Transformed by Thanksgiving
“If God wants you to have a house, He will give you a house.” My best friend meant to comfort me with these words, but I confess that initially they left me questioning God’s goodness. Having been married 10 years, I had my heart set on purchasing our first home that fall. Our two-bedroom apartment seemed to have shrunk with the arrival of our second child. At the same time, our very active two-year-old would have greatly benefited from more room to run.
But it was not to be.
The year before, at the beginning of a high-risk pregnancy, our medical insurance premiums quadrupled and our financial outlook changed significantly.
Why wouldn’t God want us to have a house? I wondered. Meanwhile, I watched three friends move into new homes. I was happy for them. But still, a part of me kept asking, “What about me?” The me, me, me… echoed in the dark recesses of my heart.
I think everyone, at one point or another, struggles when circumstances look different than they’d have hoped by a particular season in life. You may have thought that surely by now, you’d be married, or have a baby, or be in better health, or have a better job, or wouldn’t have to work anymore, or _________ (you can probably fill in the blank).
Though I continue to pray that God will bless our family with a house, I am thankful that He hasn’t just yet. I’m seeing Him embed this truth into my heart much more deeply:
When we choose to see life through the eyes of gratitude, it changes everything. Especially ourselves.
As I’ve learned more about the transforming power of thanksgiving, God has impressed upon me these four principles.
Thanksgiving is Inspiring
Who are the people who most inspire us? On a surface level, the talented – people whose exceptional athletic or artistic gifts wow us as a society. On a deeper level, we are moved by the triumphant, those among us who demonstrate courage and overcome adversity.
But most profoundly, I believe those who most inspire us are the thankful. Not only are they gifted; they are also humble. Not only do they overcome, but they also overflow with gratitude. This is the cancer survivor who sees every moment pulsing with opportunities to love, serve, and celebrate. It’s the 65-year-old newlywed I know who, when her husband had a stroke, said joyfully, “I am just so blessed to have a husband to take care of!” When you think about it, the human spirit shines most brightly when it’s cloaked in gratitude.
Thanksgiving Satisfies the Soul
In spite of the annual Thanksgiving holiday and the trend in popular culture towards “gratitude journals” and the like, thankfulness is not truly an expression of the abundant life Jesus offers unless it’s directed towards the Giver. In fact, the word thanksgiving in the New Testament’s original language can be translated literally as “good grace.” When we are thankful, we are remembering the One who owes us nothing, but has given us so incredibly much. The very nature of grace is receiving what we do not deserve. We have a lot of grace to be thankful for!
While it's not a denial of pain and suffering, thanksgiving is a deliberate choice to remember how blessed we are. More than optimism, it is a proclamation of our belief in God’s grace, love, provision, and goodness. We are looking to God, and He is enough.
Lack of gratitude is dangerous
The first woman, Eve, had it all. Imagine: the perfectly healthy body. The perfect husband. The perfect home. Even a perfect relationship with God. But still, she bought the devil’s lie that it wasn’t enough. She followed the Evil One’s distorted logic: “Is God really good? If He is, then why would He withhold something good from you, especially something that looks so inviting?” The consequences of Eve and Adam's ingratitude and the ensuing choice proved devastating to all of humankind.
Ingratitude is truly a slippery slope. In Romans, the Apostle Paul lists a litany of horrendous sins God gave people over to, from sexual immorality, to murder, to worshipping idols. Notice where the people's downfall began: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21, emphasis mine).
Saying thank you to God is not a matter of protocol or politeness. It goes to the very heart of what we really think about God. Through thanksgiving, we give credit to God as our Creator and keep Him at the center of our lives.
Thanksgiving Empowers us to Remember
When I was 19, I served for a year as a short-term missionary in Mexico City. One of the most life-changing experiences was living with a Mexican host family for the summer. We were housed by a widow and her two unmarried daughters. They slept in one room, so my roommate and I could have the other, which was furnished with one single bed that we shared.
Our space, only slightly wider than the bed, was set off from the rest of the house with a sheet tacked up as a curtain. During the summer rains, the house flooded. Black scrawls of gang graffiti marred the front of the house. Clothes were washed by hand in the courtyard, which also housed a toilet and showerhead. Amazingly, "Mama" Rafaela had raised 10 children in that home, and she took me in and loved me like another.
All around the world, I’ve had similar experiences – India, Nicaragua, the former Soviet Union. I’ve seen poverty. I know that the way people live in my American suburb is not “normal” by global standards. And I’ve seen how warm, loving, and joyful believers in Christ Jesus who come from less privileged backgrounds can be, regardless of what they possess.
Without a doubt, a house can be a wonderful gift from God. I’ve seen many friends use their homes for His glory. But I’m learning that owning a house is not what will bring fullness to my life. I’m relinquishing my sense of entitlement – my perception that it is something I deserve or must have to be happy. When I give thanks for the countless blessings in my life, I find that eventually I become grateful.
When I do not give thanks, I soon become ungrateful. The next thing I know, I’m complaining. And if I continue to complain, I become like the children of Israel and move away from the Lord and into rebellion. I begin to doubt His very goodness.
God knows how easily we forget to give thanks, especially when the blessings are great. When the Israelites were given the promised land and all its abundance, God, through Moses, charged the people: “…when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:11b-12a).
We need to choose to remember God and His goodness to us, and we also need someone to remind us. That someone is the Holy Spirit. “Being filled with the Sprit” enables us to be “always giving thanks” (Ephesians 5:18, 20). The Holy Spirit’s role is to bring glory to Jesus through our lives. He’s ready and willing to help you adopt gratitude as a way of life. If you ask Him to empower you, and continually draw from His strength, your life will overflow with thankfulness. Your soul will be satisfied. Your life will inspire others. And God will be glorified.