November 21, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 1:2 (NRSV)
We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly.
In this season of the year when we are encouraged to be thankful, let’s be sure to thank God for our blessings. But thanks is often best when it’s shared. Let others know that for which you are grateful, especially when you’re thankful for them.
As you may know, I was the senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church for sixteen years. When I began serving in 1991, I learned that the church had a tradition of a Thanksgiving Eve worship service. Gathering the night before Thanksgiving Day made a lot of sense in this church because so many people were heading off to grandma’s house on Thanksgiving Day or busying themselves preparing to host their own holiday celebrations.
From the very beginning, I loved our Thanksgiving Eve service. It was wonderful to gather as a church family and express our gratitude to the Lord. We did many things to make this service highly participatory and relatively short, in part because we had so many young children with us.
One of our favorite traditions involved small pumpkin-shaped, orange pieces of construction paper. We’d hand these out to everyone when they arrived. Then, when the service began, we’d encourage them to record on their “pumpkin” that for which they were grateful. Children who couldn’t write yet were invited to draw that for which they were thankful, which usually meant their parents and/or their pets. Then, near the end of the service, we’d invite everyone to come forward and add their “pumpkins” to a decorative cornucopia on the communion table. Those who wished could also make financial donations to a local homeless shelter.
I loved watching people come forward with their “pumpkins.” It was such a powerful visual symbol of the gratitude we shared as a church family. Everyone was involved, from the youngest to the oldest. And if someone wasn’t able to come forward physically, we were sure to bring their “pumpkins” on their behalf.
As the service concluded, we had before us a giant pile of colorful thanksgiving prayers, appropriately collected on the same table we’d use for communion (which some Christians call the “Eucharist,” from the Greek word eucharistia, meaning “thanksgiving”). I’ve included a photo from one of our services so you can enjoy it.
Thanksgiving, both the holiday and the activity, should be directed to God. Though it would be fine to thank people as well, the main point of Thanksgiving is offering gratitude to God. Yet, it’s a wonderful thing when we share our God-directed gratitude with those for whom we are thankful. That’s something the Apostle Paul did in almost all of his letters. To the Thessalonians, for example, he wrote, “We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly” (1 Thessalonians 1:2). By doing this Paul not only modeled thankful prayer but also encouraged the recipients of his letter. It’s a nice thing to know when someone is thankful for you.
As we draw near to Thanksgiving Day, let me encourage you to give thanks to God. But why not also let others know of your gratitude? You might tell them you’re thankful for them and why. Or you might find ways to share all sorts of thanks together. It’s probably too late this year to plan a Thanksgiving Eve service. But you could certainly set aside some time on Thanksgiving Day for shared gratitude. My extended family does this each year, and it’s a highlight for all of us.
Can you remember times in your life when the sharing of thanks was especially memorable?
When you hear others share what they are thankful for, how do you respond?
Does your family, friendship group, or church have a tradition of sharing gratitude sometime on or around Thanksgiving Day?
Do something this week to share your gratitude and to hear what others are grateful for.
Gracious God, for all of your gifts to me I thank you. In this season of thanksgiving, may I make time to tell how thankful I am. And, as I do this, may I also tell others how thankful I am for them. Help us, Lord, to find ways to share our gratitude together. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Working Faith, Finishing Up, and Keeping the Faith (1 Thess. 1:1–4:8; 4:13–5:28; 2 Thess. 1:1-2:17)
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.