Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It typically means a great feast, time with family, and football games on TV. Historically, Thanksgiving is a reminder to give thanks to God for his provision over the past year. Culturally, it has become the start of the commercialized holiday season.

Thanksgiving is more than just a long holiday weekend. It’s a spiritual practice seen all throughout Scripture. We often neglect thanksgiving as a discipline, but it’s a good practice for Christians to remember.

Here are five reasons we may find it hard to practice giving thanks, and how the discipline of thanksgiving keeps us focused.

1. We’re stuck in the trenches with no view of the horizon. 

The trench warfare of World War I was brutal, muddy, and fearful work. It’s possible to be so immersed in the spiritual battle of our everyday lives that we can’t see anything beyond the trenches. The deeper we sink without our eyes on the hope we have in Christ, the less likely we’ll be able to see God’s work, provision, and care for us.

We all need time away from the front lines to be reminded of what we’re fighting for. Stepping back and getting some rest brings renewed perspective and hope—opening our eyes to the big picture of God’s work around us. Taking time to thank God lifts our eyes to see our hope in Christ more clearly.The deeper we sink without our eyes on the hope we have in Christ, the less likely we’ll be able to see God’s work, provision, and care for us. Click To Tweet

2. We’re frustrated and worn down. 

Moses struck the rock in Numbers 20 and lost his chance to lead God’s people into the promised land. Moses led the same group of people for 40 years. He was accustomed to their complaints and groaning because he spent so much time with them. In a moment of fatigue and anger, he hit a rock with his staff—twice. This was not what God had asked him to do. Forty years of faithful leadership were affected in a moment.

Leading God’s people can be tough. But when we respond out of frustration with anger, we lose the capacity to thank God for his work and provision. In fact, those who lead run the risk of allowing frustration and anger to cloud our ability to live in gratitude. Don’t strike the rock. The discipline of thanksgiving helps reset our hearts to match the heart of Jesus.

3. We’re overwhelmed by the world around us. 

If it’s not our own spiritual battles or the burden of leadership, we’ll surely find overwhelming circumstances in the world. Politics, divisions over justice issues, and other broad-scale concerns in our spheres of influence color the way we see the work set before us. While none of us can ignore what’s happening around us, we need the regular reminder that God entrusts each of us with a particular place at a particular time.

It’s important to have a ministry that’s locally focused. There are a lot of beautiful things happening in our churches that have little to do with the broader tensions around us. Thank God—let’s celebrate that. It takes discipline to thank God for the small things he’s doing right in front of us rather than looking beyond for something greater. The more we practice this, the better we’ll be able to press through our anxiety.

4. We’re not there yet. 

We live in the tension of the “already and not yet” kingdom of Jesus. This means we’ve already received grace and mercy, but not yet seen its fullness. Which reality dominates your heart, the already or the not yet? There’s great hope in the not yet, a heavenly inheritance of light set aside for God’s people (Col. 1:9–14). Let that encourage a constant state of thanksgiving.Whatever you’re facing, practice the discipline of giving thanks. This holiday can be a catalyst toward a life consumed by gratitude for the hope we have in Jesus. Click To Tweet

This is easier said than done. Frustration, doubt, and anxiety cloud our vision and cause us to lose focus on what’s truly important. We live in the grace of the already, and we do not control the not yet. We can give thanks to God for what he’s done and eagerly anticipate his coming mercies. The discipline of thanksgiving helps us faithfully navigate the journey into the fullness of Christ’s kingdom.

5. We wallow in self-pity. 

Alright, now it’s personal. Whether we’re stuck in pride and arrogance or in our own despair, it all can be self-focused. It’s hard to be thankful for anything when we’re in a funk and feeling sorry for ourselves. The discipline of thanksgiving helps reorient our entire perspective so that we begin to recognize God’s gifts to us on a daily basis. It also helps us recognize other people and be thankful for the gifts God gives to them, too. Let’s work to find contentment whether we are in “plenty and hunger, abundance or need” (Phil. 4:12–13).

The Thanksgiving holiday is a great reminder for Christians. Whatever you’re facing, practice the discipline of giving thanks. This holiday can be a catalyst toward a life consumed by gratitude for the hope we have in Jesus. Let’s celebrate unto the glory of God and the joy of all people, taking seriously the call to, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16–18).

Bill Riedel
Written by: Bill Riedel on November 23, 2022

Bill Riedel is the founding and lead pastor of Redemption Hill Church in Washington, D.C. He was formally trained at Trinity International University (BA) and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (MDiv) and has served in ministry since 1998. He is also on the board of the EFCA. You can follow him on Twitter.