When asked what they’re thankful for, 85 percent of Americans say their health and/or their family. So it’s no surprise that nearly 90 percent of us will be sharing Thanksgiving dinner with family. Speaking of dinner, polls also show that Americans are thankful for food — and understandably so in this land of plenty. Americans love turkey, mashed potatoes, rolls, stuffing and especially, it seems, pie. When asked what kind of pie we will be eating on Thanksgiving, 62 percent of us say pumpkin, 33 percent say apple, 27 percent say pecan, 11 percent say chocolate and 17 percent say sweet-potato. Add those percentages up, and you get 150 percent, which means most of us will be enjoying more than one kind of pie.
But we know that Thanksgiving isn’t really about pie or turkey, and giving thanks shouldn’t be limited to the fourth Thursday of November. As Christ followers, we are called to be thankful and grateful every day.
Our Duty to be Grateful
Soon after Congress called on him to establish “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer,” President George Washington declared in the autumn of 1789, “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.” Thus, Thanksgiving, which Americans had practiced in various ways and on various days for decades, was set aside as a U.S. holiday. President Abraham Lincoln and President Franklin Roosevelt would add a couple more tweaks to get us to the Thanksgiving we know today.
Americans may have invented Thanksgiving, but we didn’t invent the act of giving thanks. My Bible has at least 154 references to “giving thanks,” “thankful,” “gratitude/grateful” and “blessing.”
Americans may have invented Thanksgiving, but we didn’t invent the act of giving thanks.
Blessings — especially blessings from the Lord — are a dominant theme in the Torah. In Genesis, God promises to bless His people so that they will be a blessing to others. In Exodus, there is a promise that if we “worship the Lord…His blessing will be on your food and water.” Deuteronomy explains that God’s blessings come with obedience to God’s commands.
Indeed, it’s safe to say that we are commanded to give thanks for those blessings. The writer of Chronicles declares, “Give thanks to the Lord.” Why? Simply because “He is good.” David and Jeremiah echo this truth.
The Psalms are sprinkled with calls to thanksgiving. “I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness,” David declares. “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart.”
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name,” the psalmist cheers. “Give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.”
“Sing to the Lord with grateful praise,” Psalm 147 urges. Likewise, Jonah lifted up “shouts of grateful praise.”
Paul calls on believers to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you.” According to Paul, we should “always” be “giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”
In Colossians, Paul implores us, “Be thankful.” In that same letter, he connects “the message of Christ” with having “gratitude in your hearts.” He writes, “live your lives…overflowing with thankfulness.”
And look at the example set by Jesus. He gives thanks to the Father before the Miracle of the Fishes and Loaves, before He pulls Lazarus out of the tomb, before He breaks the bread and shares a New Covenant.
Grateful for Grace
We should be thankful and grateful every day not just because of those examples, but because of our own experiences, because of what the Lord has done for us and continues to do for us each day, because He deserves nothing less.
There’s a wonderful little devotional book titled “Grace for Each Day” that reminds us, “We have received countless gifts from God but none compare with the gift of salvation. God’s grace is the ultimate gift, and we owe Him ultimate thanksgiving.”
Interestingly, the word “grace” is intimately connected with the word “gratitude.” Both trace their roots to the Latin word gratus, which can mean thankful, grateful, and beloved.
God calls us His beloved. And He proved His love for us in this: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” paid the price for our sin, offered forgiveness and made a path back to the Father. This is God’s grace — the unmerited, unearned, undeserved, unmatchable gift of His love. The only thing we can do in return — the only thing He desires — is that we accept the gift with grateful, thankful hearts.
“Do you carve out quiet moments each day to offer thanksgiving and praise to your Creator? You should. Thanksgiving should become a habit, a regular part of daily routines.”
As that little devotional book asks, “Do you carve out quiet moments each day to offer thanksgiving and praise to your Creator? You should. Thanksgiving should become a habit, a regular part of daily routines.”
So, before we exchange Christmas lists, maybe now is a good time to count our blessings and make a different kind of list — a “thanksgiving list.”
I’ve been doing that this year, and it has reopened my eyes and heart to the countless ways God blesses me. As I jot down one blessing, it usually makes me think of another and then another. I have concluded that my list of blessings is endless because God’s grace is endless.
My list includes salvation and the people who led me to Christ, the people who prayed for me to be found before I knew I was lost — Grandpa Dowd, Mom and Dad, a priest named Fr. Steve, an old-time country preacher named Pastor Merrill, friends like Carol and Kathy and Jim, a youth group leader named Pam. And Jesus, who prayed for me (and you) in Gethsemane and continues to intercede for us even now. It includes my wonderful wife and the often-exasperating job that brought us together, my fearless middle brother, my prayerful youngest brother, my courageous sister, my miracle niece and nephews, my prayer partners and my pastor, editors who believe in me, friends that are like family and family that are true friends.
It includes my church, my home, my neighbors and my country, the Bible my mom gave me, the example my dad set for me, the books Grandpa Eason shared with me, the freedom to worship and think and read and write and speak — and men like my grandpas and dad who sacrificed part of their lives to preserve those freedoms. It includes things I take for granted like my health, my wife’s smile, my dad’s laugh, my mom’s notes, my niece’s cartwheels, my nephews’ questions. And it includes simple things like warm showers in the winter and cold water in the summer, bike rides, football games, chips and salsa, Cherry Coke, and a table full of food and family—and pie—on Thanksgiving.
Alan Dowd writes at the crossroads of faith and public policy.