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Unlikely Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching and is a week from today. It is always a season that I enjoy, with fall being my favorite time of year. It is highly anticipated as we look forward to being with family and celebrating the faithfulness of God. Our worship program is in charge of the annual Cedarville University Thanksgiving chapel, so the preparation for that also extends the Thanksgiving season, beginning as early as September. As a result, Thanksgiving is on my “radar” for many reasons throughout the entire fall.

Reading through Philippians, I came across thanksgiving in an unlikely context. In Phil. 4:6, Paul is encouraging the believers to not be anxious but to pray in every situation “with thanksgiving.” When you think about the context, it would seem clear that the recipients of the letter have some reason to be anxious. Perhaps the source of stress is something going on in the church, or perhaps just some cumulative stress from life itself. Thanksgiving sounds like an unlikely response to stress.

Usually when reading this verse, the focus is on prayer or not being anxious, which are central themes of the verse. But could it be that the little prepositional phrase “with thanksgiving” is also key to not being anxious? Could having a sense of gratitude actually reduce our anxiety? I believe that the answer is “yes.” When we acknowledge that God is the source of all good and perfect gifts, we have to be thankful. By being thankful, it changes our perspective to realize that God is in control. If Paul could be thankful and content in a Roman prision, surely we can be thankful in the circumstances that we find ourselves in.

Even secular psychologists acknowledge that giving thanks can reduce stress. In his blog post on the Psychology Today website “The Grateful Brain: The Neuroscience of Giving Thanks”, Alex Korb cities four studies which support the notion that being grateful supports health and happiness. One study “found that higher levels of gratitude were associated with better sleep, and with lower anxiety and depression.” God made us as people who have innate desire to worship, and to give thanks to Him. Psalm 92:1 says “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High.”

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. Have a great Thanksgiving!

4 comments to Unlikely Thanksgiving

  • Mackensie Prosser

    As important Thanksgiving is, I do find myself only being truly vocal about my thankfulness around this time of year which is really sad when I say it out loud. The rest of the year is filled with stress, anxiety, worry, packed schedules, and all around hectnic-ness (not sure if that’s a word but it is now). It’s hard to be thankful in the midst of all of that negative energy. We also had been looking at Philippians 4:4-9 in my Bible & the Gospel class earlier in the semester and in studying that we talked about Paul’s contentness while he was in prison and he stressed the importance of giving praise and thanks to God at all times. He says to not worry or to be anxious of anything, but to be steadfast in prayer which will then bring the pace of God to you. So yeah, I do think that recognizing our own thankfulness will help to alleviate our own worries or anxieties because of these verses and because I know that in all things, God is in control. 🙂

  • Mary Williams

    Dr. O, I love that you touched on the topic of anxiety, which is one of the latest buzzwords of the day. We live in a culture that is no longer just plain “stressed,” we are diagnosed with “anxiety.” (My intent is not to minimize the struggles of those who genuinely struggle with anxiety, but merely point out the popularization of the term)

    Along with this, many unchurched people are desperately searching for a cure from anxiety and other mental illnesses. Recently I listened to a recording of live spontaneous worship from Bethel church, and Steffany Gretzinger started an alternative bridge where she sang, “God heals our anxiety.” No doubt this appeals to many people searching for healing from mental illnesses.

    I would ask the question: Is this a golden opportunity for us Christians to jump on the mental health bandwagon and show others that thanksgiving to Christ can help with anxiety? Do you see this as a positive way to witness, or does it have any negative effects on how non-Christians might view/experience Christianity?

    I think of it in the same way as healing from a physical ailment; we Christians need to make sure that we are not proclaiming promises of mental healing when God in his omniscience might have a different plan for individuals with mental illnesses. Thoughts on this?

    • Roger O'Neel

      I think God is the great healer, and can heal anxiety and mental illness of every type. I think that there is an opportunity for us to show our thankfulness to God to the world, and I think it is ok if we understand by being thankful that can actually help us with a proper attitude and perspective about life, and that by being joyful and positive people, we can have a platform to share the source of our joy, Jesus.

      I do agree with you, that proclaiming promises of physical or mental healing is a concern. God chooses to heal sometimes, and not other times. Thanksgiving is neither an immediate antidote for all forms of anxiety, nor mental illness.

  • Elijah Engle

    I will admit that I tend to be a self-centered person, often being ungrateful for the things that God has blessed me with. Instead of praying in every situation with thanksgiving, I may focus on what I don’t have and how crazy my life and schedule seem to be. It is even kind of sad that I can sometimes find myself competing with other friends and students about who is the most stressed out, and who has the most stress on their plate. At first, it doesn’t really seem like a big deal. It’s more like we complain about these things to relieve some of that stress, but when you really think about it, this little “contest” almost promotes having a bad attitude instead of being filled with gratitude. Here’s an example of something I might say:

    “This week is especially stressful because it is my first semester exams, and I am still working on things for some of my classes. I need to get this work done because if I don’t, I may not pass my classes. And if I don’t pass my classes, I’ll have to retake them (which is a waste of money). And by not passing my classes, my GPA will get low. And if my GPA gets too low, it could lead to me losing scholarships. And if I lose my scholarships, I may not be able to continue studying at Cedarville. And if I am not able to continue studying at Cedarville, I will never get a degree. And if I never get a degree, I’ll have to work entry-level jobs for the rest of my life. And if I work entry-level jobs for the rest of my life, I’ll never make enough money to pay off my student loans. And if I never make enough money to pay off my student loans, I’ll be buried in debt for the rest of my life etc.” The list goes on and only gets worse and worse.

    Just by going back and reading all that, anyone can tell how much I have focused on myself. Not once did I mention praying in these stressful times, or being grateful for my education, the means to pay for it, or the support from my family and professors. Everyone gets stressed from time to time. Stress is a part of life, but I have put more stress on myself by focusing on the difficult things instead of the blessings. As the new year is coming soon, I’d like to challenge myself, starting now, by changing my outlook. I want to have an “attitude of gratitude” instead of a “multitude of disquietude”. (I just made that up… it kind of works?) Thanks for the article, Dr. O! And happy (belated) Thanksgiving! (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in advance!)