The Thanksgiving holiday affords us the opportunity to engage in one of the healthiest human behaviors – the giving of thanks. Mark McMinn in The Science of Virtue substantiates the observation that thankful people are in some ways mentally, emotionally, and relationally healthier than their unthankful counterparts. Let’s consider this important behavior a bit further and reflect on how it can impact our lives.
The humanist loves thanksgiving and will promote it. Gratitude journaling and thankful meditations are both excellent ways to exercise thankfulness. Why does the simple act of giving thanks have so much human benefit? The answer perhaps lies in its architecture. Thanksgiving is an action – an outgrowth of healthy human qualities. The mental, emotional, and relational health we receive from giving thanks is because a deeper orientation is achieved. An orientation very much “in step” with God’s architecture for the human being.
To unearth this deeper architecture, we will start with understanding thanksgiving as the outward expression of an inward character. Gratitude is an orientation we have with others, our circumstances, and God. It is a relationship we may or may not have with our world. It can be better understood in contrast with its opposite – entitlement. Entitlement, like gratitude, is a posture we have with this world. However, where entitlement absorbs, gratitude deflects. Entitlement has itself at the center of the world’s order – all things being owed. Gratitude on the other hand sees itself as the beneficiary of this world and is deeply indebted. Entitlement does not see favors because all things are deserved. Rather, gratitude sees all benefits as favors. Gratitude can detect what entitlement cannot – grace. Undeserved favor. In fact, gratitude is fueled by grace. The world owes it nothing. Everywhere it turns, all advantages are understood to be a gift. So, we see that thanksgiving springs from gratitude which is fueled by grace.
The Foundation for Thanksgiving
There is a human attribute that this architecture rests on. That foundation is humility. The humble human receives grace. Grace fuels gratitude, and gratitude elicits thankful expression. This is the architecture of thanksgiving. This is why the Thanksgiving holiday is largely beloved by everyone. There is a purity, an authenticity, an honesty that permeates the holiday because the expression of thanksgiving orders us with the world and each other as we ought to be ordered. As God created us to be oriented.
1st – We are beings with needs.
2nd – Needs are met outside of us and based on grace.
3rd – This continual consumption of grace puts us in a continual disposition of gratitude.
4th – In opportune times, this gratitude bubbles forth into the expression of thanksgiving.
Thus, to become more thankful, it would be an advantage for a person to spend time in the foundational elements of the thanksgiving architecture. Paul uses thoughtful questions to generate humility and detect grace in 1 Cor 4:7 “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” Paul provokes our thinking by asking us how we are different from others. Does that difference lie in our own efforts or was it a means of grace? Consider a few prompts below to detect the existence of grace in your own life:
- What makes you different than another of God’s creation who is under the tyranny of an oppressive government? Are your conditions self-created?
- What makes you different than another of God’s creation who is an addict or making poor choices on the streets? If life circumstances were different, might you have made poor life choices?
- What makes you different than another of God’s creation who is without work, discouraged and without motivation? Is your success self-made? Is your financial situation made possible by circumstances outside of your control?
While we “sow what we reap” and our choices matter, we must also acknowledge that most of our blessings come by way of grace, and not effort. If you can put your finger on what you have received, and the manner that you’ve received it, you will have put your finger on grace. A favor from the outside…undeserved. This will fuel gratitude. Moreover, that gratitude will be a continual reality. A character quality that shapes your life.
The Christian posture of Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving can be employed, with human benefit, to the believer and the non-believer alike. However, the Christian will find thanksgiving knit into his or her being as a son or daughter of God. This is because the Christian has taken advantage of the surpassing grace that God has blanketed over mankind. A salvation that lies outside of us and comes to us through the gift of Christ. The Christian’s heartbeat beats with the heartbeat of thanksgiving. It is the heartbeat that follows the pattern of humility, grace, gratitude, and thanksgiving.
In conclusion, consider adding a rhythm of daily thanksgiving for our need for grace and the reception of it. It can be as structured as journaling or as familiar as the simple act of breathing. Take in a deep breath… let it out slowly… now hold the exhale until you feel your body burn. Listen to your body cry out for a savior outside of yourself. Can you sustain your life? Will it require a gift outside of yourself that you cannot create or provide? Now bring in a saving breath and rejoice in the life your body receives. Go on today – breathing in grace and giving thanks.
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Thanksgiving is an ornament of grace in a believer’s life. It springs from faith and leads to faith. To prepare our hearts for thanksgiving, Kaleb Beyer, Brian Sutter, and Matt Kaufmann tease out some of the finer points of being grateful. Be encouraged by the re-release of this “living joyfully” episode on thankfulness.