When you saw the title, “Thanksgiving and Work,” what was your first reaction?
I expect some of you, seeing the title “Thanksgiving and Work,” felt wistful, perhaps even a bit peeved. You may not associate work with being thankful. Your job may be terribly demanding or tedious. Your boss may be a tyrant. You may be underpaid and unappreciated. Yes, you do get paid for your work, and that’s helpful for buying food and paying the rent. But, for the most part, it’s hard for you to associate your work with giving thanks.
Then there are others who do feel thankful for their work. Just yesterday I spoke with a 27-year-old who is consistently thankful for his job. He said, and I quote, “Every day I go to work and think, I love my job!” His position is actually a high-stress role in the federal government, but this young man enjoys the challenge of his job and loves the opportunity to make a difference in the world.
What about you? How do you respond to “Thanksgiving and Work”?
I’ll share my own honest response to this combination. Yes, I am glad for a day off from paid work on the Thanksgiving holiday. I am looking forward to hanging out with immediate and extended family, especially since my kids will be with us.
But when I think of work and thanksgiving (not the holiday, but the act of giving thanks), my first thought is that I do not give thanks for my job nearly enough. To be sure, there are times when I thankfully think to myself, “I get to do great work with great people.” I care deeply about the work of the De Pree Center, and I get to lead a fantastic team of collaborators. I’m also thankful for those for whom I work at Fuller, whose leadership I am blessed to follow. Yet the truth is I’m the sort of person who rushes quickly by the good things in life and focuses instead on the frustrations. I can easily fixate on what is wrong with my work, and I am not nearly thankful enough for it. Perhaps you can relate.
Of course I’m aware of Scripture passages that urge me to change my ways when it comes to my ingratitude. 1 Thessalonians 5:18, for example, says we’re to “give thanks in all circumstances.” These would include circumstances at work. Similarly, Colossians 3:17 tells us to do everything “in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” When I last checked, “everything” includes my daily work. So, the Bible encourages me to thank God for and in the midst of my work. You too.
How can we do this? What will help us to be thankful for our work, especially if we can’t honestly admit that we love our job every single day, like my enviable Millennial friend?
I want to suggest two answers to this question. One is more theological, while the other is more practical.
First, the theological answer. According to Colossians 3:17, we are to do everything, “whether in word or deed . . . in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” It’s not an accident that “giving thanks” follows doing everything “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” I’d suggest that the more we intentionally speak and act “in the name of the Lord Jesus,” the more we will be thankful.
Saying or doing something “in the name of the Lord Jesus” means that we speak or act under his authority and for his purposes. Ambassadors from a country act “in the name of their country,” in that they operate under the authority of their country and are expected to further its purposes. So it is when we speak or act “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” We allow him, as our Lord, to govern our behavior. And we seek to say and do everything for his ends and his glory, not our own.
When we live this way, we see and experience life differently, including our work. Work becomes less about us and more about the Lord. We realize that our work has meaning beyond what we can see. We feel blessed to share in God’s work in the world. And, therefore, we find ourselves more and more grateful for our work.
In addition to this theological answer to the question of what will help us be thankful for our work, I want to add a practical answer as well. I confessed earlier that I’m the sort of person who rushes quickly by the good things in life. I am not naturally wired to slow down and reflect on these good things. Yet, when I do, I find that gratitude wells up in my heart quite easily and spontaneously.
So, one of the things I do each year around Thanksgiving Day is to take time to think deeply and expansively about my blessings and thank God for them. I set aside at least an hour, sometimes more, for this kind of remembrance. I make a list (usually written) of every blessing I have received in the last year. I spend at least a third of the time reflecting on all the ways God has showered his grace on me in my work. As I remember, I thank the Lord for his generosity and provision. I find myself truly and deeply grateful for, yes, my work.
As Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. draws near, let me encourage you to set aside time for intentional remembering and gratitude. Even if your job is tough, even if you’re going through a difficult stretch at work, think of ways God has been present to you, and thank him for these. And if you’re in a season of productivity and joy, don’t hold back in offering your gratitude to God. God deserves it. Your soul needs it.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is the executive director of Fuller’s De Pree Center and the primary writer of the Life for Leaders daily devotions. His most recent book is a commentary on the New Testament letter to the Ephesians (Zondervan, 2016). Mark and his wife Linda, an executive coach and spiritual director, have two adult children and one lively Golden Retriever.