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Why an attitude of gratitude is so important

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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The First Thanksgiving, oil on canvas by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, circa 1912-1915 (Credit: Jean Leon Gerome Ferris / Library of Congress)

As many as 147 million Americans—nearly half our population—will shop in stores and online this Black Friday weekend.  Clearly, the Thanksgiving holiday is done for another year.  What’s left of the turkey is stored in zip-lock bags in the fridge; the football games are over; shopping is in full force this morning.

Contrast our Thanksgiving with its origins, as 50 surviving Pilgrims gathered in the fall of 1621 with 50 Indians for a meal and service of gratitude to God.  Remember President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation calling for “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”  He specifically asked that we go to God “with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience.”  Thanksgiving was to be a day of praise and penitence.  Now it’s a day of food and football followed by shopping all night and all the next day.  Why?

Consider these facts: 20 percent of Americans now claim no religion; fewer than half of us can identify the first book of the Bible or one of the Gospels; nearly half of us never wonder if we’ll go to heaven; almost 60 percent of young people ages 15-29 say they’ve left the church with no plans to return.

If we do not believe that God has given us all that we have; if we separate Sunday from Monday and religion from the “real world”; if we make God our hobby instead of our King; if we think that we are the source of our possessions and prosperity—why would we be thankful to God?  We might say a prayer over a Thanksgiving meal, but we certainly wouldn’t let such religious tradition impede on the rest of our holiday.  If God is irrelevant to our lives, how can he be relevant to Thanksgiving?

Theologian Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.: “It must be an odd feeling to be thankful to nobody in particular.  Christians in public institutions often see this odd thing happening on Thanksgiving Day.  Everyone in the institution seems to be thankful ‘in general.’  It’s very strange.  It’s a little like being married in general.”

I can criticize the culture for its thanklessness, but do I obey God’s call to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)?  How often did I pause to give thanks to God yesterday?  Last week?  How thankful would God say you are?

Here’s why a year-long “attitude of gratitude” is vital: God says that we “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4).  Gratitude is the doorway to the power of our omnipotent Lord; praise is the key to his presence and joy.

Nazarene scholar W. T. Purkiser observed, “Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.”  Let’s use them to enter the throne room of our King.  Why not today?