This time of year is particularly geared in both the commercial sense and the existential sense towards gratitude. Facebook is brimming with 30 day thankfulness challenges, and people are engaging with lists of things they appreciate. As part of the celebration of Thanksgiving, many people are jumping in with both feet to express as much gratitude as possible in 30 days. To whom is this appreciation directed? The answers will vary, and some expressions of gratitude actually have no destination at all.
Thankfulness is a feeling that one can have of appreciation for gifts given or grace received, but “giving thanks” is different. Giving thanks must have a giver and a recipient. When we give thanks, it is on purpose and with purpose, directed to someone(s) who can receive it.
When I talk to people about cultivating a lifestyle of worship, this topic of giving thanks becomes paramount. Living a life of thankfulness is the starting place of a lifestyle of worship, and I don’t mean just the feeling of thankfulness, because that comes and goes. Thankfulness must take on an action, and must be offered on purpose.
It is the reason your mom had you write thank you cards to your aunt when she gave you a birthday gift. It is the reasoning behind phone calls to friends and families to express your appreciation for who they are or what they have done. It is the thinking behind trophies, award ceremonies, tributes, and parties thrown in someone’s honor. There is an act of thankfulness and appreciation, and it is directed to someone, for someone, and very purposeful.
I have to admit that my generation (myself included) has forgotten or lost the art of “giving thanks” and trades it instead for a general “feeling of appreciation” that never reaches its intended destination. Prayers around the dinner table turn to rhyme or habit, and no longer speak to someone ever-present, but chime as a tune to someone we once knew, or learned about. Thankfulness from the masses is now a feeling expressed to the universe (which cannot receive it), not to individuals, who can, let alone God who deserves it.
There is joy and healing found in gratitude, but it can only be discovered in “giving thanks”. Giving thanks might mean staying on the line a few extra minutes to speak to a manager of a department in order to praise their employee who gave you great customer service. It might mean, buying a gift for the lady who babysits your children in Fred Meyer so that you can shop in peace. When you look people in the eye and say “Thank you,” or when you begin to take stock of your life and realize the millions of things that are yours because of a gift of love and grace, you will find a million reasons to be thankful, and hopefully a million ways to give thanks.
Worship is wrapped up in the discipline of recognizing God’s multitude of gifts and giving thanks to Him directly when that gift is recognized. It is seeing every breath, every physical sensation, every visual delight, and every expression of grace as being gifts given by God the Creator who delights in giving them over and over and over to every generation. When you see that sunset and think “Wow! that’s beautiful!” take another step and tell God how beautiful it is. Tell Him how it impacts you at that moment. Talk about what you are seeing, feeling, and experiencing in that moment of awe. Express thanks on purpose. If your children are with you, tell them about what the beauty means to you and who the Author of that beauty is, and teach them to say “thank you” too.
I want to challenge you in this season and beyond, to go past the lists of thankfulness you may acquire over the the course of this month, and take the extra time to actually thank those responsible for the gifts you are appreciating. And when you have thanked individuals for the grace they have bestowed on you, turn your praise and thankfulness to God from whom all blessings flow, and thank Him personally, from your heart, with all the gratitude you feel inside. Express your thanks in a way that matches the amount of thankfulness you feel, and then some. This is at the heart of worship.