The Thanksgiving holiday is upon us. Let's think about the practice of giving thanks as a means of grace.
First, what do I mean by "grace?" As you may have seen or heard me say elsewhere, grace is the activity of the Holy Spirit working in our lives, through our thoughts, desires, attitudes and actions. Grace for the Christian enables us to move in the direction of Christlikeness, of spiritual maturity. Many of us think of grace mainly in terms of God's gift or divine favor, which is true. But there is more to grace. It is God working in us.
Second, what do I mean by "means?" Think of ends and means. The end of something is its goal. The means include steps taken toward the goal, what one does and experiences that contributes to movement in the direction of realizing the goal.
In this light, giving thanks is certainly a means of grace. 1 Thessalonians 5:16,18 gets at the point: "Rejoice always...give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. We can treat this word as an admonition, as a sort of command, and we can dutifully try to comply with it, because we know that's what good Christians do, while missing its inner logic. When God commands that we do something, as St. Augustine reminds us, God gives, by enabling us to fulfill the command. In other words, within the terms of the command itself is God's grace working to accomplish what God has commanded.
Let's look at the New Testament Greek on this 1 Thessalonians verse for more insight. For "rejoice" we find the word chairete. It comes from charis, which means "grace" or "gift." You can see the relationship. For "give thanks," we find eucharisteite (second person plural form) from which we get the word "eucharist" for our Holy Communion services, especially with reference to the Great Thanksgiving.
When God through the writing of St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians tells us to give thanks, within that command is the mysterious promise of God's gift; that, as we give thanks, God acts to grow us to maturity. In giving thanks with open, teachable hearts, God gives us what we need. It's amazing. Though in one sense the expression of thanks to God seems like a small act, in another sense, it revolutionizes our whole demeanor.
I offer an example from my own experience. In making the move from employment in an institution to starting this ministry in the Spiritual Maturity Project, I have realized a gap, a blind spot in my life. I began to see how little I actually trusted God for daily provision. Yes, I felt grateful and expressed thanks for other things, but I also began to realize that some of my giving thanks also had the feel of going through the motions without an adequate grasp of the fact that God truly does provide.
Moving into this new status prompted some soul searching. The Spirit led me to the awareness of the need to learn to give thanks in all things more consistently, just as the scripture says, rather than in the occasional, piecemeal way that I did by habit. Yes, it's a little embarrassing to realize that, as a "spiritual leader" who talks about God's goodness and the means of grace so often, I was not practicing so well what I preach. So, I began to practice giving thanks daily, and quite intentionally. After close to a year of living with a keener awareness and a more consistent expression of gratitude, I feel more grateful to God for daily provision. I am, I think, more aware of God's faithfulness, even when life is extra stressful and not going the way I wish it did.
This is why giving thanks is more than a spiritual discipline (to be sure, it is a spiritual discipline). It is not merely an action we do because God tells us to do it. To think only in these terms is to miss the beauty and power of what God is doing when we give him thanks. This is why giving thanks is a means of grace, poured into our lives by a generous and faithful Triune God.
Enjoy the Thanksgiving celebrations, friends. I pray that you feel God's goodness in them. But beyond the holiday, remember the inner logic of giving thanks. It is a means of grace, God's gift to us for our and our neighbor's good.