By DR. DEAN REGISTER
Several years ago a major newspaper featured an article about “Ten Great Places to Give Thanks” during the holiday. The sites included a variety of options from cozy cabins in scenic Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to luxurious rooms in the Mayflower Hotel of New York City where the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade can be viewed from your window.
I’m sure there are many wonderful places where we can give thanks in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” None, however, are more wonderful than the place in our heart overflowing with gratitude to the Lord for 10,000 blessings.
Psychologists and social scientists inform us that gratitude can boost our health and increase our happiness. If so, why do we practice it so seldom? Why do we allow feelings of entitlement to smother it and moods of apathy to limit its importance to a single day out of a year?
Thanksgiving is so much more than a Thursday in November. It is a practice of gratitude and a habit of humility. It is a mirror of the soul reflecting our debt to Jesus for His extravagant sacrifice. Thanksgiving is thanks living. Thanksgiving is the daily gladness of the forgiven that drinks deeply from the cup of grace and return regularly for unmerited refills. It is an antibiotic applied to toxins of grumbling, faultfinding, and self-pity.
Consequently, God’s Word encourages us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and “at all times” (2 Thessalonians 1:3). Does that seem like a tall order?
During the dark days of WWII, Corrie ten Boom was reminded by her sister Betsy to give thanks for the fleas in their Nazi prison barrack. Corrie initially refused. She couldn’t find anything thankful for the irritating bites of fleas. Finally, Corrie decided to mutter her gratitude to God. Weeks passed as Corrie and Betsy conducted Bible studies without interruption from the SS guards. Months later Corrie discovered that the flea infestation was the tool God used to keep the execution guards from entering their barrack.
What she first considered to be an insufferable nuisance was actually God’s instrument of protection. We can give thanks in all circumstances and at all times because God works all things together for our good and His glory.
One day when Jesus travelled toward Jerusalem, ten men disease riddled by leprosy, shouted for His help. Stigmatized by a contagious malady that forced them away from public interaction, they begged for a miracle. Jesus instructed them to exercise faith and go to the Jewish priests for verification of healing. Immediately, they sprinted away and found themselves cured. As the nine raced ahead, one man stopped in awe. He turned around and ran back to Jesus. Overcome with gratitude, he fell on his face in humble adoration to Jesus.
Have you ever wondered why the others didn’t return to thank Jesus? Why just one man? Jesus wondered also. He asked, “Where are the nine?” Perhaps the difference between their attitude and ours is not a wide gap. Maybe the nine had good intentions, but poor follow through. Perhaps they reasoned that after showing themselves to the priests they would locate Jesus later and convey their gratitude. Maybe they wanted to wait and see if the healing would last before going to the trouble of expressing thanks.
Our gratitude quotient may not be much higher than the nine ungrateful men. We frequently behave in a similar manner. We excitedly receive gifts from Jesus, but casually overlook Him as the Giver. We quickly embrace healing, but rarely engage in kneeling.
I’ve learned a lot about gratitude from my mother. From her life of 97 years, I’ve witnessed the inseparable link between thanksgiving and thanks living. She taught me to practice “thanks living” and to cherish the joy of simple things.
She grew up during the depression when food was scarce, money was meager, and life was hard. Nevertheless, Mom and her siblings were rich in gratitude, generous with grace and somehow managed to keep a sense of humor through all the trials.
She married a soldier who became my Dad. Together they modeled faith, hope, and love. When my Dad died I watched Mom give thanks for forty-one years of marriage. She grieved, but not without gratitude.
The memory of the first Thanksgiving after Dad died is adhesive. It sticks in my soul. As my wife and children and my brother, his wife, and children sat down together around a familiar dining room table, my Dad’s empty chair glared at us. We were misty eyed with sadness. My mom interrupted the solemn sadness however and said, “Let’s give thanks with grateful hearts and let’s not begrudge what God has withheld. Instead, let us celebrate what He has given.”
This Thanksgiving season offers me an opportunity to celebrate the love of family, to enjoy delicious food, and even to take a tryptophan-induced nap on the couch while NFL teams clash on TV. Moreover, it also affords me the privilege to bow on bended knee and pour out a sacrifice of praise for blessings unseen and a life redeemed.
If I should ask the Lord for anything more I know I would ask Him for this: grant me a bigger heart to express a bigger love so that my life would testify a better thanksgiving so that I may practice a greater “thanks living.”
Dr. Dean Register is founding and senior pastor of the wide-awake Crosspoint Community Church in Hattiesburg. Dean and his wife Sharon are true soul mates who enjoy investing their energy and wisdom in young couples.