Being thankful is learned behavior. This is obvious if you have ever spent any time around a small child. Babies scream for what they want and then out of love and obligation we give them what they want or need. Babies can’t really show us their gratitude; so we are rewarded by their silence. All of us were born with the desire to have all our wants and needs satisfied and how it happens is irrelevant. Another way of saying it is; we are all born with an acute sense of entitlement.
Every parent goes through the process of teaching their child to say please and thank you. Children quickly learn that by saying please, their wants and needs are fulfilled more quickly. But when it comes to saying thank you, what’s the reward? Many adults struggle when it comes to giving thanks; I guess old habits are hard to break. In reality we were all born selfish to some degree and we grow even more selfish as we look around and see that others have more stuff than we do. It’s natural then that being truly thankful is not easy and something we have to learn, but once practiced, brings a joy that is both satisfying and unexpected.
I was at the grocery store yesterday and I must have heard the line, “Have a happy Thanksgiving” at least a half dozen times. Not once did I hear anyone say, “Have a day of Thanksgiving.” I guess the up side is that most folk equate being thankful with being happy. But let’s back up a little and define what giving thanks really is and what it is not. By definition, giving thanks is an expression of gratitude and implies that it wasn’t a sure thing that we would get what we got; and that what we got is what we wanted or needed. All of us, at one time or another was told, most likely by a parent, that we should be thankful for whatever we may receive, but we all know that deep down it was never going to happen. That’s just our sin nature, our sense of entitlement showing through.
If you look up the word Thanksgiving in the dictionary you’ll find it defined as “a formal public expression of thanks to God.” In fact, even if someone has never read a word of the bible, or never darkens the doors of a church, most would agree that we owe a debt of gratitude to our creator, even if they hesitate to name God as the creator. Giving thanks to God is as American as apple pie and a Thanksgiving turkey and although some would like to change all that (not the pie part), I know it won’t happen in my lifetime. Since there is this cultural linkage between thankfulness and God, let’s take a look at what the bible has to say on the subject, specifically what the apostle teaches in Colossians, chapter three.
To begin with, being truly thankful has three dimensions; what we think, what we say and what we do. If any of these three components is missing, then we are not truly thankful. Like those well meaning people in the grocery store, we often say we are thankful, but neither our minds nor our hearts are really in it. How often when we thank God in our prayers, is it just words; something we are expected to say. Being thankful to God begins as Paul tells us in Colossians, chapter three verses one and two, by setting our hearts and minds on things above, not on earthly things. Our focus is to be on Him as our creator and sustainer, the one who provides everything according to His plan and His will. Our prayer should be that no matter where we are in life, we give thanks to God for our very existence. This is also part of Webster’s definition of Thanksgiving; the Pilgrims gave thanks to God for their very survival. Paul connects the mind and heart because our mind is where our real thoughts and feelings reside and our heart is what or who we truly care about. This is where true Thanksgiving begins.
Paul writes in verse seventeen, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” What we say and how we say it does matter. We should always choose our words carefully, “seasoned with salt” as Paul puts it, so that they will be desired and have the desired effect; which is to build each other up in the faith, giving thanks to God. If our words are tasteless, then they will be tasteless to God and those around us.
The third dimension of Thanksgiving is our deeds, or what we do for others. What we do is the outward, tangible expression of what we say and what is in our hearts. This is what the apostle James meant when he wrote, “faith by itself, if not accompanied by action is dead (James 2:17).” Jesus taught that we express what’s in our heart and on our lips by sharing what we have with others and He’s not simply talking about money and stuff. Jesus was speaking about what is really important, which is sharing the love of God with those in need. Jesus describes the love of God as heavenly treasure, that moths and rust can not destroy or thieves can not steal. This love was freely given to us and we should share it in the same way. This is the meaning of Thanksgiving.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus Christ, Matthew 6:21