Thanksgiving: The Holiday or the Attitude?

Article written by W.W. McEad and taken by permission from November issue of “IFCA NEWS Connection”

The English word for “worry” comes from an old Anglo-Saxon word which means “to strangle”. This seems appropriate since worry has the effect of strangling our peace of mind. There is, however, a way to recapture peace of mind even in the midst of trials and tribulations. It involves a process of correct thinking which will lead to correct living; “ … as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23.7).

As we approach the established “day for thanks giving” it behooves us to remember that the giving of thanks depends not so much on our state of material prosperity as on our state of mind. The Pilgrim Fathers celebrated, with thanksgiving, what God had done for them even in the midst of scarcity. It was their state of mind, not just the state of material blessings, that moved them to thanksgiving! We need to learn to think differently if we are to act differently! We can do this by changing the way we see things.

Here are some suggestions to help you see what I mean: I’m thankful:

  • that there aren’t twice as many politicians in Washington DC
  • that grass doesn’t grow when it snows so we don’t have to do winter mowing as well as winter shoveling
  • that the cable news channels have only 24 hours available each day for broadcasting
  • that I’m not a turkey (well at least I hope not)
  • that houses still cost more than cars
  • that the space available for messages on T-shirts and bumpers is limited
  • that hugs and kisses don’t add weight or cause cancer
  • that telemarketers don’t ring my doorbell
  • that I cannot get fat by merely looking at pictures of fattening food
  • that my children are not getting younger every day

Scripture indicates that thanksgiving is a heart attitude that produces the peace of God and the perspective of hope in prayer. What begins internally finds expression externally.

In Philippians 4.4 Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, rejoice!” We have a tendency to misunderstand Paul’s words. Paul is not exhorting us here to “rejoice in everything”, but rather to “rejoice in the Lord … always!” It is not a matter of rejoicing in the positive things or even rejoicing in spite of the negative things. The exhortation is to rejoice “in the Lord always.” It is a matter of “focus.”

Since the Lord is the only constant in a changing universe, our rejoicing can also be constant since He never changes. It is possible for the believer to live in victory even when he is vanquished by the world! Peter discovered this while strolling on the surface of the Sea of Galilee during the storm. As long as his eyes were on Jesus he was OK. When his focus moved to the storm he started sinking. We also have the tendency to change our focus. Furthermore, the fact of the matter is that most of the things we worry about rarely come to pass!

One particular statistical study reveals that:

  • 60% of our fears are totally unfounded
  • 20% are already behind us
  • 10% are so petty they don’t make any difference
  • 4-5% of the remaining
  • 10% are real, but we can’t do anything about them leaving only
  • 5% of our fears that we can do something about.

Paul also speaks about the frequency of our rejoicing. We are to “rejoice always.” He repeats the phrase twice to be sure we get it. This is to be an emphasis for our lives.

Before the Dallas Cowboys walked out on to the field for the 1993 Super Bowl, coach Jimmy Johnson told his players, “If I laid a two-by-four across the floor, everybody here would walk across it and not fall, because our focus would be on walking the length of that board. But if I put that same board 10 stories high between two buildings, only a few of you would make it because your focus would be on falling.” He then urged his players not to focus on the crowd, the media or the possibility of falling, but to focus on each play of the game as if it were simply a good practice session. The Cowboys won the game 52-7.  A Christian must not focus on what people think, but only on what is “excellent or praiseworthy” (Phil. 4.8).

Paul commands us not to be “anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, to present our requests to God.” Even our prayer requests are to be framed in the context of thanksgiving because asking in the context of thanksgiving helps us to panic less, have faith more, and to stay “moderate” or balanced. It also keeps us God-oriented. If you are not thankful for what you already have been given, it is doubtful that you will be thankful for what you will yet receive. Rejoicing and thankfulness create the proper kind of framework for faith to operate and to keep our lives in proper spiritual balance.

Paul goes on then to explain how to create this attitude of gratitude in verse 8. We are to become occupied with the right kind of things. We are to focus our lives on the positive things of life, even when terrible things are happening around us. Paul says to “think on those things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely or admirable, if there is anything excellent or praiseworthy, to think about such things”! It is not so much what happens to us in life that matters; it is how we choose to respond to what happens to us. Paul is not suggesting an occasional positive bent, but a constant or fixed positive attitude of heart and mind. We can choose to change the bent of our heart and mind by focusing and feeding our souls the right kind of things.

In verses 7 and 9 we see the fruit of a response of rejoicing is “peace”; not just any kind of peace, but an internal peace that is steadfast even in the midst of conflict.

There is a freedom for those who have learned the secrets of thanksgiving and rejoicing even in the midst of external turmoil. Many people waste all their emotional energy trying to get rid of external conflicts only to discover that it is either impossible or unending. It is far more important to be at peace internally than to have peace externally. When genuine inner peace exists there will be a more balanced response to external trials.

Lucy once said to Charlie Brown, “I hate everything. I hate everybody. I hate the whole wide world!” Charlie said, “But I thought you had inner peace.” Lucy replied, “I do have inner peace. But I still have outer obnoxiousness.”

 God’s peace will act as a “sentry” for our hearts and minds, to “guard” them against damage. The word is a military term describing a “sentry that stands his post as guard” and assures your safety. God’s peace is not just an end product of thanksgiving and rejoicing, it is actually a guard against attacks on the mind and soul.

Paul concludes in verse 9 by asking us to take this teaching on rejoicing and thanksgiving and “put it into practice!” Theory and theology are fine and good, but only if they result in action! Paul says, if we “put it into practice, then the God of peace will be with us.”

We tend to want the peace first and then we will be thankful. That isn’t the way it works biblically. We are first thankful and rejoicing and then we get peace! This is much more than what the world popularly calls “positive thinking”, it is “positive living.” Positive thinking denies the negative. Positive living conquers the negative. There is real peace for thanks givers and those who rejoice!

Thanksgiving is much more than a holiday celebration, it is a heart condition! It is more than a celebration of food; it is the celebration of faith! May we learn to come to God with a grateful heart, even when we come with prayer requests, so that our faith is balanced and positive. God always responds to a thankful heart!