What Do I Have To Be Thankful For Anyway?

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We chart a Biblical theology of thankfulness, providing a practical, easy-to-apply definition for thankfulness. We can feel the abundant goodness of God through His Creation. But then we are expected to share that goodness with others. This is how we live a life of active thankfulness.



There are just some things in life you just never outgrow or get too old for. For me, that’s just about everything. I’m just a big kid with an adult body, that’s all I am. As a child, I absolutely loved the work of Charles Schulz, better known as Peanuts comic strips—Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Schroeder, Pig Pen, and my personal favorite, Snoopy. That is something that has never and probably will never change about me. Those little cartoons have brought me more smiles and laughs than just about anything else.

‌Just about everybody knows Schulz’s most famous work—A Charlie Brown Christmas. But did you know there was a second Peanuts Christmas Special appropriately named It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown? While it never became as popular as the first one, I always thought it was amusing. I particularly related to a line where Linus brought up Albert Schweitzer's aversion to receiving gifts because he hated writing thank you notes.

‌We all love to receive gifts. We even like receiving a thank you note. But just about every normal human being hates writing thank you letters. It’s not natural to want to be thankful. Sometimes we like to rail on whatever generation is younger than us and say that kids these days just aren’t thankful anymore, but if we’re honest, it doesn’t matter how old you are or what year you were born. Gratitude does not come naturally.

‌So tonight, we’re eventually going to end up in 2 Corinthians 9:11 (if you’d like to take a sneak peak there), and I want to consider the question, “What do I have to be thankful for, anyway?” That’s both our title and our central jumping off point. “What do I have to be thankful for, anyway?” ‌

I suppose our first question should really be, “What does thankfulness even mean?” If we’re talking about it, we need to define it, right? It’s so abstract. Thankfulness is realizing that what you have does not come from you and then acting accordingly. Let me say that again. Thankfulness is realizing that what you have does not come from you and then acting accordingly. Ok, let’s break this down. Thankfulness is realizing. That means it’s a mindset. It’s a way of viewing yourself, others, and the world. To be thankful requires mental work.

‌One of the biggest enemies to thankfulness in our lives is busyness.

‌It’s realizing that what you have. Stop. Thankfulness is in relation to what you possess. I would not say I’m thankful for a Lamborghini. I think they’re pretty neat looking, but I’m not thankful for them. Why? Because I don’t own one. It doesn’t cross paths with my life. I’m not going to be thankful for something that has no relation to me. I might not be thankful for a Lamborghini, but I can be thankful for my Hyundai Elantra. Thankfulness is personal. ‌

It’s realizing that what you have does not come from you. Stop. People aren’t very thankful for things they think they did. You cannot both think that you are responsible for something and be fully thankful for that thing at the same time. Thankfulness by its very nature implies that what you have came as a result of something you had no control over. Think about it. Let’s say you really need a clothes dryer. You could go out and buy a dryer, and it could serve you well. Now what if you really needed that dryer but didn’t have the money for it, and I went out, bought the dryer, and gave it to you? In which scenario do you think you’d be more thankful for the dryer? Right, the one where you had no way of getting it on your own and I gave it to you. That’s because thankfulness, at its core, is the realization that what you have does not come from you.

‌Now, in the example where you bought the dryer for yourself, you could still find reasons to be thankful. You’re not the one who made the dryer, so you could be thankful that someone came up with an invention that helps you clean your clothes and saves you time. You could be thankful that the people who made it made it well. Where’d you get the money from to buy the dryer? From working. Well, unless you’re self-employed, you didn’t made the decision to hire yourself. That was out of your control. So, you could be thankful for the job that allowed you to earn the money. Ultimately, you can trace anything back to a point where it was out of your control and you therefore have a reason to be thankful. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves there.

‌Thankfulness is realizing that what you have does not come from you and then acting accordingly. Thankfulness is not just a state of mind. It requires action. If you realize that what you have does not come from you but you don’t do anything about that realization, you have not truly been thankful. Imagine being at a party where the hostess has gone out of her way to make everything perfect. There is an overabundance of food and everything is just absolutely wonderful. If you sit there, don’t interact with anybody, never pick up a piece of food, and leave hungry and miserable, were you thankful for the party? Nope. You could even acknowledge that she did all the work, you did nothing, and it all looked great, but if you don’t partake in the party, you were not truly thankful. Being thankful requires you to get involved in the goodness that is in front of you. It’s more than just writing a thank you letter. It’s getting involved in the goodness of the gift. Going back to our dryer illustration, you could write me the fanciest, sweetest thank you card in the world, but if you never turned the dryer on and used it, were you truly thankful for it? No! You have to get involved in the goodness of the gift! You can’t just stop at the realization; you have to act on it.

‌So if that’s the definition of thankfulness, let’s ask the question, “What do I have to be thankful for, anyway?” I realize this is a Sunday night church crowd a few days before Thanksgiving, so you’re probably expecting me to quote a bunch of verses and preach at you about how you’re just a bunch of ungrateful ingrates who need to be thankful because that’s what the Bible says. But I think doing that downplays the very real reality of how often it feels like we don’t have much to be thankful for. Sure, I could quote 1 Thessalonians 5:18 and say, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you,” and you’d say “Amen,” and we’d all be nice and comfortable in our little Baptist ivory towers where we think that because we said amen on Sunday, we’re good to go. But then what would happen on Monday when you’re stuck in traffic for 3 hours, get a flat tire, and your car’s heating and air conditioning goes out? Are you going to be feeling good about 1 Thessalonians 5:18, or are you just going to feel guilty that you’re not feeling thankful and then start feeling more miserable about yourself because you’re such a horrible Christian, making the spiral worse? What happens when Tuesday comes and the doctor says, “Cancer.” Or Wednesday comes and your girlfriend breaks up with you. Or Thursday comes and nobody has invited you over for Thanksgiving. Do you think you’re going to be praising God about how much you have to be thankful for?

‌I know we’re in church and we have all the thankfulness verses memorized, but let me ask you, “How’s that holding up once you walk outside these doors?” It’s easy to smile and say amen to a message on thankfulness on Sunday, but how do you do when every possible thing seems to go wrong the rest of the week? Reality is we live in a sin-sick world. There’s death, disease, famine, rape, child mortality, Covid, supply shortages, and a hundred other things that will get you down real fast if you focus on them. So what do I have to be thankful for, anyway?‌

Well, if we’re going to answer that in a way that will stay with us through the week, we need to go back to page 1. Turn with me to Genesis chapter 1. If you’ve ever heard me preach before, you might wonder, “What is it with this kid and starting every sermon off in Genesis?” I promise you that is intentional. Imagine taking your favorite book or movie series and starting with the last one. Imagine finding someone who had never seen a single Star Wars movie and telling them to start with episode 8. You can already imagine the confusion. They might be able to appreciate some of the movie. They might even get a general idea of what the series is about. But if you don’t start with the first movie, you’re going to miss where a lot of themes and storylines start.

‌Now I realize Star Wars might have been a bad example since fans fight over whether you should start in Episode 1 or 4, but you get the idea. Put whatever book or movie series you want in there. If you jump in halfway, you might get some good stuff and enjoy it, but you’re going to be missing out on some majorly important information. And yet that is exactly what we do with the Bible all the time. Genesis is the first book for a reason. Its name literally means “Start.” Its first words are literally, “In the beginning.” Sure, you could start with Matthew or John or James or Proverbs or Psalms, but if you don’t begin at the beginning, you’re going to miss out on a lot of what makes the Bible so awesome.

‌There are a lot of legitimate ways to study the Bible, but I’ve found that most Christians study and most preachers preach the Bible in a systematic theology format. And that’s because if you’ve ever received any form of theology training, it has probably been in systematic theology. That’s what most Bible and Christian colleges teach. That’s how most pastors preach when they want to school their people in theology. In a few words, systematic theology is compiling everything the Bible has to say on a particular topic. So, let’s say someone wants to study or preach thankfulness. They’re going to look up Bible verses that include words like “thanks, thanksgiving, thankful, gratitude, etc.,” and they’re going to pick whichever ones best prove the point they want to make. So they might start off in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 then jump to Psalm 100:4 then go to Ephesians 5:20 then 1 Chronicles 16:34, jumping from verse to verse that mentions thankfulness. And what that does is it creates a folder in your mind of all the different ways thankfulness is mentioned in the Bible.

‌That is a legitimate way to study and preach the Bible. It can be very helpful to know all the verses that discuss thankfulness or baptism or anger or every verse that mentions Jesus or David or whatever it is you’re studying. But I have a problem with that method, and it’s simply this. That’s not the way the Bible was written. The Bible was not written as a systematic theology textbook. It’s not a dictionary or an encyclopedia where you open the cover, flip to the T section and read in alphabetical order all the verses that mention thankfulness. ‌

Back home I have a 3 volume set of Star Wars encyclopedias that document and give blurbs on every person, place, or thing in the first 6 Star Wars movies and many of the books and comics. Some of the entries are even a few pages long. It’s a pretty awesome resource for a Star Wars nerd. But if I picked that up, turned to L and read all there was to read on Luke Skywalker, would I really understand everything the movies were trying to tell me about his character and story? No, there’s some stuff you just need to see it in the full context to understand. ‌

That’s my problem with systematic theology in study and preaching. You could include a thousand verses in your study or sermon, but if you’re just leapfrogging from passage to passage in order to fill out your encyclopedia entry on what the Bible says about thankfulness, well, you’re going to miss out on a lot. It’s not the quantity of Scripture that makes a good study or sermon. It’s the quality, the depth to which you go in the passage that does true justice to the story of the Bible.

‌That’s why I prefer to take the Biblical theology approach. Biblical theology covers many of the same themes and verses that systematic theology does, but where systematic theology says, “I want to learn about thankfulness. Let me look up every verse that mentions thankfulness in some form or fashion regardless of where it falls in the Biblical story,” Biblical theology says, “Let me start in Genesis, end in Revelation, and see what the Bible brings up in between.” Biblical theology treats the Bible like the grand story that it is. It allows the Bible to tell Its own story chronically, following the natural flow of the books instead of picking and choosing. And again, there’s nothing wrong about systematic theology. It has its appropriate time and place. But this is why I start in Genesis. Because I want to teach you how to study the Bible the way the Bible is asking to be studied, starting at one cover and ending at the other.

‌So how does our study of thankfulness begin in Genesis? Well, we know that in the beginning, God created everything, and on each day of creation, He focused on a different way to bring order into the wild and wasteness, the tohu vavohu of the earth, what the King James calls formless and void. It’s a fight between chaos and order, and each day of Creation is God’s bringing beautifully creative and artistic order into another area of the wild and waste earth.‌

And on the sixth day, God creates man and woman as His images, places them in the special meeting place of heaven and earth called Eden, and appoints them as His royal representatives over the whole earth. Notice verse 28.

Genesis 1:28 KJV 1900

28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

‌How does the verse begin? “And God blessed them.” Bless is a good churchy word isn’t it? Outside of church, nobody uses that word unless someone just sneezed. Right? It’s such a religious word. And it can be a really hard word to define. It’s actually the same word for praise in the Old Testament. At its core, to bless is to declare the goodness of something. Today, we’ve turned it into something you do. If we say someone is a blessing, it means they’ve done something helpful. But that’s not what the word first meant. It was less about what you do and more about who you are. To bless is to declare the goodness of something.

‌What was unique to humans was how God fleshed out that blessing. Other creatures were told to be fruitful and multiply, but only humans were told to subdue and have dominion. Those are very forceful words. Subdue is about a battle of wills. The earth isn’t always an easy place to live. There are natural disasters, unwelcome weather patterns, wild animals, and all manner of things that can make it seem like the earth has a mind of its own. Our job in subduing is to win that battle. If a storm comes and destroys your house, build a bigger, better, and stronger one. Maybe even come up with a way to protect other houses from being damaged in the same kind of storm. That’s subduing. It’s winning the battle of wills with the earth. It’s wresting power from the chaotic wild and wasteness of the earth and harnessing that power for the good of humanity. ‌

It’s also interesting to note that God said this before the Fall. Sometimes we think that the earth was perfect and without any problems before the Fall. But remember how we talked about the key word for the Garden being potential not perfection? Even without the Fall, men and women were putting in a hard day’s work bringing order into the craziness of the world. But that’s not all we were called to do. We are also called to rule.

‌To have dominion is to rule. A dominion is a kingdom, it’s an area of jurisdiction. We speak often of God as King over all, and that is very true, but did you ever notice that He appointed man and woman to be prince and princess ruling the earth with Him? The job of every human being is to rule the earth wisely and well. We can only do that when we have a spirit of thankfulness for all the good that God has given us. He has literally given us an entire world that He declared very good and said, “Use it however you need to.” He provided a very abundant earth for us, and the best way we can show our thankfulness is to use the resources He has given us to increase the good of Creation.‌

But a lot of us fall prey to one of two extremes. Those of a more conservative persuasion tend to abuse the resources God has given. They partake without thought for the consequences. It’s basically a mentality of, “God’s gonna burn up the earth eventually anyway. Global warming isn’t real. Climate change isn’t real. Fossil fuels aren’t bad. Let’s do whatever we want. Let’s hunt whatever animals to extinction we want.” That is not the idea God had in mind when He told us to subdue the earth. We are not to abuse our resources. If God called this planet good, we should treat it with care.

‌That being said, there’s also the more liberal extreme of worrying so much about saving the planet and the polar bears and hugging the trees that we forget they were given for our use. The key is to know and live out the difference between use and abuse. It’s ok to cut down trees. It’s ok to hunt animals. But are you doing it in such a way that the next generation will be as well or better off than you were?‌

Like with the hostess’ party, it would be wrong to eat all the food and leave nothing for everyone else, but it would also be wrong not to partake in some of what she provided for you. It’s really easy to get this out of balance. But the way of thankfulness that God provided is in that balance. Thankfulness is realizing that God has given you everything on the planet and then finding a way to use it that glorifies Him by helping humanity.‌

That’s the message of 1 Tim 4:4

1 Timothy 4:4 KJV 1900

4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:

‌Did you catch that? Every single thing that God created on earth is good. If it comes from Creation, it’s A ok IF, and there’s a big IF, you receive it with thanksgiving. Verse 5,

‌1 Timothy 4:5 (KJV 1900)‌

5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.‌

This is mindblowing to me, but somehow, your being thankful for what you have makes anything a spiritual matter. You could be out raking leaves, but if you find something to be thankful for in it, it’s now a spiritual practice. You could be watching a movie, and if you find something to be thankful for in it, it’s now a spiritual thing.

‌And this is where 1 Cor 10:31 comes in as well. We’ve mentioned this unbelievably powerful verse before.

1 Corinthians 10:31 KJV 1900

31 Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.‌

Even the most mundane things in life are Kingdom of heaven advancing actions when you take the time to recognize the spiritual element already inherent in the most secular of tasks.‌

And these verses are just building on the foundation Proverbs 3:6 set.

Proverbs 3:6 KJV 1900

6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, And he shall direct thy paths.‌

Acknowledge doesn’t just meant to notice. That’s how we’d use the word today. If I’m walking by and I acknowledge you, it means I noticed you were there. But this means even more than that. It means to know personally on an experiential level. Sure you know God in church, but do you know Him in all your ways? Do you see Him in the little things each day? He’s given you so many beautiful little gifts if you’ll take the time to notice them.‌

That is the core of being thankful. That is how you realize that what you have does not come from you and then act accordingly. But unfortunately, the overarching story of humanity has been one of unthankfulness. If being thankful is simply taking the time to personally know how God is in your everyday life and then acting on that truth, unthankfulness is thinking that what you have is of your own doing. It’s choosing your own path over God’s. God never makes you follow His path. He sets it before you and gives you the spoiler alert that it’ll be the best way for you in the end, but He gives the choice to try your own way too if you want. And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing since the Garden. The first man and woman were not thankful for God’s gracious gifts. They did not participate in the party He planned for them. They decided to poo-poo His party, thinking they could come up with a better one. That’s what unthankfulness is. It’s not recognizing the hand of God and others in what you have. It’s not accepting what you’ve been given. It’s trying your own way. And it doesn’t end well.‌

The rest of the story of the Bible presents a tale of two kingdoms. There’s a kingdom of thankfulness that takes time to know God in even the small things of life and the kingdom of unthankfulness that goes its own way, not being able to care less about what God has given.

‌Cain was not willing to participate in God’s party either. He tried his own terms. Humanity as a whole followed his path, and it got us to the Flood. Then it got us again to the Tower of Babylon. Then after the Tower of Babylon, God picked a thankful person named Abram. Even in a pagan land, Abram realized that Yahweh was the source of the goodness around him, and he used that goodness to bless others.

‌In Genesis 13, Abram had experienced so much of the goodness of the world that he and his nephew Lot had too much stuff between them to stay in the same place. And Abram does something incredible. Look at verse 7.

Genesis 13:7–12 KJV 1900

7 And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdmen of Lot’s cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land. 8 And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be brethren. 9 Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left. 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. 11 Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other. 12 Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.

‌Did you catch what Abram did there? He did what very few of us would have ever done. He gave Lot the choice to take the best for himself. Most of us want the best for ourselves. We go for the biggest piece of cake at the party or at least the one with the most icing. We pull out the ruler and measure which glass got more orange juice in it. Those of you who grew up with siblings know exactly what I’m talking about. But Abram didn’t care about getting the biggest slice of cake at God’s party. He knew that even if Lot took the bigger piece, there’d be another piece for him. He could rest knowing that in God’s economy, all God’s children have enough. There are no supply shortages in heaven. There are no empty shelves in God’s grocery store. Abram knew that he didn’t have to scrounge around for the best he could find because God would provide what is truly best.

‌And all across Scripture, there are stories of people who took that same attitude. I think of the widow of Zarephath in 1 Kings 17. She had absolutely nothing. She was just about to use what was literally the last of the food in her pantry to feed her and her son, and she had no money in the bank to buy more. But when the man of God in Elijah came by, she was willing to give to him. And what happened to her? Verse 16 of 1 Kings 17.

1 Kings 17:16 KJV 1900

16 And the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Elijah.‌

She was miraculously taken care of in a way that never would have happened had she been stingy with the resources God had given her. You know what I’ve noticed in reading Scripture? God doesn’t work miracles for stingy people. It’s so ironic. The people who hoard His resources like there’s no tomorrow are the people who usually die the poorest and most miserable of everybody. God doesn’t bless a penny-pincher. I have yet to find a story in Scripture or in life where God blessed a penny-pincher.

‌That being said, it is good to save money. It is good to be frugal and smart. It’s good to be prepared for a rainy day or a worst case scenario. And it’s not wise to spend all the money you have. But what’s your heart in it? I know too many Christians who are like doomsday preppers. Can I tell you, that’s not Biblical. Hoarding wealth and resources is never what God intended. Filling up your shopping cart with more toilet paper and masks and hand sanitizer than you could ever use is not pleasing God. ‌

God doesn’t work miracles for stingy people. You know why? Because hoarding resources implies that you don’t need God. You’re relying on your investments or your pantry or whatever it is rather than on the goodness of God. There’s a reason that in Exodus 16, God provided the manna on a daily basis and didn’t allow the Jews to hoard it. There’s a reason that in Matthew 6:11, Jesus taught His followers to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Now, I’m not saying you can’t go to the store and shop for a week or a month all at once. I’m just saying, consider your heart behind your actions. God doesn’t bless hoarders. He blesses givers.

‌And He Himself set that example. You will never find God being stingy in the Scriptures or in life for that matter. What you will find over and over again are verses like Malachi 3:10

Malachi 3:10 KJV 1900

10 Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be meat in mine house, And prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, If I will not open you the windows of heaven, And pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.‌

God is so generous! A blessing that you won’t even have room enough to store. Wow! I want that! But notice that it’s conditional. We first have to bring all the tithes into the storehouse. Today we think about tithes as being when some old preacher in a suit and tie guilts you into giving 10% of your income to the church. And while I’m all for encouraging people to give money to church, I hate to say it, but we often take those passages out of context. If you read through the Law, there were multiple different tithes the people were expected to give. When you add it all up, it was a lot more than 10%. And the amusing thing is the passages aren’t even talking about money. They’re talking about resources. The people tithed on their animals and their crops and their food. The tithes of these resources were for two purposes—to pay for the needs of the temple and to take care of the poor. That’s what giving to a church is supposed to do. It takes care of the needs of the church and the needs of the community. That’s what I love so much about the Thanksgiving totes we’ll be giving out this week. The church is meeting the needs of the community. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing, people. You know what I want to see for Open Bible? I want to see a day where there is no need for charity organizations to operate in Gloucester County because Open Bible has taken care of the community that well. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. If the church truly did its job, the Salvation Army wouldn’t need to exist. St. Jude’s wouldn’t need to exist. Goodwill and UNICEF and the Red Cross and Toys for Tots and all those organizations—they’re all doing what the church should be doing. I’m not saying that those organizations are bad, and I’m not saying whether we should or shouldn’t support them. What I am saying is that we as people and as a church need to wake up to the reality that God has given to us abundantly and that the only way to truly be thankful for what He has given is to share it with others. ‌

God displayed that to us by giving the ultimate gift in His Son to die on a cross for our sins. But hallelujah that He didn’t stay that way. He rose again and filled us with the same powerful Holy Spirit that rose Him from the grave. And so Paul gets to say in 2 Corinthians 9:11,

2 Corinthians 9:11 KJV 1900

11 Being enriched in every thing to all bountifulness, which causeth through us thanksgiving to God.

The power of this verse blows me away. The fact that God has richly provided for us should then propel us to use those resources in such a way that our friends, families, coworkers, and communities are pointed to God. Can I reword that? God has made us all billionaires in the currency of His grace and goodness to us, and He did that in order that nothing would hinder us from giving to others. Because when we give to others, people begin to realize that what they have comes from Someone else as they get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.‌


Exactly 400 years ago in 1621, a ragged group of weathered men and women gathered in Plymouth, Massachusetts and set aside a day to celebrate the goodness of God. They didn’t minimize the struggles they had. They didn’t forget about all the good people they had lost along the way. But they chose to find and focus on the good that the Lord had provided. And when they did, they found that they had a lot to be thankful for.

‌That day and many similar ones from around that time led to the modern tradition of Thanksgiving which we celebrate this week. But capital T Thanksgiving is just one out of 365 days in a year. What happens for the rest of the 364? You know, Thanksgiving doesn’t have to stop when the turkey’s gone. Oh, I know it’s been a hard year for many of us. We’re still dealing with Covid. We’ve had a lot of deaths in the church family this year. It’s been a tough year. Thankfulness doesn’t require us to pretend like that stuff didn’t happen. Thankfulness meets the hardship head on and says, “Yes, I know that happened, but God is still good, and He will still provide.” God has provided richly above and beyond what we could ever ask or think. So what are you going to do about it? Will you accept His generosity and use it to glorify Him and benefit others, or will you selfishly hoard it for your own gain? The choice is yours.

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