Elizabeth Barrett Browning once wrote: “Earth’s crammed with Heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees takes off his shoes . . .” Having the eyes to see God’s goodness in daily life is essential for the growth and vibrancy of one’s spiritual life and the well-being of every other aspect of life. Yet, staying attuned to God’s goodness in daily life can be difficult. At times, we struggle to see our family or other relationships as gifts from a good God. God’s goodness can become blurred and muted by difficulties and limitations. Our experience can become one of anxiety, stress, and loneliness. Though the mundane may be ablaze with God’s fruitful presence, provision, and purposes, at times we perceive only overgrown scrub brush and tumbleweed.
The apostle Paul writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7).” God is good (Psalm 100). It is therefore good to give thanks to the LORD even when we cannot see his goodness clearly (Psalm 92:1). I did a word search on “thanks” and on “praise.” Combined, one or the other appears more than four hundred sixty times in the Bible. It would seem giving thanks and praise to God is to be a foundational part of our way of life. I believe this is because God inhabits the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3), and as the psalmist declares, thanksgiving and praise bring a person’s heart into the presence of God (Psalm 95:2). Nancy DeMoss captures the warmth of this life-giving connection as she writes in her book on Gratitude, “If we want to be where He is, we need to go to His address . . . Thanksgiving puts us in God’s living room. It paves the way to His presence.”
I am learning this is true with people too. Expressing thanks is so important to the connection we experience with one another. Perhaps that’s why in a recent Gallup study of more than 800 traits, “grateful” was rated in the top four percent in terms of likeability. In contrast, “ungrateful” was rated as one of the most negative traits, found in the bottom 1.7%. It’s true, we were created for community. It’s also true that expressing thanks is a primary gateway God has given us for entry into the embrace, life, and empowerment of that community.
That’s why I love Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving gives us the space and the context not only for eating delicious food and for watching football, but to reflect on our lives, our relationships, and our hardships with thanksgiving (Phil 4:6-7). It gives us the opportunity to reconnect with God and those we love in a deeper and more significant way.
How will you express thanks this Thanksgiving? How will you enter through gratitude’s gate into the fellowship of communion with God and those you love? Thanks to my mother-in-law, we have established a tradition that is fun for our kids and for us adults too. We pass our toy stuffed turkey (with a gobble gobble sound) from person to person around the table after we have all finished our meal. The person with the turkey is to share something they are thankful for from God and about their life. It is a pretty simple tradition really, but perhaps that’s what makes it so repeatable every year. I have to say it has really made our Thanksgivings memorable. I guess, however it takes shape, what is most important is being intentional about slowing down enough to say thank you. When we do, we enter God’s presence and the presence of those we love in a deeper and more significant way.
In closing, Leigh Ann and I would like to publicly give thanks for the community God has given to us with y’all, our Covenant family. You all have blessed our family in so many ways. Thank you for allowing us to use our gifts and to grow along side of you as brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank you for helping us to raise our three children with hearts that love Jesus. And thank you for the times you have expressed care and encouragement to us through kind words and gestures. We give thanks to God when we think of you and for our life together.
Happy Thanksgiving Covenant,
Mark, Leigh Ann, Caleb, Evan, & Cariann