It is Thanksgiving week, and we are setting ourselves to begin all that goes into making Thanksgiving happen. Grocery shopping. Travel departure and arrival times. Who will sleep where? How will we avoid political debates? Mapping out Black Friday shopping sprees. How will we watch three football games without getting in trouble for “avoiding your mother-in-law”?
It is a good time, for sure. It is how we do Thanksgiving these days. It is our culture of Thanksgiving. But we would do well to remember first the Why we do Thanksgiving. Because when we do, we reshape and reframe our culture of Thanksgiving.
A few years ago, a business consultant posed a new business model that went viral. It went viral because it was a new way of “inspiring loyal customers.” This new model reshaped and reframed the common business matrix of “what-how-why.”
The consultant explained most businesses begin with the “what”—what they make. Then they move to “how”—how they make it. But only sometimes did they get to “why” they do what they do. What this consultant noticed was that those businesses who reversed this matrix, and began with “why” they do what they do, were the most likely to inspire action on the part of their customers, and those customers would remain extremely loyal.
Now our business as a church is a bit different from those of corporate business, but we are still aiming to inspire. And one way we can inspire is by creating the kind of culture of giving thanks that understands why we give thanks.
It would be really easy for me to stand up here and tell you for what you should give thanks—your family, job, your retirement portfolio, this church, or maybe even that the Cavs are starting to look like the Cavs we expect.
It would also be easy for me to tell you how to give thanks—in written form, audibly, in prayer, through worship and song. All of those are good. But, if we’re really going to create a culture of thanksgiving we have to understand why we give thanks—especially since our world is always so quick to give the “what” and the “how.”
It’s the “why” we give thanks that makes all the difference.
When it comes to encouraging thankfulness, it is really easy to default into the “what” of it all. But to focus solely on what we’re thankful for misses a very important piece to creating a culture of giving thanks.
A better question is Why Thanksgiving? It’s better because the “Why Thanksgiving” question will lead us to the whom we give our thanks. Our text for today helps us…“Know that the Lord is God. It is God that made us, and we are God’s; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture, God’s steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
The psalm tells us two things. First, the Lord is God. And second, the Lord is good. When we’re more concerned with the WHY than the WHAT in our culture of giving thanks, it will lead us to God, and not only to the things for which we are giving thanks.
What I’ve come to discover over my years of being a pastor is that when folks struggle with thankfulness it usually stems from one of two things.
First, life is going so well for a person that realizing they are not the author of all the good in their life eludes them. In the midst of all the good things they forget that the Lord is God.
But for others, life isn’t going so well. Struggles, loss, and the like keep them from giving thanks because they cannot, will not, and do not believe that the Lord is good.
The problem becomes then, when we do either of these things, we have forgotten that the root of all thankfulness grows out of a WHO not a WHAT.
So how do we change this? By reminding ourselves that God is God even in the midst of the successes of life and God is good even in the midst of our struggles. In order to create a culture of giving, we’ve got to concern ourselves not a with WHAT, but with a WHO, because it’s the who that answers WHY.
Why should we give thanks? Because God is God, and because God is good.
When it comes to creating a culture of thanksgiving, why does it matter that we give thanks to God—both in times of joy and in times of struggle? For two reasons.
First, because God is God and God is good. And second, because the world is watching.
As those who put our faith in God; as those who are followers of Christ, we are called to be salt and light in the world, witnesses to the goodness and grace of God.
Churches and Christians ought to be some of the most thankful people on earth, because we know first-hand how much God has done for us in Jesus and how much we don’t deserve God’s grace, and yet we’ve been blessed both with forgiveness and with life.
Our churches ought to be places overflowing with thankfulness. Our culture should be one of abundant thankfulness because of the blessings we know we’ve received.
And yet, sadly, all too often our churches and our homes are filled with envy, jealousy, back-biting, gossip, comparison, judgement, and a whole host of other sins that do not shine light in the dimness or add a distinct flavor to the world that draws people to Jesus.
Creating a culture of giving thanks is vitally important because it is part of our witness to the world, a world that needs to believe there are things for which we can be thankful, even in the midst of turmoil, division, and fear.
Regardless of what’s going on in our lives, if we can live in the faith that the Lord is God and that God is good; if we can acknowledge what God has done for us in Jesus Christ; and if we can hold fast to the belief that part of the reason we must be thankful is because it is a witness to a very ungrateful, unthankful world, then we, our church, our home, and wherever else we go will be marked by giving thanks. And the world will see it.
But too often we get bogged down by that which bring us down that we can’t even find a “how” to give thanks, let alone a “why”. We get so overwhelmed that we miss the why Thanksgiving reasons that are all around us.
A pastor tells a story that impacted his ministry throughout his entire career, but it happened when he was only in high school helping with his church’s children’s choir program. At the end of every session, the leader would pick a few kids to come up and help with the closing prayer. As part of the prayer, they would be asked to share something for which they were thankful.
The future pastor recalls how the kids always knew the proper responses. They were thankful for God or Jesus or their family or their church. But one Sunday a boy went rogue.
There at the end of the line, with all the kids before him having given the holy, “Churchy” type answers, the leader got to him and asked the boy what he was thankful for. And as the leader held the microphone to him, the boy said, “Thank you God for sand!”
Sand. Not Jesus, not God, not mom or dad, or his church, or school or anything like what the other answers had been. He was thankful for sand.
This was the impactful moment this pastor held onto throughout his career, explaining, “That kid gave the most profound and honest answer he could give. Sandboxes were, after all, his favorite places to be. And in his world, sand was one of the most important things for which he could be thankful. And as odd and insignificant as it was, it was the best answer because he was being true to himself and the world of his blessings.”
Are we true to ourselves? Are we true to the blessings we receive from God?
How do we know when we really have a culture of giving thanks in our church, in our homes, and in our own hearts?
We will know when, when we first know why.
We’ll know we’ve developed this culture when we can give thanks not just for the big things— God, the world, Jesus, grace, forgiveness— but when we can give thanks for something so seemingly odd and insignificant as sand.
Because when we do, we show that we truly understand that everything—every little thing in our life, even down to a grain of sand—is a gift from the Creator and something for which we should be thankful.
For when we do that, we know that God is God, that God is good, and that all good comes from God. That is why Thanksgiving.
Happy Thanksgiving. Amen.