The holidays are a hectic time — family, friends, food, activities, and out-of-town guests. It can be a lot to juggle. And it can be even harder to slow down to consider what you’re thankful for and how to express gratitude to God. But this time of year offers some tailor-made opportunities to consider how God has blessed your life. Whether you’re praying with family and friends for a holiday gathering or journaling about giving thanks, scripture offers ways to focus your thoughts and prayers.
Thankfulness and gratitude
Before we examine God’s Word, did you know that expressing thanks and gratitude are two different things? While we often use the words interchangeably, they do have different meanings. And you can also use these meanings to help guide your prayers.
An easy way to think about the difference is that being thankful is an automatic response to something that is done for you. For example, you might be thankful for someone buying your lunch, holding open a door, or doing some other act of kindness. Conversely, gratitude relates to something that has happened or a series of events that have made a difference in your life. You may be grateful for how a mentor has poured wisdom into you or a spouse or significant other stepped in to help during a difficult season of life.
You may be thankful for a job promotion and grateful for the series of events throughout your life that led you to the moment that you were capable of receiving the promotion. Similarly, you may be thankful that a spouse or significant other put in the effort to make a home-cooked meal or clean the house, and you may be grateful for all the steps that it took for that person to be in your life.
Let’s consider God in this framework. You might be thankful for what Christ did for you on the cross and grateful for the design of God’s loving plan to provide a way for your sins to be paid for and the hope of eternity. In the same way, you can give thanks to God for something he has done, and be grateful for how he has worked to put you in a position for that thing to occur.
You can use this idea as a guide when reflecting on these five scriptures.
The creator of everything: Psalm 95:1-5 (NIV)
“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.”
In these verses, the Psalmist illustrates how we can tangibly show the joy we have in God—singing, shouting, thanksgiving, and music. And why do we have this joy and thanksgiving? It’s because of the recognition of the greatness of God. He made the depths of the sea, the height of the mountains, and everything in between.
Saved by grace: Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
What a gift! When thinking about being thankful, grace should be one of the first things we thank God for in our prayers. Because of this grace that saves us from the debt owed for our sins—death and separation from God (Romans 6:23), we are able to do the good things that God has planned for us. You can be grateful for the impact that grace and faith have on your life.
Inwardly renewed: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
It seems easier than ever to be overwhelmed by what we see happening in the world around us. News of horrific tragedies travels faster than ever. It seems that we know about every bad thing that happens, and it can begin to take a toll. However, these verses remind us that, while we may be fading from this life, there is another life that God is preparing us to step into after this one ends. There is hope of what’s to come—eternity with God. Though the world we can see may be crumbling due to everything from political turmoil to natural disasters, there is an unseen eternal world that will replace this one in the end (Revelation 21:1).
Let Christ dwell richly: Colossians 3:15-17 (NIV)
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
This set of verses is a guide for how to live. Allow peace to rule your life, and let the good news of Christ permeate every aspect of how you engage with others. Use these words to help focus your thoughts and prayers on how Christ can change the things you do and the way you live your day-to-day life. And everything you do should be done with Christ in mind, giving thanks to him who makes all things possible.
The gift of eternal life: John 3:16 (NIV)
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
It’s an often-cited scripture, which means it’s easy to overlook and understate its importance. But think about what this is saying. The one who made heaven and earth looked at his creation with such love that he allowed his son to come to earth to die for the sins of the world. For parents, you can consider the type of love and strength it must take to let a child leave you with the knowledge that they would be sacrificed to save others. After we start to understand that concept, God tells us of the promise—that death can be overcome by a belief in Jesus. We can be thankful for Jesus and grateful for the impact of his earthly life on our eternal one.
What do you have to be thankful for? How can you express your gratitude to God for the way that he is working in your life? As you consider these verses, keep the things you’re thankful and grateful for in mind. See how taking a thankful and grateful view on life changes the way you see God, the world, and the people around you.