I adore October, especially because it is the month of Thanksgiving—a time to gather with family and loved ones to give thanks. Historically we associate this celebration with the Pilgrims of 1621 in Massachusetts, yet Canadian celebration of Thanksgiving predates the traditional story of our American friends. In 1578, explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew gave thanks and communion was observed. Later, on November 14, 1606, inhabitants of New France under Samuel de Champlain held Thanksgiving between local Mi’kmaq and the French. This is the history of Canadian Thanksgiving, yet the Bible predates even this with the first act of thanksgiving found in Leviticus 7:12, and a further 31 acts of thanksgiving can befound within the pages of the Bible. In fact, a theology of thanksgiving permeates throughout the whole of the scriptures.
At the risk of taking a text out of context and making it a pretext for a proof text—I’ve always wanted to say that—Paul writes in Ephesians 5:20, “Give[ing] thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Earlier Paul rebukes in Romans 1:21, “for though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him.” Additionally, Paul considers the act of thanksgiving to be missional, writing in 2 Corinthians 4:15: “Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”
By giving thanks, always, for everything, we cultivate an attitude of gratitude. An attitude not only substantiating our Christian spirit, but one that radiates out to others, and helps us become the light Jesus calls us to be. True acts of thanksgiving are not just mere acts of thanks, but an authentic attitude of the heart leading to missional ministry as a lifestyle—a single word calling us into community, calling us into sharing our faith while and through ministering to people’s needs with justice, love, and humility on Christ’s behalf.
How does one cultivate an attitude of gratitude? Easier said than done. Amongst many ways is a form of Examen Prayer I use daily. Before sleep, I give thanks to God for all the blessings and tribulations in my day, both small and large, beginning with: “I awoke to a new day.” I give thanks that I awoke in a bed with clean sheets. That I walked 15 feet accessing not only drinkable water but also hot water—33 per cent of the world’s people lack access to safe water. I pray through my entire day, remembering and giving thanks.
Most of us live by the 80/20 rule—80 per cent of our lives are mostly wonderful, but we allow that 20 per cent of tribulation to taint how blessed our lives are. By examining our day in prayer, we do so in the presence of God, and to God we give thanks, including our tribulations by praying, “We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.” (BAS 129). The hymn Count your Blessings: “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed; When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost; Count your many blessings name them one by one; And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done,” is spot-on.
As a deacon, my focus on thanksgiving is not limited to a single day in October. For me, thanksgiving is an ongoing and deeply spiritual exercise, an ever-present reality that flows naturally from a transformed heart. We read in 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 Paul’s command to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
As we sit down to our Thanksgiving dinner this year, let us give thanks not just then, but always and for everything. Our attitude of gratitude makes life a beatitude—a blessing radiating out to others.