In the 18th-century classic, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, William Law made the following statement:
“Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world? It is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms or is most eminent for temperance, chastity, or justice; but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God wills, who receives everything as an instance of God’s goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it. Could you therefore work miracles, you could not do more for yourself than by this thankful spirit, for it turns all that it touches into happiness.”
Law is definitely onto something there. Seeing the hand of God in our lives and responding to his will with thankfulness instead of resistance is a key that unlocks many of the other virtues he describes.
We’ve put together five thanksgiving sermons to help your church recognize and celebrate God’s gifts.
Thanksgiving Sermon #1: Nurturing a Thankful Heart
As is the case with most virtues, you do not magically become thankful. There are disciplines and habits you can cultivate that can reap a harvest of gratefulness in your life.
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”
–1 Chronicles 16:34
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
- Every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). When we begin to recognize and embrace this truth, it helps facilitate a greater relationship with Him.
- There are disciplines and habits we can develop that help us create hearts that are thankful:
- Giving thanks requires practice. We need to regularly give thanks for the good things in our lives. We need thankfulness and not criticism to be our default position. When you see something good in your life, point it out. Thank God for it. We all complain occasionally, but practice responding to your own complaining by finding things to be thankful for. This helps to rewire your brain to be as proficient at recognizing the good in your life as you are at identifying the bad.
- Give thanks in all circumstances. Paul tells the Thessalonians to give thanks in all circumstances because it’s God’s will (1 Thess. 5:18). Why? We lack perspective about our lives. We don’t have the clarity to look at any situation and say with any certainty why it’s happening. What we do know is that God is in the middle of it, and He is working to bring good out of it. No matter what we are going through, we can give thanks that God is there. He is redeeming the situation and sustaining us through it. Left to our own devices, we focus on what’s going on around us. We transcend our experience when we’re able to lift our eyes above it and see God’s handiwork in the middle of it. A.W. Tozer says, “Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now.”
- Give thanks when things are going well. It might seem silly to give this advice, but it’s important. Our default position is to expect that things will and should go well for us. When life is running smoothly, it’s easy for us to forget that this is a gift from God. We don’t see the ways he protects and guides us along the way to green pastures and still waters.
- Recognize the good that has come from bad experiences. It’s good to spend some time reflecting on the difficulties you’ve already walked through. With enough distance, you can begin to recognize the good that came out of those experiences. Maybe it gave birth to a new blessing or it built your stamina and endurance. Either way, learning to see past trials through eternity’s perspective enables us to be more thankful during times of struggle.
- Understand the power of giving thanks. I have seen all sorts of people walk through all sorts of horrendous experiences. It always seems to be the case that those who are the most thankful and have learned to recognize God’s hand have the most fortitude and grit.
- Thanksgiving is a superpower. It enables us to see past our experiences and embrace the way that God is moving. Not only are thankful people able to draw strength from gratitude, but they’re also able to empower others with their perspective as well.
Thanksgiving Sermon #2: Thanking God for Who He Is
When we think about being thankful, we attach too much significance to our experience. But how things are going for us shouldn’t be the deciding factor in whether or not we’re thankful. Our thankfulness should first spring from our understanding of who God has revealed himself to be.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
“At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
- The background of the book of Habakkuk is dark. Josiah—a just king who instituted many reforms—has been killed, and the nation of Israel has slid back into evil and apostasy. The prophet Habakkuk struggles with God’s silence and His unwillingness to judge Israel.
- In Habakkuk’s third chapter, he prays for God to revive His work in Israel. Toward the end of the of the prayer (v. 17-18), Habakkuk recognizes the potential hardships that will come with God’s judgment. In spite of those difficulties, he communicates his resolve to take joy in God’s salvation. We tend to judge everything from our own limited perspective. If we don’t have what we feel we deserve, or just really want, we don’t see a reason to be thankful. From Habakkuk’s perspective, we should be thankful despite the fact that we might not have what we want—or need. Sometimes our needs, wants, or desires take a backseat to what God may be doing in a particular situation. We can learn from Habakkuk to rejoice at those times.
- Our ultimate source of thanksgiving should come from what God has revealed about himself in the Word and in the person of Jesus Christ:
- His love
“God bestows His blessings without discrimination. The followers of Jesus are children of God, and they should manifest the family likeness by doing good to all, even to those who deserve the opposite.”
- His patience
“Quite honestly, most people are quick to “write someone off.” But our God is a God of the second chance. Learn from One who is patient with you, and you’ll learn to be patient with others.”
- His salvation
“Since no man is excluded from calling upon God the gate of salvation is open to all. There is nothing else to hinder us from entering, but our own unbelief.”
- His sovereignty
“Guidance, like all God’s acts of blessing under the covenant of grace, is a sovereign act. Not merely does God will to guide us in the sense of showing us his way, that we may tread it; he wills also to guide us in the more fundamental sense of ensuring that, whatever happens, whatever mistakes we may make, we shall come safely home. Slippings and strayings there will be, no doubt, but the everlasting arms are beneath us; we shall be caught, rescued, restored. This is God’s promise; this is how good he is.”
- His wisdom
“Since God is infinite and wise, He must be infinitely wise: This is called omnisapience. So as applied to God, wisdom refers to His unerring ability to choose the best means to accomplish the best ends. As such, God wisdom is written in several other attributes: His omniscience provides the knowledge for His wise choices; His omnibenevolence assures that they will be good choices; and His omnipotence enables Him to achieve His ends by the means He chooses.”
–Dr. Norman Geisler
- His mercy
“God’s mercy is so great that you may sooner drain the sea of its water, or deprive the sun of its light, or make space too narrow, than diminish the great mercy of God.”
“Everything about God is great, vast, incomparable. He never forgets, never fails, never falters, never forfeits His word.”
–Arthur W. Pink
- His love
- As the author of Hebrews reminds us, we are receiving an unshakable kingdom (Heb. 12:26–29). Why is this coming kingdom so firm? Because the Author and Finisher of this kingdom is Himself unshakable. This means we can look past our immediate situation towards a kingdom that we’re inheriting—one we can trust is steadfast and trustworthy. This should cause thanksgiving to constantly well up within us.
Thanksgiving Sermon #3: How to be Unthankful
None of us is as thankful as he should be. We seem to look for the worst in the everything and complaining seems to be our default position. This message takes a tongue-in-cheek look at being thankful by jokingly pointing out the things we do that make us ungrateful.
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”
- Being thankful is difficult. Even though the Bible suggests that we should do all things without complaining, maybe that’s because we haven’t perfected our complaining yet. I bet if Paul saw how productive we could be in our grumbling, he’d change his mind. Here are some things you can do to be a better complainer.
- Keep a journal. Record the things that bother you. We all have pet peeves. It’s easier to keep track of them if they’re documented. In a journal, record three or four things that make you mad daily. They can be as insignificant as you want:
- Spend time every day reflecting on the things that people do that bother you.
- If you find that you’re actually content, it can be helpful to go back to your journal and remind yourself of all you have to be frustrated about.
- Think about the words you use. People who are typically thankful have the same kinds of lives as you and me. The difference is they’re not realists like we are: They haven’t put in enough time practicing to be frustrated and irritable about the things that are happening around them. Language matters so be mindful of the adjectives you use. The more strongly you label things, the better you’re going to be able to cultivate a grumbling spirit. Use adjectives like:
- Get distracted. When people are thankful, it’s typically because they lack the ability to remember the bad stuff that’s happened in the past or worry adequately about the things that might happen in the future. To be a top-level complainer, you need to be good at both. Always, always, always multitask. Why just sit and enjoy a meal when you can check your phone or watch TV? If you give yourself too much time to focus on the good stuff happening around you all the time, you’ll miss out on the potential threats on the horizon or bad stuff you’ve already experienced.
- Focus on your prayer time. Prayer is a wonderful tool…for getting what you want. Don’t waste valuable time lauding God for his attributes. He knows what he does well. Focus on asking for the things you don’t have that you desperately want.
- Avoid focusing on your health. It’s amazing how thankfulness and health go hand in hand. The healthier people are, the more likely they’re going to be grateful, positive people. And then the more positive they are, the more likely it is that they’re going make healthy decisions. It’s a waste of time really.
- Get as little sleep as possible. Lack of sleep can create anxiety. Anxiety is like steroids for complainers.
- Exercise is poison. Did you know that exercise gives you endorphins? You don’t need these happy chemicals floating around in your body. They stop you from seeing the world as the horrible cesspool it really is—and you don’t need anything interfering with that.
- Obviously, we don’t need to do things to make us bigger complainers. Luckily, you can reverse all of the things in this message to become more thankful and become less of a Negative Nelly.
Thanksgiving Sermon #4: Overcoming Dark Days
Disappointment is inevitable. There is no way to live without expectations, and there is no way that our expectations will always be met. This means that we’ll need to learn how to overcome disillusionment and the most difficult of days. But God has given us weapons against discouragement!
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
- God tells us that we need to walk wisely through life. As Paul reminds us in Ephesians, we need to make the best use of our time because the days are evil. There’s a kind of double meaning in this observation. The first is that the days are evil in the way that they fool us into thinking we have more time and opportunities than we do. The second is that the days introduce evils into our lives—so we’ll have to walk wisely to avoid being hobbled by them.
- In this brief passage, Paul tells the Ephesians what they need to do in order to walk wisely:
- Be filled with the Spirit—and not drunk on wine. Ever since we learned to ferment fruit to create alcohol, we’ve been enamored with its ability to shield us from life’s painful realities. But Paul doesn’t just tell us to avoid drunkenness; he instructs us to be filled with the Spirit. You can substitute many things for wine in this verse, and the instruction is the same. Don’t ignore the difficulties in life by burying yourself in wine, drugs, sex, or mindless internet surfing. You may think you’re avoiding pain, but you’re just postponing it. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, and you’ll be equipped to deal with life’s difficulties instead of avoiding them.
- Address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. It’s important to recognize the power of Scripture, praise, and worship. The important part of this verse is the admonition to “address one another.” You aren’t simply focusing on psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs for yourself. Paul is talking to the church at Ephesus and he wants them to understand their responsibility to each other. They’re to be reminding each other of God’s goodness through:
- Psalms: scriptures of praise
- Hymns: songs of praise to God written by the church
- Spiritual songs: impromptu responses of praise
- Singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. Not only are we responsible for encouraging each other with praise, but we are to keep a constant worship service happening in our own hearts. Music lifts and transforms us. If we can keep a song of praise on our tongue, the devil can’t have a foothold.
- Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul reminds the Ephesians to give thanks. How often? Always. For what? Everything. Our ability to respond to the Lord in thankfulness empowers us to see the world and our experiences differently.
- Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Lastly, who would have thought that mutual submission was a way that we can learn to walk wisely? The truth is that we can’t always see the truth of our experience. We need the wisdom of Spirit-filled believers who want the best for us. We need to be willing to listen and submit to their guidance—and they need to learn to do the same for us.
Thanksgiving Sermon #5: The Link Between Generosity and Gratitude
God desires to enrich us not only so that we can meet our own needs, but also the needs of others. When we give freely in Jesus’s name, the thankfulness of the recipients is given to God—and not to us.
“He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”
–2 Corinthians 9:10–15
- It’s not just receiving a gift that can make us thankful. Giving also instills gratitude in the giver. That gratitude gets translated into more generosity. It’s cyclical and addictive.
- When we look at our material possessions as the fruit of our labors, we become tight-fisted and stingy. When we see that our ability to make money is a gift, it isn’t difficult to see that our possessions have been entrusted to us as well. One of the keys to thankfulness and generosity is seeing that everything belongs to God:”I read a story of a woman who had finished her shopping and returned to her car to find four men inside it. She dropped her shopping bags, drew a handgun from her purse, and with a forceful voice said, “I have a gun, and I know how to use it! Get out of the car!” Those men did not wait for a second invitation. They got out and ran like crazy!The woman, understandably shaken, quickly loaded her shopping bags and got into the car. She just wanted to get out of there as fast as she could. But no matter how she tried, she could not get her key into the ignition.Then it hit her: This isn’t my car! She looked, and indeed her car was parked four or five spaces away. She got out, looked around to see if the men were near, loaded the bags into her own car, and drove to the police station to turn herself in.The desk sergeant, after hearing her story, nearly fell out of his chair laughing. He pointed to the other end of the counter, where four men were reporting a carjacking by a woman with glasses and curly white hair, less than five feet tall, and carrying a large handgun. No charges were filed.”
–Greg Laurie, A Time to Worship.
- Mark tells us the story of a rich young ruler who comes to Jesus for eternal life. Jesus instructs him to sell all he has and give it to the poor. The man walks away disheartened because he had so many possessions (Mark 10:17–22).
- Sometimes our grip on our possessions is blocking the movement of the Spirit in our lives. We don’t really understand the gift of joyful generosity and the thankfulness that comes with seeing how the gifts we’ve received can bless others.
- Consumerism encourages us to acquire more and more for our happiness. Jesus calls us to be counter-cultural and give more away. What we don’t see is that when we trust him in this, he blesses us. We’re not called to suffer through giving to others; it’s just that we won’t see the blessing in it until we learn to be obedient.
- When you think about the most generous and thankful people you know, they’re not likely to be the richest people you know. It is entirely possible to give generously with limited means.
- When it comes to generosity, Paul has a particular lexicon. The words that he associates with giving generously are words like:
- Surpassing grace
- When we abound in our generosity the natural response is obviously thankfulness. But we only learn this truth when we actually practice generosity.
- When it comes to generosity, Paul has a particular lexicon. The words that he associates with giving generously are words like:
- God is increasingly generous to us. This is evident in creation and in the blessings he gives to friends and foe alike. It’s not available to us because we deserve it. It’s because it is in his nature to lavish goodness upon us. When we take a moment to really reflect on God’s goodness to us, it only makes sense that we would respond with our own generosity out of the depth of our gratefulness.
There you have it. Use these sermon outlines as a launchpad for teaching your church about thankfulness.
If you’re looking for more tools for cultivating a spirit of generosity in the church, download a FREE copy of Start with Generosity: 29 Stories to Help Cultivate a More Generous Church. In this book, 29 Christian authors share practical ways to cultivate generosity in your congregation. Download yours now!