I came across a quote recently from one of my favourite preachers, Tim Keller. “It’s one thing to be grateful,” Keller says, “It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do.”
It’s good to be reminded, perhaps especially at this time of year, that thanksgiving isn’t something we feel. It’s something we choose to do, sometimes even in spite of how we feel.
One of the reasons I really appreciate Thanksgiving as a holiday is that I believe it challenges us to give thanks even if we aren’t feeling particularly thankful, and points to the truth that while our feelings and our circumstances may change, it is always good to give thanks.
The Apostle Paul says,
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is
the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” -1Thessalonians 5:16-18
Notice Paul does NOT say “give thanks for all circumstances.” We don’t have to give thanks for the negative circumstances of our lives. Paul doesn’t expect followers of Jesus to give thanks for all the disappointments we experience, or the pains or trials we go through. But he challenges us to give thanks in the midst of every circumstance, because he believes that while our circumstances can swing back and forth between good and bad, God’s goodness and faithfulness remain secure, and his promise to bring us through every circumstance remains unchanged.
Paul also wants followers of Jesus to be intentional about giving thanks because, in doing so, we train ourselves to better see the goodness of God that remains with us in every circumstance, and we deepen our capacity for gratitude. The more intentional we are about giving thanks the more grateful we become.
I find that this very true in my own life. The more intentional I am about giving thanks to the people around me and, in particular, to God in worship and in prayer, the more grateful I feel, even when I’m going through a hard time. And the opposite is also true. If I neglect to thank the people around me, and/or fail to be intentional about giving thanks to God, I feel less grateful and less positive in general about life, even when things are going pretty well.
So whatever circumstances you find yourself in right now, I pray that this Thanksgiving you will be blessed with the ability to give thanks even if you aren’t feeling especially thankful. And I pray that, in choosing to give thanks, you will then experience a growing sense of God’s persistent goodness towards you, and that knowing God’s persistent goodness you will feel truly grateful.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. David Turner, Rector of St.Paul’s