Count your blessings: Cultivating a heart of Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and what a different Thanksgiving it will be! You may well NOT be gathering around a big family table to count our blessings, so what might a redeemed, intentional day of giving thanks to God look like when many of our traditions have been interrupted?

As Christians we recognize that whatever makes the round-the-table list of people and things for which we are thankful, all of the good gifts are penultimate blessings. The ultimate blessing is the one from whom all blessings flow: God Himself. 

So, counting our blessings must include the spiritual blessings of being a child of God as well as blessings that the world simply does not understand.

The Jesus upended the usual human way of thinking and tells us who is blessed:

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Imagine a Thanksgiving Day where we honestly and reverently say, “Because I am blessed by God’s grace to be counted among His children:

  • I am blessed in my grief and I am blessed in loss.
  • I am blessed in my physical frailties.
  • I am blessed in my poverty.
  • I am blessed to be in a broken world of broken people in broken relationships because it provides the opportunity to be a reconciling presence in the midst of strife.
  • I am blessed to be persecuted or discriminated against or harassed by others for Christ’s name sake.

This type of radical thanksgiving is based on an understanding “this” is neither as good as it gets nor all that there is. But rather, we have a seat saved at the marriage feast of the Lamb, a home in heaven and an imperishable inheritance, thankfulness ought to be our way of life and our continual witness to the world.

Call it “thanks-living” or “an attitude of gratitude” — it is the Biblical mandate to “give thanks in all circumstances.” And yes, it is God’s intention that we live it for more than one day a year.

How can we cultivate this kind of heart of gratefulness? Here’s an exercise to begin building spiritual muscles of thankfulness:

1. Read the book of Philippians and make note of every reference to joy. How many did you find?

Now, re-read Philippians and take note of Paul’s circumstances as he writes this letter from a prison cell. Consider specifically the “secret” to which Paul refers in verses 4:12-13. Do you know the secret?

Do you experience the joy Paul experiences in Christ no matter the circumstances? If not, ask and answer honestly, “am I practicing what is preached in Philippians 4:8-9?” What might happen if you spent today doing what God instructs here?

2. Read the book of Colossians and find the specific reference to thankfulness in every chapter. Now, reflect on your own life and make a similar list.

  • For whom do you pray with thankfulness (Col. 1:3)?
  • Have you thanked God today for your imperishable inheritance (Col 1:12)?
  • How is your life overflowing with thanksgiving for the reality of being possessed by Christ (Col 2:7)?
  • Does the peace of Christ rule in your heart and is the word of Christ dwelling in you richly (Col 3:15)?
  • Are you doing all that you do, even the most mundane and repetitive things, in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Col 3:17)? Can you see that if you made this your moment by moment practice your life would be transformed?
  • Devote this day to prayer, being watchful and thankful – and see what God will do (Col 4:2)!

3. Ephesians 5:20, Colossians 3:16 and First Thessalonians 5:16-18 echo one another in admonishing us to “be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Test yourself against that standard today. Are you a living demonstration of joy? Is your life marked by continual prayer? Are you thankful in all circumstances and “for” all things.

A very Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!