If adoration is recognition of who God is, then thanksgiving is recognition of what He has done. I really became aware of the power of thankfulness five years ago, when I read Ann Voskamp‘s book One Thousand Gifts. If you’re not familiar with the book, it’s the story of how she decided to write down one thousand things she was thankful for—one thousand blessings. She carried a notebook and scribbled things down, and in the book she documents how it changed her whole outlook and perspective.
Gratitude is unspeakably important in our lives as believers. Thanksgiving in prayer is an opportunity to thank God not just in general, but specifically—for things He is doing in our lives, for blessings we see and hold in our hands day by day. Thanksgiving is a powerful weapon in our arsenal against our enemy, because it names truth, and truth is always powerful against a lie. Thanksgiving forces us to recognize God’s good hand in every part of our day.
Usually, when I write my thanksgiving, I start with “Thank You for yesterday.” And then I list things that happened, things that blessed me. I might thank God for the strength to get up on time, for helping me explain a new concept in math to my son. I might thank Him for a really good meal I enjoyed or for the way the kids played together for a whole half hour without anyone losing their temper. I might thank Him for a need provided, a conversation had, a sunset or a lost sock found. Nearly every day I thank Him for His Word and for His new mercies every morning. This is how I close my quiet time with Him each day, and so I often thank Him for something He taught me or showed me that morning. Often my morning time of thanksgiving includes mention of coffee. 🙂
I’m sure that if you read my journal from week to week, you’d see patterns. On Monday I give thanks for the privilege and joy of being with God’s people the day before, and of hearing the preaching of God’s Word. On Tuesday I almost always mention my amazing Bible study girls. Thursdays I am thankful for what God did in our children’s ministries on Wednesday night. If we started numbering my blessings, and only counted each one time, I’m sure that the list wouldn’t be hugely long, especially considering I’ve been doing this for nearly two years. But I’m okay with that.
See, God tells me to give thanks in everything. And today I should remember again to be thankful for the physical strength to exercise, just like I was yesterday. I don’t want to take that for granted. I have rheumatoid arthritis, and that kind of strength is not a given. I want to thank God today for a husband who preaches wonderful, biblical sermons every week, and for the joy of playing the piano for another Sunday. The very repetition blesses, reminds me of the faithfulness of my good Father.
That whole “In everything give thanks” thing can be a challenge though. Because sometimes the day before was pretty dreadful. And sometimes I sense the Spirit leading me to give thanks for the thing that was dreadful. And so—Thank You, Lord, for hard days that remind me how much I need You. Thank You for Vaseline smeared on the wall– that wall needed to be cleaned anyway. Thank You for the crazy, busy, loud, angry wailing days and for the precious children who cause them. Thank You for the pain. Don’t get me wrong. This kind of prayer is not easy. Sometimes I can’t write it, as much as I know I should. But the more I spend time with God, the more I can look back and see His faithfulness. And the more I can look back and see His faithfulness, the more I can trust that the dreadful, hard situation I find myself in today is going to be used for my good and His glory.
This type of thanksgiving—gratitude in the dark times, and yes, even for the dark times, is a way of surrendering to God, a way of recognizing His sovereignty. It is a way of letting go of the reins, opening my hands and letting go of my obsessive control. It is not easy, but the longer I do it the more I find myself experiencing peace on hard days, and the more easily I am able to accept bad circumstances and move on in hope. This is biblical—Philippians 4 tells us to rejoice and to pray with thanksgiving, and then the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds.
My times of thanksgiving usually end with gratitude for a new day and for the promised strength to get through it. I thank God for His knowledge of my day, and for every part of it that is part of His plan for me. This is so important for me to do every day. Years ago I read Elizabeth George’s book Loving God with All Your Mind, and she talked about praying over her daily schedule, and about giving God her plan A, and also her plan B, and then surrendering it all to Him and giving Him permission to rewrite it as He saw fit. And to me, that is similar to what I do when I pray in thanksgiving for God’s plan for my day—I am opening my hands to accept every gift God gives me, whether it is a gift I would choose or not.
Here is what giving thanks daily has taught me—it has taught me what it taught Ann Voskamp—that everything is a gift, even the things that seem like curses. That every hard moment is a gift given by a good God who has my best at heart. He knows exactly what is best for me. How many times would I have refused the gifts that have brought me closer to Him? Two miscarriages? Financial struggles? Health problems? Spiritual battles of epic proportions, carried out in secret? I would have refused these gifts, but now I can see how God had beautiful things wrapped in those horrible, painful packages. I can see that, and I can open my hands and my heart today and say Thank You for a new day and all it holds, even the gifts that don’t look so good on the outside. And sometimes—sometimes—that prayer sticks, and in the middle of the four thousandth fight in an hour over a Lego or whose turn it is to take out the trash, I can be thankful.
We serve a good God, and He gives good gifts. We will lose heart if we didn’t have this hope—that we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. By daily giving thanks, we open our eyes to see that goodness, and we gain hope and are strengthened in heart. And we can affirm, reminding ourselves in faith, that God is good; all His gifts are good; and all is grace.