Every Sunday night (as long as we are home) after dinner we pull out a journal, and each member of the family shares a couple things he/she is thankful for from the past week, while my wife records the answers. Around Thanksgiving we read back some of our past entries from the year. Often, when we do this, I remind my children that we do this to cultivate thankful hearts.
But why should we cultivate thankfulness? And if we should, how can we do it?
To be thankful requires a recipient of the thanking. There must be recognition that someone has bestowed a benefit upon you. If you had a good mother, you can (and should) thank her for how she cared for you. That is being thankful to her, but what about being thankful for her? The object of that kind of thankfulness is God. That is what Thanksgiving was always intended to promote. In October of 1789 George Washington made Thursday, the 26th of November 1789, a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer” devoted to “the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.”
Washington didn’t come up with the idea that God is the giver of all good gifts:
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)
This makes Thanksgiving (the holiday) and thanksgiving (the attitude) make perfect sense to Christians. To be thankful is not a generic positive feeling about life, but it means that we are full of thanks to God, who is kind and has demonstrated his kindness to us. The way we respond to that kindness is gratitude and appreciation. Being thankful to God is a form of worship.
We are acknowledging God’s…
provision when we thank him for a new friend.
protection when we thank him for a safe journey.
wisdom and creativity when we thank him for the beauty we see in nature.
Being thankful grows humility. If you don’t think you need more humility… you do. Humility grows when we are thankful because it causes us to recognize that we are not the kings of the world. Thankfulness helps us have the proper perspective of being not only dependent on God, but also cared for by God.
God actually commanded that we be thankful:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess. 5:16-18)
Is God so insecure that he needs our fawning after him all the time? Certainly not! Being thankful allows us to live honestly by acknowledging God’s continual goodness. Thankfulness is actually a blessing to us through the building of contentment. Thankfulness therefore protects our hearts from becoming discontent. Rather than focusing on what I want and don’t have, I intentionally turn my mind and heart to what I do have and rejoice.
How to cultivate thankfulness? It will probably require some sort of regular rhythm of intentionally thinking about how God has been kind to you. Annual feasting will not be enough. While that may not include a journal on Sunday evenings, your heart would be blessed by an intentional plan. When life is going well thankfulness may come without any intentional effort, but it will probably need to be an intentional choice when life is difficult.
How will you cultivate a thankful heart?
Scott Berkey, University of Illinois Cru Staff