Not the Gift, but the Giver

By Mark A. Taylor

As American Christians celebrate Thanksgiving Day, there’s a good chance we may miss the greatest value in saying thanks.

Typically, our lists of “reasons I’m thankful” include relationships or opportunities or experiences or possessions. All these are appropriate, but listing what we have unfortunately often only prompts us to remember what we lack.

• We probably start our thanksgiving inventory with “family.” But quickly most of us also think of arguments, misunderstandings, or more serious breaches that are part of most family histories.

• We might be thankful for our ministries. But many church leaders privately wonder how effective they could have been in another place or in a different niche.

• Even if we’re grateful for all we’ve been able to do, we may long to realize dreams yet unfulfilled.

• We know we own more than most others in the world. But still it’s difficult not to notice all those around us whose paychecks seem fatter than ours.

As long as we limit our gratitude to externals like these, our thanksgiving won’t satisfy us. Perhaps this is why American Christians don’t spend more time actually giving thanks, in spite of the fact that we have a whole day set aside to do so.

MT_Nov26_JNThanking God, like all other kinds of prayer, is advocated much more than it is actually practiced. We are encouraged to pray, as if prayer were an end in itself. And this week we will be reminded to give thanks, as though gratitude were its own reward.

But the point of prayer isn’t as much about what we do as it is whom we seek. As we strengthen our connection with the Creator of the universe, he changes us in many ways (including making us more thankful). In Celebration of Discipline Richard Foster describes it this way:

In prayer, real prayer, we begin to think God’s thoughts after him: to desire the things he desires, to love the things he loves, to will the things he wills. Progressively, we are taught to see things from his point of view.

James said, “Come near to God and he will come near to you” (4:8). For those who have nurtured this relationship, our Thanksgiving celebration is just one more opportunity to make it stronger. Without regret for what we have not received, we can gladly obey the Bible’s many exhortations to thank God. Our focus will be on the giver of “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17), not on the gifts themselves.

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