In 1863, President Lincoln declared the final Thursday in November the official Thanksgiving holiday. While Thanksgiving had been celebrated irregularly for several hundred years, it was not an official holiday in the United States and was not annually celebrated until this point. It is significant that Lincoln chose to establish the holiday in 1863 because the American Civil war had been raging for several years. Hundreds of thousands of Americans were dead, the United States was united no more, the nation lay in shambles, and it appeared as though the North wouldn’t win the Civil War. To top it off, Lincoln’s son had died less than a year previous. It was in the midst ofone of the darkest points in American history, and certainly Lincoln’s own life, that he declared that Americans would dedicate a day to thank God for the blessings that they had received. This is a powerful testimony to the degree of faith and dedication Lincoln had toward God. It is also an attitude that is difficult to muster during times of tragedy.
It is tough to stop and say thanks for what God has given you when everything seems to be falling apart. Often, disaster prompts people to turn and ask: “Where is God in all of this difficulty?” or “Why Doesn’t God do something to fix this for me?” Lincoln offers us a terrific model for our attitudes toward God in times of trial. This attitude can seem almost superhuman, and certainly unattainable for normal people. I’d suggest that this is probably the case. But, while it may be impossible for men to be thankful in all circumstances, it is certainly isn’t impossible for God to create an attitude of thanks in man’s heart. I’d argue that this is a product of intentional effort and practice, that God aids us in accomplishing.
- Learn to recognize blessings: It isn’t always easy to recognize blessings. This is particularly the case in our culture, where affluence is so abundant that it’s easy to take it for granted. Giving thanks for daily meals can quickly become ritual when the danger of starvation is extremely low. It’s also hard to look for our blessings when we are hurting. Pain has a tendency to act as blinders, blocking our peripheral vision so we cannot see the good in our lives. Instead we focus on the painful. Developing the ability to recognize the blessings in our lives starts with intentionally looking for them. We can also pray for God to open our eyes to the blessings He has given us. In the past, I have created lists and reviewed them regularly. Doing so helped me look at various areas of my life with greater scrutiny.
- Learn to say thank you to God daily: The next step to learning an attitude of thankfulness is intentionally taking time to pray and say thanks to God. It is a choice we make. If we train to say thanks when things are normal and when they are great, then it becomes easier to thank God when things are difficult. If we develop the discipline of thanking Him, we train ourselves spiritually to engage in this behavior and assume this stance in our heart.
- Learn to see the big picture: One of the recurring themes present in the New Testament letters is a bigger picture perspective on life and eternity. The apostles looked at our current lives in context of God’s future promises. They believed that the lives we live now are preparation for the eternity we will spend with God after we die. Our pain helps us experience the pain Christ experienced. Hardship helps us trust God more deeply and perfect our faith. Even death was seen as moving on to living in heaven with Jesus. This big picture perspective provides us with a point of view that frames blessings and sufferings in terms of God’s provision and eternity. If I understand that everything in this life is preparation for eternity and an opportunity for me to know God more deeply, then I can recognize that all things take place for my betterment. Jesus himself teaches that not a hair can fall from our heads without God’s will and knowledge. If this is true, there is opportunity to be thankful in all circumstances. The big picture is key to success in many areas of the Christian’s life and spiritual maturity.