“Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” 1 Timothy 4:4
Down the ages Christians have realized the spiritual power in cultivating a thankful heart. I first began to grasp this concept when, as a young adult, I spent 4 months serving in the church in South Africa, and saw how central giving thanks was to the spiritual vitality of some of the poorest communities. It truly did help spread the Gospel.
[pullquote position=”right”]Thankfulness is a spiritual matter because it ultimately produces trust in God.[/pullquote]
As I take my eyes off my complaints about what I don’t have, I start to count the many blessings that I do have. This in turn causes me to stop and ponder the source of all that goodness – is it purely random ‘luck’, or is God personally at work in my life? And if Jesus is the source, how does that change my perspective on my future needs and challenges?
That’s why thanksgiving is a wonderful gateway for those who are far from God. As someone recognizes that Jesus is the source of all that is good – which is what happens in giving thanks – so that person learns to acknowledge Him and His goodness.
Proverbs 3:6 promises, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” It’s the beginning of wisdom as we acknowledge God, and blessing flows as a consequence. Thankfulness changes our view of God, wherever someone is on their spiritual journey, so one of the best things we can do for our family is to help them enjoy giving thanks.
Rooted in Jesus
So as you prepare to head off to spend time with your extended family, remember what Paul writes in Colossians 2:6-7 : “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
When your roots are in Jesus, your heart will overflow with thankfulness – so let that overflow happen when you are back with your family this Thanksgiving, when it is socially acceptable to be publicly thankful. This is an amazingly authentic way to live out a foundational Gospel truth, that we worship the living God who gives us all good things out of His generosity, kindness and love.
So now it’s Thanksgiving Day and you are back on the ancestral farm/homestead/apartment, alongside your slightly eccentric extended family. Some of them you like more than others, many of them are anything but disciples of Jesus, but, at the end of the day, this is your family of origin, spiced up with a few in-laws and interlopers.
The turkey is perfectly cooked, the room is beautifully decorated, the table is groaning with all manner of edible goodness (well, goodness according to your favorite celebrity chef rather than your cardiologist!). As people gather, hungry for food and connection, how can you make the most of this moment in the year when people are the most open to stopping and being thankful?
Making it Practical
How can you allow a spirit of thankfulness to lead people towards the Spirit of Jesus?
Let me share 10 practical ideas:
1. Go round the table and invite everyone to name one thing, one person and one place for which they are thankful.
2. Have the table decide what is the funniest thing for which someone is thankful!
3. Bring a themed activity for the younger children – perhaps coloring, making a craft or building a Lego turkey – which they then share with the adults and explain what they’ve done and why.
4. Ask the children and teens at the table if they can suggest some benefits of being thankful. Don’t be satisfied with bland answers!
5. Copy the original Pilgrims – after their first brutal year, at Thanksgiving each person was given 5 kernels of corn besude their plate as a reminder of their starvation rations. They then named 5 things for which they were thankful to God.
6. As a family, commit to an act of service that lives out your thankfulness. You might need to arrange this in advance, or agree to do it at a later date, or even have something practical ready for that day (raking the leaves of an elderly neighbor, etc).
7. As a family collect a thankfulness offering of money, which you give to a needy person or cause with whom you are all connected.
8. A fun visual game: put a big glass vase in the middle of the table. As the meal winds down, each person takes a cup of water, says what they are thankful for, and pours the water into the vase. Eventually it will overflow – part of the fun is seeing who will be that tipping point person, so give them a prize or a forfeit! (If you put a big platter or tray underneath the vase then the mess will be easy to clear up.) The point is a simple one to highlight: God’s blessings to us are overflowing in abundance.
9. If you are an active sort of family, see if there is a sponsored 5k run that day (the local Turkey Trot, etc!). It might mean an early Thanksgiving morning, but you could run together and raise money for a cause that is important to your family.
10. “The Prayer” – For some of your family, the grace at Thanksgiving is the only time they ever pray with others. If you are known as being a committed Christian, you might well be asked to lead the prayer, so come prepared! Use simple, non-religious language that points people to the source of all blessing, as you thank God your Heavenly Father.
(Just don’t go on too long – you won’t be thanked for food that has half-cooled!)
Obviously don’t do the whole list, but what one thing could you take from here and be inspired to smartly share with your Thanksgiving party? You might not even need to lead it publicly – just suggest the idea to the family matriarch or patriarch and let them command everyone to take part!
Alex Absalom is the Leader of Missional Innovation at RiverTree Christian Church, in NE Ohio, where he has overseen the start of over 60 mid-sized missional communities and developed a strong disciple-making culture. He also helps churches and leaders transition through the missional shift, blogs regularly at alexabsalom.com, and tweets missional thoughts, verses and quotes throughout the day via @alexabsalom