It’s been many years since what is now called the National Day of Thanks (NDOT) was introduced. Despite having endorsement from both sides of politics and the Governor-General, it seems that NDOT is mostly ignored by Australians and it’s left to Christian churches to take up the idea.
Even then, while many churches participate, a lot don’t. Perhaps, like most other Australians, there is an aversion to anything that can be seen to “institutionalise” virtue.
We would rather express our feelings on our own terms than in an orchestrated fashion.
I can sympathise with that. Which is why I’m writing this article now, instead of closer to the last Saturday in May when NDOT is held.
There may also be other less charitable explanations for the indifference of many people to NDOT, but in any case it provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the importance of thankfulness.
Through the Scriptures, God encourages us to be thankful. For example, many of the Psalms urge God’s people to “come together with thanksgiving” (95:2), to enter God’s courts with thanksgiving (100:4), or simply to “give thanks to the Lord’ (e.g. 75:1, 105:1, 106:1, 107:1,15,21,31; 118:29; 136:1,2,3,26).
In the New Testament, Paul puts it this way: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Examples abound in the Bible of thanks being given for all sorts of things:
- for simple, everyday things;
- for significant events in the lives of individuals and nations;
- for people – their character, gifts and contributions to our lives;
- for abundant spiritual blessings in Christ, such as love, faith and fellowship;
- for having our material needs met – food, clothing, shelter;
- for things which on the surface are negative, but thanking God for the way He works in us during the tough times.
Above all, Christian thankfulness is gratitude for God Himself. The relationship we’re called into through Jesus is the most profound and wonderful gift of all; it’s the fountainhead of all other gifts, which are an expression of God’s purpose of sharing His very life with us.
Christian thankfulness is not a vague “to whom it may concern” attitude. It’s not just feeling glad about things, but an active acknowledgement that the living God is the giver of all good things.
Christian thankfulness is, therefore, a profoundly relational concept. In that light, developing an attitude of thankfulness becomes not a task to be accomplished, but an outworking of the gospel in our lives. It’s a movement of the Spirit in our hearts, contributing to our character transformation under the Lordship of Christ. For example, in Colossians 3:15-17 thankfulness is linked with Christ’s peace ruling in our hearts and is in turn connected with living at peace with others in the church, with the process of learning and growing, and with honouring God in all that we do.
The National Day of Thanks is a good idea. But an even better one is for all Christians to cultivate gratitude as daily character trait. If we were to do that, our lives would more clearly proclaim the greatness of our God and the impact on our world would be enormous.
Like all virtuous behaviours, they don’t just happen. You need to work at it, like a musician or a sports person practicing to get things to become automatic.
Here are a few practical suggestions that can help in the process of cultivating gratitude in our hearts:
- Keep a daily journal of things for which you thank God.
- Deliberately set aside regular times for thanking God, maybe along with fasting. Consider skipping lunch once a week, using the time to offer prayers of thanksgiving instead.
- Intentionally thank family members, work colleagues, neighbours – whoever – for the things they do and they people they are.
- Give to, and pray for, the poor. Actively acknowledge that what we have is from God by giving it back to Him, as the people in David’s time did (see Chron 1:29).
- Be creative. I know of one man who always thanks God for his wife whenever he sees the numbers 518. Why? Proverbs 5:18 says “rejoice in the wife of your youth”. In this way he has developed a thankfulness habit. The possibilities are endless for this approach!
Warren Bird, Executive Director of Uniting Financial Services.