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A nickel for your thoughts...

5 things my dad's challenge taught me about thankfulness


If you only had the things today that you thanked God for yesterday, what would be left? This question came to life for me many years ago when my dad came to me with a proposition.

"For every item you can write down that you are genuinely thankful for, I will pay you a nickel," he began.

The proposition seemed wonderful — I was eager to earn some change for my piggy bank. I still remember beginning my list with the generic "family," "food," "my home." However, the list of ideas soon dwindled as the shallowness of my gratefulness became apparent. It turns out thinking deeply about thanksgiving is challenging and time-consuming.

Thankfulness doesn't come naturally to us. In fact, many of us see it as a burden — another spiritual checklist item. What we don't realize is that our lack of thanksgiving toward God is a big reason we often feel empty and unsatisfied.

Why should we be thankful?

It is much easier to blow past Thanksgiving without pondering the true meaning of the season. As with any discipline, gratitude requires intentionality and time, but the spiritual, emotional and relational benefits are significant.

1. Giving thanks keeps us humble.

Something happens in us emotionally when we thank another person. It is as if we acknowledge, "I did not deserve this, and words are all I have to express how it blessed me." Thankfulness takes "me" out of the equation and instead recognizes the giver's generous grace toward us.

This is especially crucial in our spiritual lives as we recognize God as the giver of "life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:25b). How can we thank God for the salvation He gifted freely without feeling humbled and undeserving? This is precisely why thanksgiving is important to include in your worship.

2. Giving thanks makes us more aware of God's lessons and blessings.

Remember my thankfulness list? Over time, the list began to grow. I found myself noticing little things I was grateful for that I had never pondered before: "raindrops that roll down the window," "the smell of mom's cake baking in the kitchen," "feeling safe," "friends who listen." Even though it was incentivized, learning to be purposefully thankful made me sensitive to the things and people around me and why I was grateful for them.

In the same way, we have the greatest incentive to be thankful: knowing God. Much of God's character is revealed to us in daily life, prayer and Bible study. If we aren't actively looking for the blessings and lessons along the way, how can we be thankful for them? And if we aren't practicing thankfulness, how will we notice all He has done? As 1 Chronicles 16:8 suggests, "Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples!"

3. Giving thanks causes us to be more content.

Discontentment is rampant in modern society. Social media is a propagator of this by communicating, "If you don't have the latest, greatest and best, you have failed." It is impossible to be content if we never stop to think and thank God for what we already have. It may seem silly to thank God for things like your wardrobe, vehicle, paycheck or kitchen appliances, but when you ponder what a blessing these things are to your daily life (no matter how old or worn out they may be), it changes your attitude.

Discontentment also ruins relationships. If jealousy begins to take root, bitterness and distance often follow. Showing thankfulness toward your friends and family builds them up and creates another spiritual protection against discontentment.

4. Giving thanks helps us express appreciation to people in our lives.

Showing appreciation to others is another crucial way to apply gratitude to your daily life. When was the last time you wrote a thank you note to a friend? When was the last time you gave your child's teacher a gift thanking them for all they do? The acts themselves are just as important as the attitude behind them.

If we harbor resentment and complacency in relationships, we are likely to be disappointed by ourselves and others often. But if we practice thankfulness, giving grace and seeing the best in others becomes easier. As biblical friendships are called to "comfort each other and edify one another" (1 Thess. 5:11), so we ought to pursue the kind of grateful attitude that builds others up.

5. Giving thanks is a way to walk in obedience to our Heavenly Father.

When we think of the disciplines of the church, we think of Bible intake, prayer or worship. When we think of spiritual admonitions to practice and improve upon, we don't often think of thanksgiving. But scripture commands that we be thankful. Giving thanks is mentioned dozens and dozens of times in the psalms. Jesus was often quoted as giving thanks to the Father in the Gospels. And in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, we are told, "In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

The message could not be clearer. We are to follow Christ's example and command to "give thanks" regardless of circumstance or emotions. After all, salvation is a gift for which we can never express ample gratitude.

All of these words are helpful, but unless you practice, they will be useless.

Here are practical ways to show gratefulness in this Thanksgiving season:

To God: Dedicate extra time in prayer simply to the practice of thanking God. Sing songs that emphasize gratefulness to Him for salvation and daily provision. Maybe even start your own "thankfulness list" for yourself or your children.

To your spouse/children: Acknowledge specific things they've done that blessed you and offer words or actions that express thanks for it. If you think about it, you know their likes and dislikes better than anyone else. Something as small and special as making their favorite dessert can demonstrate gratefulness.

To others: Think of a few people in your life you are especially thankful for and do something special to show them. Whether it is writing a note, buying a gift or taking them out to a movie, the intentional act of "thanks" will be a blessing to both you and them.

Marina Shelton reports for the Western Recorder. She is associate for web and social media communications for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

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