One of the best-known dialects of words of affirmation is thanksgiving. Among my favorite psalms is Psalm 100, perhaps because I memorized it as a child. David wrote, “Enter [the Lord’s] gates with thanksgiving” (verse 4).
Yet, even in this area, we tend to limit ourselves to the same specific expressions of thanks over and over again. “Thank You for my spouse and children. Thank You for our food. Thank You for life and health.” When repeated often enough, such expressions may become simply routine and may even be spoken without conscious thought.
Several years ago I was challenged to think more creatively about expressions of thanksgiving to God. Emily was attending a conference where I was speaking. I don’t remember how the subject of thanksgiving worked its way into the conversation, but I do remember what she said. “Do you know how so much of our praying involves asking God for things? Well, I decided this week that I was not going to ask God for anything, but instead to thank Him for the things He had already given me. I looked around my house and realized that it was filled with things that made my life easier or brought back memories. So I determined to thank God for each of them.”
Then Emily described how she did that. “I lay on my bed and thanked Him for it. I thanked Him for my iPhone that connects me to the world. I touched the shade of the lamp on the nightstand and thanked Him for giving Thomas Edison such a great idea and for letting me have a light to read at night.
“I walked to the window, touched the blinds, and thanked Him that, with a pull of one string, I could have privacy.
“I walked to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and thanked Him that I had hot and cold running water. I thanked Him that I did not have to walk a path to an outhouse like the one I had seen on my Uncle George’s farm when I was a kid. I thanked Him for the rugs that kept my feet from touching the cold tile floor.
“Later I sat in my chair in the den and thanked Him—not only for that chair but for all the chairs in my house. I walked through the room, touching every object. I touched the picture of my grandmother and thanked God for the reminder that I have a godly heritage. I touched the clock given to me by my grandfather just before he died and thanked God for his memory. I touched the two candles and thanked Him for a backup the next time a thunderstorm knocked out the electricity. I touched the computer and thanked Him for a tool that enables me to do work from home, and I touched the books on my desk and thanked Him for the many people who have enriched my life by their writings.
“For one hour,” she said, “I walked through my house thanking God for the things He had given me. I still have four more rooms to go. I am going to have another hour of thanksgiving next week.”
I have never forgotten my conversation with Emily. She enriched my life forever. Since then, I have established my own thanksgiving hours, touching most of the objects in my own house and verbalizing thanksgiving to God.
Of course, thanking God for material objects is but one small arena of thanksgiving. Another meaningful option is thanking God for the people He has brought into your life.
“You will be astounded at the number of people for whom you can give thanks.”
Try it sometime. You will be astounded at the number of people for whom you can give thanks. Start with your immediate family and move on to your extended family. (You may find yourself wanting to say about certain family members, “Thank You for this person, but I wish You had made him [or her] with a little more kindness.” Don’t yield to this temptation. Think of something good that the person has done or said and give God thanks.)
When you have acknowledged your extended family, think about the persons who taught you in school and in church. Think about the people you know who have done kind deeds through the years, friends at work who continue to influence your life in a positive way, the firefighters and police officers who protect your city, the medical professionals who have cared for you and your family. And be sure not to forget the people who have influenced your spiritual development through the years.
At another opportunity, spend time in thanksgiving for the natural world around you: grass and trees, flowers and butterflies, fleecy clouds and the winds that move them, raindrops on roses and sunshine on daisies, mountains and plains, beaches and rivers. When you relax with your dog, thank God for your faithful friend.
Pull out the encyclopedia and do a little research on the human body. Thank God for your thyroid gland, sternum, stomach, and liver. Examine the various parts of the human brain, and thank God that those parts are functioning and that the whole thing is connected to your spinal cord. Observe the circulatory system and the cooperation between the skeletal and muscular systems. The human body will provide many hours of thanksgiving.
As you become more creative and reflective, you will “enter [God’s] gates with thanksgiving.” But thanksgiving is only one of the dialects of words of affirmation.
by Gary Chapman
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