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 this fall. Our two-bedroom apartment seemed to shrink with the arrival our second child in April. At the same time, our two-year-old’s activity level beckoned for more room to run.
But it was not to be.
A year ago, at the beginning of a high-risk pregnancy, our medical insurance premiums quadrupled. 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?” And the me… me… me…
I know that I am not alone in having anticipated that circumstances would look different by the time a particular season of life arrived. You may have thought that surely by now, you’d be married…or you’d have a baby….or you’d be in better health…or you’d have a better job…or you 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 in my heart a truth I’ve known since the beginning of my Christian life, but that is now going deeper. The truth? 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 becomes us
Who are the people who most inspire us? On a surface level, the talented – people whose athletic, artistic and other 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 the souls who most inspire us are the thankful. Not only are they gifted, but 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 opportunity to love, to serve, to 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 produces soul satisfaction
In spite of the annual Thanksgiving holiday and the trend in popular culture towards “gratitude journals” and the like, thankfulness isn’t “fullness” unless it’s directed towards the Giver. In fact, the word thanksgiving in the New Testament’s original language could be literally translated, “good grace.” When we are thankful, we are remembering the One who owes us nothing, but gives us all. Is that not the very nature of grace – receiving what we do not deserve?
While 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. Put another way, when we are thankful, our “tank” is full. We are looking to God, and He is enough.
Warning: a lack of gratitude is dangerous!
The first woman, Eve, had it all. Imagine… the perfect body. The perfect husband. The perfect home. Even a perfect relationship with God. 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 deny me the fruit of this one tree – especially since it looks so inviting?”
The consequences of Eve’s ingratitude for God’s goodness and the ensuing choice she made proved devastating to her and to all of humankind.
Ingratitude is truly a slippery slope. In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul lists a litany of horrendous sins God gave people over to, from sexual immorality, to murder, to worshipping idols. Look back to 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, of politeness. It goes to the very heart of what we really think about God, and it has a profound impact on who we are.
We are called and empowered 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 aspects of my experience was living with Mexican host families. For one summer, my fellow missionary and I were housed by a widow and two of her unmarried daughters. They slept in one room, so my roommate and I could have the other, which was furnished with one single bed (which my roommate and I 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 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 satisified, 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. The power that enables us to be “always giving thanks” comes from “being filled with the Spirit.” (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.
Why not take a moment and make this prayer your own?
Heavenly Father, I love You. I need You. And yet, time and again I’ve chosen to turn away from You and Your goodness. I acknowledge that I’ve forgotten to thank You for who You are and all You have given me. I pause now and thank You for forgiving my sins through Jesus’ death on the cross for me. I thank You for the Holy Spirit, who lives inside me and desires to help me follow the best path You have for my life. Fill me up with Your Spirit! Help me to hear and heed Your voice. Help me to draw from Your strength. Remind me, through the Holy Spirit, to choose gratitude today and every day. I’m looking to you, LORD, and You are enough. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
If you prayed this prayer, we would love to hear about it!