Spiritual Discipline: Thanksgiving

There are quite a few books available on cultivating spiritual disciplines, some good and some terrible. I have read a few and they usually advocate such things like keeping a journal, a dedicated prayer time, abstinence from various things, fasting, worship, prayer, and so on. Usually these sorts of books are quite individualistic and full of mysticism. They tend to avoid things that Bible commands like, submission to your elders (which requires local church membership), communion of the saints (which requires Lord’s Day attendance), singing the Psalms (which is at first awkward because the songs are not about you), partaking in the Sacraments (including weekly Communion (with real wine!)), all of which necessitate the institutional church (which our individualistic Protestants tend to disregard as unimportant) and you get all sorts of weird things like the I-love-Jesus-but-not-the-church kind of gobbledygook.

Well, anyway, I do not intend to rant on about the failures of modern evangelicalism to foster true Christian maturation, which I could rant don’t you doubt! I am quite convinced that the local church is the hub of spiritual maturation for the individual Christian and this needs to be emphasized more and more in our culture that promotes the idea of fluid-identity.

That being said, I am also not disinclined to the individual practices that foster maturation in Christ. For example, if you are not reading God’s Word and spending time in prayer you will end up being a spiritual dud because you will have no idea what the Spirit requires! I would like to bring up a personal practice that will actually change how we walk with the Spirit and no, you don’t have to keep a journal about it, but you may.

It is quite simple: a discipline of the Spirit is giving thanks. The Scriptures command us to give thanks to God (see many of the Psalms, such as Psalm 33.2 and Psalm 105.1). The Law gives place for a thanksgiving offering (see Leviticus 7.11-21) The lack of thanksgiving is what plunged the world into rebellion against God, and lack of thanksgiving to God is what leads a culture to abandon the image of God and begin to act like beasts (Romans 1.18-23). The Epistles in the New Testament are brimming with thanksgiving from their authors and those same authors under divine inspiration command the churches to give thanks (see 1 Thessalonians 5.18, for more verses, just grab a concordance and look up “thanks” and “thanksgiving”).

Giving thanks, you might think, is an easy thing to do, but it is not. Giving thanks is hard work, it is a work of the Spirit as He wrestles with our abiding sin. This may seem cliche, but what have you given thanks for today? Getting up in the morning? Having toothpaste to brush your teeth with? Coffee to drink? A job to go to? A spouse to kiss? Kids to hug? Well, sure. Those are easy to give thanks for, right?

So, how is this a spiritual discipline? Giving thanks in a fallen world is hard when God’s providences hurt. It takes a great level of maturity to give thanks to God, as Scripture commands, in all things. How easy is it to give thanks for the flat tire, the job loss, the rain and snow, the allergies, the cancer diagnoses, and so on. Giving thanks is hard work. What is easy is not thanksgiving, but grumbling.

God saves His people through many miracles and the strength of His right arm: plagues, pillar of fire and smoke, mountains of fire and smoke, four-faced cherubim, chariots of fire, an innocent Man crucified. All along the way His people grumble about…well, pretty much everything. Grumbling is the bubbling brook of filth that spews from our hearts of rebellion. We believe the lie of the Dragon that God does not know what is best for us. We want to be like God and dethrone Him. “You know, God, it would be better if I did not have a flat tire/allergies/cancer/etc.” and yet God’s Word says things like this, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8.28). Well, who is right? You or God?

We cannot manage the curse. We cannot manipulate reality to fit our whims and desires. God is God, and you are not. So, why is thanksgiving a spiritual discipline? Because thanksgiving is, quite simply, submission to God. Thanksgiving recognizes that you and I rely totally on the God who made us, saved us, and preserves us. Thanksgiving is the wrestling of who you are declared to be (Christian) over and against your abiding sin in Adam. Thanksgiving is Christ-like, grumbling is Adamic.

Thanksgiving is a spiritual discipline because it gives praise to God in recognition that He does all things well.

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One comment

  1. I think you are quite right. Ingratitude is of the Devil. You You see it in the workplace, in the home, and very often in the church. It is the rotten apple grown from the tree of self-will.

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