We are in a season which, in the United States, has been devoted to gratitude and thanksgiving for nearly 400 years! While the Thanksgiving holiday has had a long and varied history within the United States, the practice of devoting sacrificial offerings, prayers, songs and psalms, and even entire days to thanksgiving within the Christian faith goes back to the Old Testament foundations of our faith.
Like many years in the history of our country, 2021 has been a hard year! When you look back at the year so far, is it hard to find things to be thankful for? We have lost loved ones, jobs, and opportunities. We have missed out on traditions and events long looked forward to, been separated from family members, and experienced stress and worry.
But hard times can lead Christians to feel deeply thankful and recognize the blessings of God's provision. Often, it's when things go desperately wrong and we feel our need for God's help that we feel the most thankful for His loving provision. 2021 is an opportunity we don't want to miss to share these lessons with our children and their children.
How can your family create a practice of gratitude in this season of Thanksgiving, and prepare your hearts for the season of Advent that is just around the corner?
Here are some ideas for devotional times, conversation starters, and activities your family can use to draw close to God and foster thanksgiving in your hearts:
1. Turn your mourning into thanksgiving: Psalm 30 is a psalm of thanksgiving. The last two verses say, "You changed my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness. So that my glory may praise you and not be silent. O Lord, my God, forever will I give you thanks." (Psalm 30:12-13 NABRE)
2. Hide God's Word in your hearts: Choose a verse about thankfulness or about God's faithfulness to memorize.
3. Learn about the Israelites' altars of remembrance: The Israelites built some altars for ceremonial sacrifices, but they also built a different type of altar: an altar of remembrance to remind themselves of important events that demonstrated God's faithfulness to them.
4. Learn some Greek words: Did you know that the word Eucharist, another word for Communion or The Lord's Supper, comes from the Greek word eucharisteo? In Greek, the word means "to give thanks." The prefix eu- means "good" or "well." The root word charis means "grace."
5. Make a prayer journal: Make or decorate a journal to use for a prayer journal. Keeping a record of what we have prayed for helps us to look back over our lives and remember how God answered our prayers and showed his faithfulness and love for us.
6. Say grace: The longstanding Christian tradition of praying before meals, or "saying grace," traces back to a Jewish tradition we see reflected throughout Scripture, such as in Deuteronomy 8, in Jesus' prayer when he fed the multitude in each of the Gospels, in Luke 24:13-35, and in the example of Paul in Acts 27.
7. Experience God through nature: Read Mathew 6:25-27. Then, take a walk or a hike and count the number of birds and animals you see. How does God provide for the animals He has created?
8. Tell your family's story: Sometimes it is easier to see God's faithfulness when we look back over past circumstances and can see how they worked out for our good, even if we might not have seen it at the time. How has God been faithful to your family?
9. Tell someone how thankful you are for them: Make or buy a card for someone you are thankful for! Tell them how they are a blessing to you and pray for God to bless them as well!
10. Thank God and praise Him: The difference between thanks and praise is usually that we thank God for what He does for us, and we praise God for who He is. God's people do both!
11. Find a way to share your blessings: Generosity both flows from and results in thanksgiving. When we are thankful for God's blessings, it often leads us to share what we have with others, which leads them to gratitude.
12. Celebrate what God has done: Over the course of this season, have each member of the family write down things they are thankful for, and put them in a jar. To make it extra fun, put the slips of paper in balloons, or a piñata! Sometime after Thanksgiving season, read the slips of paper out loud. Pray as a family to thank God for all of His blessings.
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