Why practice thanks?

given on Sunday, November 3, 2013:

         November is here!  No one seems to understand why I dread this month, and that might be why I am discovering a shift in my attitude.  Thank goodness, because I needed a change.

Maybe living around so many enthusiastic deer hunters is part of it.  Maybe it is watching all the fun a Halloween event can be.  Maybe it is the anticipation of the Christmas holiday.  Maybe it is all the birthdays that have developed in the middle of the year.  Why it might even be due to the winning season of the Chiefs and the Mizzou Tigers!

Whatever it is, thank goodness!  I needed to broaden my joy into and through November.  I need to say thanks for giving me a month back to live to the fullest.  I need to practice giving thanks.

Why practice thanks?  Why do Christians need to give thanks to God?  Giving thanks to God, and I dare say to others in our lives, too, is a discipline.  When one disciplines oneself to practice any behavior, that practice becomes internalized in such a manner it takes no thought or effort to carry it out.

Consider what our world would be like if people did not practice certain behaviors or routines.  Think about driving—what if we did not follow the basic traffic laws?  What if we did not practice courtesy on the roadways?  What happens when we make mistakes such as pulling out in front of someone?  Would our lives be safe?  The courtesy we practice on the roadways allows flexibility among drivers who make mistakes or protects us from those who are aggressive.  Aren’t we thankful that almost all drivers do practice courtesy while on the roads?

Still, why does God expect us to practice gratitude as Christians?  The scriptures share various stories about giving thanks, and sometimes it is difficult to identify why we should give thanks.  The story today of the Israelites coming out of Egypt struggling to survive in the desert, wanting a change in the diet of manna that God was providing may seem far-fetched to us, especially right here in the breadbasket of the nation.  Yet, the Israelites were whining and not giving thanks.

How often does that happen in our own lives?  We have everything that we need, but we whine when we do not get what we want.  We watch friends getting more wealth or more stuff than we do, and we whine.  We ask God why do they get it and not us.  Do we stop and practice thanksgiving?  Do we stop watching what others are getting and doing and say thank you God for what we have?

Two of the very reasons I have long dreaded November are now turning into the very reasons I can give thanks to God:

  1. The loss of the green colors and the leaves on the trees signaled the cold, dreariness of winter that I shudder every time I think about it.  Yet, practicing gratitude, I can shift my thinking.  I love the colors of fall and the crispness of the cooler evenings.  The smell of wood burning delights me even when it drifts across my nose as I let the dogs in and out.  The rain this week seemed to provide a glossy finish to the leaves shining in the trees and the ones piling up on the bright green grass.  Thank goodness I can see God’s splendor in this early November day.  Thank you, God, for the delight of nature’s brilliant display.
  2. Over the years, November has signaled loss.  Too many family members seemed to die.  The worst calamities seemed to occur in November—the fire in our woods, the encephalitis Dad developed, and even the assassination of JFK.  But now November has signaled new life with birthdays to celebrate—a sister-in-law, a granddaughter and a grandson, a stepson not to mention an uncle and a cousin and who knows how many more.  I can even add an anniversary to that.  Thank goodness I have learned to see the gains of November.  Thank you, God, for the joy of life rather than the sadness of losses.

My manna from heaven may not be the little beads of nourishment that the Israelites woke to find in the mornings.  My manna is discovering that there is more joy in life than the negative.  Learning to practice gratitude is a discipline Christians need.  The outcomes are so important and can demonstrate to others one more value to living a God-centered life.

Giving thanks may not be one of the acts of piety that John Wesley identified, but even Moses and all the examples of faithful leaders from the Bible knew that showing gratitude to God was critical to maintaining a faithful relationship with God.

For the Israelites, the sacrificial rituals became the religious practice that kept them faithful to God.  The sacrifices were highly structured and the gifts were the first, the finest crops or livestock that could be given to God.

The strict rules that the Israelites followed placed the importance on the gift worthy enough to thank God.  The Old Testament tells story after story of sacrifice that the faithful provided as proof of their obedience to God.  The stories also share examples of when sacrifices were not worthy.  In those stories, the failure to provide thanks with the best gifts or to be deceptive in the giving illustrates how destructive impure gratitude can be.

The New Testament reveals the story of God’s sacrifice to us.  With his gift of his son, he strips away the need to demonstrate gratitude in such ritualistic manners.  No more do we offer sacrificial lambs on an altar because God sacrificed his own son so that we may be forgiven our sins.  What an act for which we can be thankful!

Because God offered his Son, we are not exempt from Christian practices.  In fact, because we do not have to offer the tangible evidence that we believe in God and that Jesus died for our sins, our practice of thanksgiving should be central in our lives.

Practicing thanksgiving each and every day keeps us focused on God.  Giving thanks to God, to one another, to family and friends, even to clerks or service providers keeps us positive.  We show the joy that we experience in our lives because we are God-centered.  We see each worker, each person with God’s eyes and we thank God by our actions of Christian love.

People know us by the radiance in our face, by the twinkle in the eyes, by the hugs we share, by the giving we do, by the words of thanks that we give.  These are the results of practicing our faith.  When we keep our lives God-centered, our perspective of who is in control is kept in check.

Here is the challenge for November:  Practice thanksgiving each and every day of the month, of the year, and in the years ahead.  You will see a difference in your life.  You will see a difference in the lives of those around you.  You will witness the shift from loss to joy in your life.  A life filled with thanksgiving is a life filled with God.

Dear Gracious God,

These November days signal the end of a season,

         but thank you for the glory in the colorful leaves.

These November days may be colder and blustery,

         but thank you for the warmth of our homes.

These November days are filled with excitement,

         as hunters prepare for a new season, too.

These November days are filled with anticipation,

         as families look forward to celebrations.

 

As we awake each morning this November,

         keep us centered on giving thanks.

As we arrive at work each day this November,

         let us share our thanksgiving with others.

As we sit down at our tables this November,

         hear our prayers for the blessings we receive.

As we close our eyes each night this November,

         thank you for another day filled with life.

 

Thank you, Gracious Father, for Novembers.

May we practice thanksgiving to the glory of You.  Amen.

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