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The Essence of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite American holiday. Upon moving to Minnesota, one of my American coworkers invited our family of three to her house for Thanksgiving. After dinner, the host put the left-over turkey in the big cast iron pot to the outdoor porch piling up several inches of snow. It was the first time I witnessed the benefit of icy winter that can be used as a natural refrigerator. Every time I recall this scene, the bitter winter seems more friendly to me. However, I didn’t have this mindset in the beginning. The first five years after coming to Minnesota, I shivered with coldness every winter while asking God why I ended up here.

If God did answer me, would I have complained less? How often parents found themselves explaining to the child that some training is good for his/her future, the disobedient child not only shuts his/her ears but also grumbles while trying to avoid the hard work. Therefore, I gradually understand that people who complain with ungrateful hearts are lover of themselves and poor in spirit. However, Jesus says: “…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) If the sincere gratitude is regarded like priceless treasure, how rich for the people who count their blessings.

From the teaching in the Bible, I understand the following truth about thankfulness.

  1. God is the object to whom we give our thankfulness

The relationship between God and us is like loving parents treat their children; instead of the exchange of benefit between the employer and the employee. But the Bible says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. What does “fall short of the glory of God” mean? Imagine someone took the masterpiece you created as his own without mentioning your name. This person falls short of the honor of you and steals the credit belonged to you. However, the just God wants us to live a life with integrity, rather than stealing and give opportunity to devil. Therefore, Christians ought to thank God for creating us and giving us grace, as well as for the people who help you. Don’t take pride in our good work and make the credit our own.

  1. The heart of gratitude is the result of a changed life

The Bible says that God removed our heart of stone and gave us a new heart (refer to Ezekiel 36:26) so that we can feel the warmth of God’s love. Therefore, being thankful is not a means of getting happiness, but a result naturally flowing out of our hearts which acknowledge only the almighty God can meet all our needs.

  1. Gratitude is a humble attitude

The Bible says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6 ) In Greek, “with” thanksgiving carries the meaning of “along with”, which is having a thankful attitude when coming to pray. When we have the heart of fearing God as our Lord and the humility as a servant, we can sincerely give thanks to God. When God enlighten the eyes of our hearts, we will forget about ourselves while we feel so good about all our God’s attributes.

  1. Being thankful is a command with blessing

The Bible says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (2 Thessalonians 5:18 ) Christians obey God’s commands, not out of obligation, but out of love. We recognize God’s commands are the channel of His blessing. Consequently, we give thanks to God because God is worthy of our worship. We don’t need to wait to thank God until everything goes smoothly; we can give thanks in all circumstances if we have divine perspective. This perspective is not derived from moral or psychological effect, but from God who happily grants to those who don’t cherish iniquity in their hearts. (refer to Psalms 66:18)

From practicing thankfulness, I gain the following joy.

  1. Giving thanks to God is glorifying God.

In the Old Testament, God chose Israelites to be a role model for the world to know that Yahweh God is the only true God in the universe. Likewise, in the New Testament, the gospel of Jesus Christ came to the Gentiles so that Christians are also entrusted with the privilege and purpose of glorifying the name of God. When we open mouths to thank God, it is glorifying God because the Bible says, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me.” (Psalms 50:23)

  1. Giving thanks to God brings about life.

God doesn’t need humans’ praise; but humans need to give thanks to God for escaping the sinful self-centeredness. The Bible says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” (Proverbs 18:21) When king David saw the people who boasted of evil and trusted in the abundance of his riches plotted destruction and spoke lies, the consequence was that they got broken down forever by God. (refer to Psalms 52) When we are thankful in our hearts, our mouths can speak the fitting words for building up and give grace to ourselves and those who hear. (refer to Ephesians 4:29)

  1. Giving thanks to God makes me bold.

While being unable to give thanks in trouble, we shall recall how God has come through for us in the past. When king David was seized by the enemies, he cried out to God, then his enemies turned back so that he knew that God was for him. Therefore, he can say with confidence: “In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (refer to Psalms 56)

  1. Giving thanks to God makes me more than conqueror in front of devil.

The Bible says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11) When I obey the truth with a thankful heart, the devil’s lies of distorting God’s truth is quickly exposed, as well as the secular paradox. As a result, I am assured of my divine identify and value.

While praying at all times in the Spirit, I continue practicing giving thanks to God in the following ways.

  1. Study God’s word

The Bible says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) On one hand, equip with Bible truth; on the other hand, refuse to listen to the untruthful lies. Studying Bible is not only for gaining knowledge or sharing gospel, but also knowing God more intimately through the Holy Spirit. The more we know God, the more our thoughts in flesh will be removed. Gradually, we shall grow mature to fit God’s holiness as a new creation.

  1. Discipline my body and keep it under control

When I find myself starting to complain due to my sins, I quickly confess them to God and pray for Holy Spirit to fill my heart. Then I learn from King David who said to himself, “My heart is steadfast; Awake, my soul. I will magnify Him with thanksgiving.” (refer to Psalms 57:8; 69:30) I command my emotion, thought and body to submit to my will so that I can open my mouth to give thanks to God, instead of being controlled by the flesh emotion. I learned that giving thanks is an effective weapon in blocking depression.

  1. Point to God as the object whom we give thanks to.

The Bible says, “to declare your steadfast love in the morning and your faithfulness by night.” (Psalms 92:2) I give thanks to God for myself and my family every morning that He gives us new mercy as well as the grace and strength for today’s work. Before going to bed by night, I ask myself and my children what we are thankful for during the day. And I thank God for faithfully provides and protects us today.

When my children have success in what they do, I remind them that it is God who gives them strength and grace to accomplish their tasks. It is valuable to help children learn to give glory to God so that they don’t fall into the sin of pride because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

When the children fail in what they tried and feel frustrated, I remind them to thank God who is 100 percent for us because of our faith and God promises not to leave us or forsake us so that we can continue to work hard.

About Manling Chen

Manling was born and grew up in Taiwan. She came with her husband and 2-year-old son to New York, NY, at age 30 to fulfill her dream of studying in the graduate school. She received a black belt in Taekwendo at age 40 and has been applying the Bible truth and discipline learned in the martial art to fight in her faith as a spiritual warrior. She works with God to write and is currently a freelance reporter for a national Chinese newspaper and writer based in Minnesota. Much of her writing is in the areas of spiritual learning, Bible study, parenting, education, Sunday school, opinions, interviews, and people's stories, etc.

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