The Christmas creep (i.e., the marketing creep of Christmas catalogues, sales, and promotions) begins earlier and earlier each year, so that now, Thanksgiving is the big day of non-shopping in the six weeks of out of control shopping mayhem. Thanksgiving is the pit stop where we rest up for the big shopping weekend.
I fear that something has been lost from our thanksgiving. The Holy Spirit's emphatic reminder to "be content with what you have" (Hebrews 13:5 NRSV) almost seems weird and truly out of step with every other value we pursue.
One of the most powerful convictions of this warped sense of giving thanks happens to me every time I spend time on a mission or service trip to a less "economically blessed" country. While we are supposed to be there to bless other people, the Holy Spirit uses these "economically disadvantaged people" to convict and bless me. They have far less economically. They enjoy far fewer conveniences. Yet the Christians in these countries have unrestrained joy for what they have in Christ. The "blessed are the ..." portion of the beatitudes (Matthew 5:2-12) don't seem nearly as out of step in their reality. The Spirit's reminder that "godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Timothy 6:6) suddenly comes alive with meaning.
How do we reclaim that spirit of contentment?
How do we return a genuine joy to our times of giving thanks?
How do we make giving thanks a daily lifestyle and not just a preparatory rest day on our way to running up our credit card debt?
I don't have any one answer to these questions. However, I do believe there are several things we can do to move us in that direction. (If you take a little time, you can find specific Scriptures for each of the principles, so they aren't really my advice!)
Serve those who are less "economically blessed" without expecting anything in return — Don't expect or do it for a thank you, a pat on the back, or thank you in the bulletin.
Visit Christians in other countries to work beside them doing Kingdom work — serving them or their community while sharing the Gospel of Jesus.
Spend more time in your prayers each day thanking and praising God specifically for your physical, emotional, and spiritual blessings than you do asking him for his help.
The ability to joyfully give thanks is a lost spiritual art. We can approach each of the things above as a list of things we must do — spiritual disciplines - we have to do to honor God. On the other hand, we can look at the list of things above and see them as a set of principles that God wants us to use to bless us with freedom from our discontented culture. As we do them to find the joy God has in them for us, we will also get to experience the joy that comes from those we bless in the name of Jesus.
Let's recover the lost art of giving thanks!