Peace or discontent this holiday season?

Thanksgiving leads to peace

The Thanksgiving Holiday is upon us and it is a great time to remember the many things we are grateful for in our lives. Some families will spend time at their meal on Thursday, going around the table and sharing what they are thankful for this year. Other families have found new and creative ways to express gratitude for the many milestones, experiences and people they want to acknowledge. Whatever your traditions, it is a great time to remember that thankfulness and gratitude leads to peace in our hearts.

God has established thankfulness as an antidote for discontent, anxiety and a self-focused life. Like penicillin to bacteria, a grateful heart erodes the virulent effects of worry. It restores health to our hearts and brings peace.

The holidays are not always a time of joy and celebration for everyone. For those who have lost loved ones, the season makes people more acutely aware of their loss, not less. The chaos of family gatherings, unmet holiday expectations and what some have tagged as the "post-Christmas blues," can all strip us of the joy and peace that is commonly associated with Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But God has not left us without a remedy. Thankfulness brings peace.

God has established thankfulness as an antidote for discontent.

Biblical link between thanksgiving and peace

Over the years, I have encountered moments of anxiety and worry. It can eat away at me, seemingly uncontrollable, like rust over the body of a car. Once it sets in, it feels impossible to stop. But in Paul's letter to the Philippians, he gives us some instruction about how God wants us to fight this imposing threat to our joy. I do not know for sure, but this may be the first verse I ever memorized, and it is a constant reminder of God's peace in my times of anxiety.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplications, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

          - Philippians 4:6-7 (emphasis mine)

In this passage, Paul exhorts his audience to not be anxious. He then gives them instruction about what to do instead of indulging the pestering anxiety that is in them. He tells them to pray, bring supplications and be thankful. Prayer and supplication is the requesting part. It's when we ask "God, I am struggling here, please help me!" This is an important step. Making our requests to God, and asking for his help. In my experience, most people stop there, myself included. But Paul also says that we ought to do it "with thanksgiving."

What happens as a result? "The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Thankfulness needs to be part of the equation. When we are anxious, we must do more than ask for help. Take some time to remind yourself of what you have to be thankful for. It is not magic. It is not some easy, quick fix sort of response. It takes work, and it requires some investment. But thankfulness will begin to erode the foothold that anxiety has in your life when you remind yourself of the many things you have to be grateful for.

4 practical ways to add thanksgiving into your life

1. Thanksgiving truths (begin with the gospel)

You have to start with the truth of the gospel. There is no greater reason to be thankful than the reality that God has sent his son into the world to save sinners. While we were the enemies of God, he pursued us and brought life where there was death. And he continues the work of bringing his kingdom to bear on the world. No matter how much you gain or lack in the world's goods, the life that Jesus brings is reason to give thanks. One way to do this is to begin a habit of preaching the gospel to yourself. Read more about this practice here.

2. Thanksgiving dump

In moments of anxiety and worry, you can stop and do a thanksgiving dump. Pull out a journal or piece of paper, and just begin to write down the things you have to be thankful for. You can be thankful for Jesus, for a job, for a home, for a friend, for family members, for the beautiful day, for the lunch you just had, for the kind smile of a stranger, for a good conversation, for a church home, for coffee, for donuts, for God's Word, for God's presence, for your wife, for your children, for your car, for your education, for your health, for your experiences, for.... The list can go on and on and on. No matter how big or how small, you have things to be thankful for.

Through prayer and the leading of God's Spirit, I have done this exact activity. There are so many things that I take for granted on a daily basis that are reasons to be grateful. We need to readjust our attitude and see them as gifts rather than assume them as givens.

3. Thanksgiving journal

This is similar to the last one, but it involves creating a regular rhythm of thanks. Whether you do it daily, weekly or whenever you are able, you can begin a gratitude journal. Each day, write down one thing you are thankful for. As you build a pattern of thanks into your life, you will have stores of thanksgiving to draw upon in your moments of worry and anxiety. They will serve as a reminder that God has given you much more than you deserve, and anxiety and worry need not be indulged.

4. Thanksgiving wall

Another version of the thanksgiving journal, is to create a thanksgiving wall in your home. This would be a great activity for a family to do together. Maybe you write directly on the wall itself, or maybe you write on a white board, or a sheet of paper. Choose a location and a method and begin to write down the many things for which you can give thanks.

Its a start, not an end

Beginning to create a habit of thanks in your heart and a culture of gratitude in your home does not fix everything. The circumstance that brought anxiety to your life still needs to be dealt with. Thankfulness can bring clarity to a situation, so that we can respond to the real problem.

What do you have to be thankful for this day, week, month or year? (please share in the comments below)