(This devotion is day one of a 30-Day Thanksgiving Challenge. Each day includes a daily reading that will be accompanied by a post on this blog.)
Last November, I browsed dozens of children’s books related to the Thanksgiving holiday, searching for one to teach my daughter about giving thanks. Almost all of them mentioned things to be thankful for but missed the fact that thankfulness has a person on the other end. These books teach kids to spot things they like: their dog, toys, parents, grandparents, teachers, falling leaves, good health, and pumpkin pie. Both kids and adults need help better spotting blessings in our life, so I appreciated the emphasis. The problem was they stopped short, suggesting thanksgiving is only about the gifts.
Gifts are great. I’m more than willing to accept them. But they’re not enough. The gifts we enjoy and give thanks for lead us to better know and enjoy the Giver. And the two aren’t in competition. Trillia Newbell explains: “Our enjoyment is all about him. He gives good gifts, and we in turn thank him. But we not only thank God—we experience the fullness of enjoyment as we let those gifts point us to truths about him.” We don’t have to choose God or the gifts. We can find joy in both. Together.
Thanksgiving links the two as we better understand God through His gifts and better delight in the gifts when they don’t carry the full weight of our desires. It begins with identifying blessings, but these must point us to Someone or else we’re not really giving thanks. We enjoy the gift and exalt the Giver. But gifts exist to point us to God, not to take His place.
“True gratitude, Christian gratitude, doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it has an Object.”
Our verses today stress the God-centeredness of thanksgiving. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever” (Romans 11:36). All things come from God and can lead us to Him.
Thanksgiving begins with God (giving us gifts) and ends with God (receiving our thanks). Since God is the source of whatever comes our way—whether a desired gift or unwanted trial—we can trust and thank Him. Believing all things come from God lays the foundation for biblical thanksgiving.
Paul’s rhetorical question, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7) must be answered with a resounding, “Nothing.” We receive everything we have. Everything. It’s not that we play no role, but apart from God’s grace and blessing, we could not contribute what we do. Our physical and mental abilities, place, position, skills, experiences, and opportunities depend on His sovereign provision (we’ll see more of this tomorrow from Daniel).
When God receives the praise for giving us all good things, it removes any ground of personal boasting. Gratitude humbles us. It decimates pride and sweeps away entitlement. The more we give God credit, the less we will take credit. If we boast in God, we’ll be less likely to boast in self, a perennial struggle for hearts that love attention and applause. Just a spoon full of gratitude helps the humility go down.
The humility served up through gratitude is matched by the joy that follows. It just takes us getting out of the way to make room (see John 3:30). As we give more time to recognizing and reflecting on God in gratitude, it leads to joy in Him. He’s such a glorious, good, and kind Father that our hearts find refuge when our minds rest on Him.
In Matthew 7:9–11, Jesus moves from the lesser to the greater. If fallen parents know how to provide what their kids need, how much more does God provide for us? God not only knows what we need but He knows when we need it and how to give it. We give thanks for what God does and gives, and when and how He does it. “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Not some gifts, but every gift comes from God. He’s over-the-top gracious and generous. He loves to give us good things. And like any good Father, He loves to watch us enjoy them.
When we give thanks, we move from gratitude for a gift to gratitude for the Giver. We don’t see blessings in our life as random or accidental or good luck. We take our gratitude to God.
Tracing the Gift to the Giver
Investigative, crime-solving or medical-mystery shows fill television programming today. These shows understand there’s no such thing as a coincidence. Every effect has a cause. The evidence lays breadcrumbs taking us on a trail to discover the answer. We watch these shows, eager to connect the clues and find the bigger picture.
The problem is many people show no such interest in our own world. We don’t see the beauty and blessings around us. Become a spiritual Sherlock Holmes who detects the Divine connection in everything. God filled our world with His fingerprints, some unmistakable and others less apparent at first glance. Take the time to look, observe, and connect the dots. As you notice God at work, thank Him.
Any gift from God should lead us to God. We allow the gift to teach us about the character and heart of the Giver. I think that’s part of what Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:9–11. It’s not only that God knows what you need, or even that all things come from God, but that God delights in giving you good things. God loves to provide, so when He does, thank Him and see the generous, providing heart of your Father.
Identify God’s handiwork, whether in circumstances, what He teaches you, His work in or around you, or His gifts to you. Recall where He’s been faithful in the past. Think through blessings in your life you take for granted. Each one of these things comes from God and lead back to God. Give thanks. When we give thanks, we transition from recognizing something to be from Him to thanking Him for it. God gets the credit He deserves and we take the time to learn what He’s really like through what He does, says, gives, and promises.
As you begin the Thanksgiving Challenge, take a few minutes to list some gifts in your life, or an action or attribute of God on your mind. Then write how it helps you understand and thank God. Below are two examples.
Gifts or Actions & Attributes of God How I See and Can Thank God in It
- Money to pay the bills God’s Provision for us
- God’s forgiving my sin this week God’s undeserved mercy and rich grace
 One children’s book connecting gratitude to God is by Karma Wilson: Give Thanks to the Lord. See also The Berenstain Bears board book, Please & Thank You Book.
 Trilla Newbell, Enjoy (New York: Multnomah, 2016), 4.
 Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), 36.
 “Thanksgiving in Paul is an act of worship. It is not focused primarily on the benefits received or the blessed condition of a person; instead, God is the center of thanksgiving.” David Pao, Thanksgiving: An Investigation of a Pauline Theme (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 28.