have you seen that? Well, I think that’s great!
The idea is not just to spend one day giving thanks, but the whole month! I like that, because if you think about it, many people don’t think very much about giving thanks until that one day – that last Thursday of November – and then usually only just before the meal – the annual Turkey gorging. And sadly, many people don’t give it much thought even then. They just go for the turkey!
So, I like the idea of a month of giving thanks. Because I think being thankful is something we do need to think more about. In fact, it’s something we need to think about doing all year, not just for one month, and certainly not just for one day!
But that’s not as easy as it sounds! Because giving thanks – being thankful – is something you have to think about, or you won’t. You have to choose to be thankful! (There’s that word I like to use again! “Choose.”) Thanksgiving is something you have to practice doing!
How many of us as kids have had the experience of sitting down at Thanksgiving dinner, and then just before we were about to eat, somebody – our father or our mother – said, “I’d like us to go around the table, and each of us say something for which we are thankful.” Do you remember that? All that good food was right in front of you. And boy were you thankful for that?! But now you had to wait. And worse than that, you had to think, didn’t you! “Oh boy, what am I thankful for.” In a sense, that’s practicing. It’s doing something that’s a good thing to do, even though you don’t necessarily feel like doing it at the time!
If we really think about it, we have much to be thankful for. We take so much for granted, don’t we? Even those of us who have less than others still have so much more than many, many people in this world.
I’ll never forget the young man in a previous congregation who wanted to go into the mission field. And boy did he! He raised his support, he got his training, and he ended up in the middle of nowhere in Africa. He had the most minimal supplies with him, and he was ministering to people and refugees who had nothing, and who were constantly on the verge of starvation. It was quite an experience!
Well, one day he came home on furlough, and I asked him to speak at our youth fellowship. And I remember expecting him to say how we need to help the starving people of the world – which he did, at least to some extent. But his main message to those kids was “Appreciate what you have!” “It’s so much more than what many people in the world have.” And I began to realize then that so many people in our world simply fail to appreciate what they have! I’ll bet if we think about it, many of us here do, too.
So, maybe instead of going around the table and saying one thing we’re thankful for, maybe we should try going around and saying one thing we’ve been taking for granted! (That’s actually what we’ve probably been doing anyway!)
The thing is, we need to work on being thankful. It doesn’t happen all by itself. And if you think about it, there are many places in the Bible where we are encouraged to give thanks. And usually in that encouragement it says, “…For all the things God has done.” Then, in some cases, many of those things are listed. You can find many psalms like that.
Well, we can do that in our lives, too. We can think about, and be thankful for, all the things God has done for us. But we have to be intentional about it, don’t we! The times that God breaks through in our lives in powerful, memorable ways are often very few. More often it’s the little blessings that are by far the most numerous in our lives, and those are the ones that are way too easy to forget, or fail to notice.
So we need to practice “noticing” them We need to be in tune with the actions of God in our lives. As the old song told us “Count your blessings” “Name them one by one.” Do you know that song? “And you will be surprised at what the Lord has done!” Again, that’s not easy! In the busyness and concerns of this life, we can easily forget. The funny thing about that FaceBook stream is that I’ve seen less and less of it as the month has gone along. Again, it’s a great idea at first, but people are forgetting. Maybe it will pick up again as we approach the actual day of Thanksgiving.
We have to practice thanksgiving. And practice takes consistency! Maybe you don’t know this, but I’m learning to play the trombone. But I’m not very good at it. Do you know why? I only practice it for about 15 minutes, once every 4 or 5 years! I don’t have to say much more about that, do it!
So practice thanksgiving. Again, it doesn’t happen automatically. I don’t believe there is a “gratitude gene” anywhere on our DNA strand. It’s a learned behavior. If we’ve been fortunate enough to live around thankful people, we might tend to be thankful people. But whether we were or not, if we determine to be thankful people, if we practice thanksgiving, we can grow in that “attitude of gratitude!” (I used those words in a sermon one Thanksgiving, and I like how they went together!)
So, start by counting your blessings! Start by thanking God for all that he has done in your lives – regularly! Paul told the Philippians, “In everything, with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” Do you know that verse? What does it say will happen if you do? “The peace which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
So, that’s the first part of this. Practice giving thanks to God. Take time every day to do that. But there’s a second part of this. I believe we’re also called to practice giving thanks to each other. I don’t think we consider that often enough, either. And yes, the Bible encourages us to do that, too. It encourages us to be thankful toward God, but it also encourages us to be thankful people in our relationship with each other. That’s part of the whole New Testament attitude of “encouragement” and “edification.”
Our passage from Colossians is all about that. It’s about “putting on” compassion, lowliness, and meekness, and forbearing one another. It’s about “forgiving one another.” “And above all these,” Paul writes, “put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-15) This passage is not one about how to be close to God, it’s about how to be one with each other! That was huge for Paul! And I hope it’s huge for us!
So, are we thankful toward each other, then? Do we take time to say “Thanks” to others? Are we encouraging and edifying in that way? Sometimes it’s easier to be thankful to God than it is to others. So let me suggest a little “tweak” to the Facebook idea. How about taking time each day for the rest of the month and tell someone else “Thank you” for something they did! Maybe try keeping track of that. See if it makes a difference in the kind of person you are. And see if it makes a difference in the lives of the people around you!
Eternal God, we are grateful for all you have done in our lives. And we are grateful for each other. We know that too often we forget both of those things. And so we ask for your help, that we might practice thanksgiving in our lives, that we might be more in tune with your Spirit, and that we might see your hand in our lives each day. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.