The Discipline of Thanksgiving
Why do people tend to focus on the negative? What perverseness or twist in our nature pulls our attention to words that tear down, belittle or emphasize failings in others or in ourselves? The recent U.S. Presidential election is a prime example. Despite each candidate’s promise to run a positive campaign, it was the negative campaigning that made the headlines and perhaps most influenced voters.
I have noticed this very tendency closer to home. I am quick to see the worst in myself and others. I may receive many positive comments about Jews for Jesus and my leadership, but just one negative comment and everything else seems to pale behind the shadow of criticism. Does that sound like you, too?
Or what about when problems loom so large that they seem to overshadow whatever good things are happening? There may be 300 things going well and three major problems to deal with, but those three problems grab my complete and undivided attention. After all, it’s my job to fix things. Can you relate?
Recently one of our missionaries was telling me about some problems, but before I could say anything she told me, David, I don’t want you to try to fix this; I just want you to listen.” I found it surprisingly difficult to sit quietly and not offer advice or solutions. It made me evaluate how we respond to problems in general.
In the last “Jews for Jesus Real Time,” I spoke about our ministry’s weaknesses and asked you to pray. Many of you wrote back to thank me for being open, and assured me of your love and prayers. That was a great encouragement to me. I started to thank God for the wonderful friends and supporters He has given to Jews for Jesus. The more I thanked Him, the less of a shadow the problems seemed to cast. Ever experienced that in your life?
So we come back to the question, why do people focus on the negative? Often people seek to elevate themselves by putting down others-we see this in personal as well as political sectors. But sometimes we focus on what is wrong because it seems a threat to our well-being and we often treat our own well-being as though it is the highest good. When we are more interested in God, in the good that He wants and the good that He daily gives, when we look at all that He has done and has promised to do, we approach things differently.
Thanksgiving provides a good opportunity to redirect our attention, but it requires effort. It takes *discipline* to resist the temptation of focusing on the negative. It takes thoughtful determination to instead, catalogue all the good things that God is and has done-all the things that deserve our heartfelt thanks. We even need to thank Him for things that may not be to our liking, knowing that He will somehow use them for good and His glory.
God’s Word tells us we should be, “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20) We need to be people characterized by thanksgiving. Notice how giving thanks is both a frequent and a far-reaching discipline: *always* and for *all things*.
“Always” means that gratitude for God is not only for special occasions like Thanksgiving Day. I don’t believe gratitude requires our mouths to be constantly moving, but it does require a reorientation of minds and hearts. Giving thanks for all things means that we don’t stop at the obvious blessings. Have you ever thanked God for someone’s criticism? Whether the people who criticize us mean well or not, they give us occasions to contemplate the need for positive changes in ourselves.
And what about the gift of suffering? Sounds crazy right? But Paul tells us, “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Philippians 1:29) We have all thanked God for the gift of belief but have we thanked Him for the gift of suffering? It comes from the same hand. Yes, that kind of giving thanks takes discipline. Often when I start out to thank God, I end up spending more time asking Him for things instead. My prayer of thanksgiving becomes a petition for the things I think I need. Have you noticed that tendency in yourself?
I don’t think the Lord wants us to hesitate to ask for what we need, but I do think He also appreciates our commitment to simply thank Him for what He has already given. This requires time and consideration. If we cultivate this commitment, this discipline, it will yield a harvest of positive fruit in our lives. The discipline of thanks-giving makes us more thoughtful, gives us a better perspective on our problems and helps us be more content-satisfied with what the Lord has given. If all we had in this world was the assurance of God’s love and presence in our lives, would that be enough?
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, but why wait? I will start my list of thanks to God right here and you can start yours, too.
Thank You for who You are, a gracious and merciful God full of love and forgiveness.
Thank You for providing for all my needs according to Your riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Thank You for the friends and family who love Jews for Jesus, stand with us, support us and pray for us.
Thank You for my wife and children and my other family members scattered far and wide.
Thank You for the Jews for Jesus staff all around the world.
Thank You for enemies who keep me alert and dependent on You.
Thank You for the privilege of serving and suffering for Your name’s sake.
Thank You for the blessing of living in a country where we are free to worship you openly and tell others about your saving grace….
Okay, now it’s your turn!
Executive Director, Missionary
David Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus. David oversees the world-wide ministry from its headquarters in San Francisco. David received his Master’s degree in Missiology with a concentration in Jewish Evangelism and Judaic Studies from the Fuller School of World Mission. He has authored several books, and has been interviewed on national television shows such as Larry King Live. David’s daughter, Ilana is a recent graduate of Biola. His son, Isaac is on the missionary staff of Jews for Jesus. Isaac and his wife, Shaina, have one daughter, Nora, which makes David part of the grandparent club, a membership he is very proud of. See more here.