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Thanksgiving: A Lesson from Our Grandparents

I love grandparents. They are full of wisdom and weird stories of a time when life– for better or worse– was different. We could certainly learn a lot from them about how they were thankful in hard times, but that’s not what I have in view here. Rather, it is how our grandparents always, without fail, with great joy and rapture, talk about their grandkids.

What does this have to do with thanksgiving? Simply put, it is this: our grandparents’ exuberance to talk of and praise their grandchildren exposes our poor, inconsistent habits of thanksgiving to God. Thanksgiving Day is a great time to reflect on all that we are thankful for. But when compared to our grandparents’ daily– sometimes hourly– talk of their grandchildren, it reveals just how far short we fall in our lifestyle of thanksgiving.    

So let us look to our grandparents to learn how we can abound in thanksgiving, not just for another person in our lives, but for the Person who is our life. 

How to Spot a Grandparent  

You can always spot a grandparent, even if they are a stranger. It’s not because they are wearing a “World’s Greatest Grandpa/Grandma” shirt (although they might be), but because they will somehow, no matter the conversation, always begin to talk to you about their grandkids. You don’t even have to ask them. I almost think there is a questionnaire which grandparents fill out daily asking them 1) Did you talk to a stranger? and 2) Did you tell them about your grandkids? And if they answer “No” to the second question too many times, then they will lose some of their grandparent points (Don’t worry, they can earn them back if they show the next stranger their grandkids’ pictures). 

And their speech is not forced, but it flows out of the abundance of their heart. I guarantee you that grandparents don’t go into a conversation and think, “You know, I should tell these strangers about little Jimmy. Let’s see if I can work him into the conversation somehow.” Whether the topic is baseball, Broadway, or Backgammon, little Jimmy will find his way in.

Cherishing someone leads to constant mediation on them, and constant meditation overflows into speech.

As a side note, we could all learn a lesson about vocalizing our affection for Christ from this. Their eagerness to talk about little Jimmy puts our boldness for Christ to shame. But, as true as that is for our evangelism, the question as it relates to thanksgiving is why do they talk about little Jimmy? Quite simply, it is because little Jimmy is always on their minds, and they think he’s great. They think about him in all of his toddler glory, and they just can’t wait for an opportunity for someone else to share in it.

Our grandparents talk about little Jimmy because He is precious to them, and they cherish him. And cherishing someone leads to constant mediation on them, and constant meditation overflows into speech.

The Lesson from Our Grandparents

As Christians, we recognize that our speech often does not overflow with praise and adoration to Christ in the same way a grandparents’ does about their grandkids. Yet, when we seek to address this in our lives, our tendency is to address it at the speech level. We focus on the imperatives (actions we should do) rather than the motivations (truths or foundations of why we do what we do). We rightly recognize the need to change, but we come at it from the wrong angle. At best it will lead to half-hearted obedience, and at worst it will lead to frustration or ceasing to try.

Thinking about our grandparents, we remember they do not have to tell themselves to talk about their grandkids. Their speech flows from constant meditation, which flows from the presence in their minds of a precious object of affection. As Christians seeking to praise God, we must get at the heart of the issue. We must focus on the object of affection. To have lives abounding in thanksgiving and praise to God, we must make it the singular focus of our lives to behold in greater and greater measure the beauty and glory of Christ Jesus.

To have lives abounding in thanksgiving and praise to God, we must make it the singular focus of our lives to behold in greater and greater measure the beauty and glory of Christ Jesus.

As we behold the glory of Christ in His person, His work of redemption on the cross, and the application of salvation to our lives, abundant thanksgiving will flow. Christ is the ultimate object of affection and displays the fullness of God (Colossians 2:9). He is the wisdom, power, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption of God (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30). He is the perfection of beauty and the object of our heart’s desire (Psalm 27:4). And God, through His Spirit, makes the glory of Christ visible to us through the eyes of faith (Ephesians 1:15–19). More than this, His Spirit dwells within us, and we can grow in our comprehension and experience of Christ’s love (Romans 8:9–11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Eph. 3:14–19). Therefore, not only is Christ always before us, but we can cultivate a greater understanding of who He is.

The material gifts of this life are from God, and we should give thanks for them because they are tangible manifestations of His care. But we must never let them become our supreme objects of thanksgiving. Their goodness ebbs and flows in our sight. The material gifts of God are not strong enough to arrest our affections, and focusing on them alone will not lead to a life of abundant praise.

However, because Christ is our greatest object of desire, a clearer understanding of His glory will capture our minds and cause us to mediate on Him. As we mediate on Him, thanksgiving will flow throughout our lives. This is the key to a grandparent-like propensity to praise. A heart saturated with the glory of Christ overflows into a life saturated with adoration to Him.

Encouragement and Exhortation

With these things being true, if your life lacks consistent thanksgiving to God, it is for one of two reasons.

First, it may mean that you are not a Christian. You may have grown up in church and know a lot of facts about the Bible or about God, yet you do not know God. You may serve consistently in your church, but you are not part of the body of Christ. On the day of judgment, God will not test your biblical knowledge or ask what have done for Him. In John 6:40, Jesus says, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” What matters at the judgment is whether you have seen Jesus Christ with the eyes of faith and trusted in Him and His work on the cross for salvation. He is the Light of the world, and whoever follows Him will have the Light of life (John 8:12). Pray that God will open your eyes to your sin and to the glorious Savior, Jesus Christ. He has accomplished all that is necessary for Salvation, and He calls you to trust in Him! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the foundation of life and the fountain from which all thanksgiving flows. May this Thanksgiving Day abound in thanksgiving for your new life in Christ!

Second, if you have put your trust in Christ, your thanksgiving may be stifled because your heart is cluttered with many other things. In speaking of the glory of Christ, Puritan John Owen has said, “It is sad, therefore, that many can find time to think much on earthly, foolish things, but have no heart, no desire to meditate on this glorious object.”1 May this never be said of us! Is there anything or anyone more worthy of study and meditation than Christ? We never outgrow the Gospel, and we should never stop thinking of it. Think of what He has done for you and how He intercedes for you now. Think of how, even knowing so much of Him, you continue to spurn and spite His grace. But think of how, even knowing all of you, God’s love for you is unmoved, for your acceptance to Him is founded in the righteousness of His Son. As you dwell on Christ, the cares and distractions of life will melt away in the light of His glory.  

Do you desire to have a heart abounding in praise and thanksgiving to God? You must keep Christ always in front of your eyes. Learn of His perfections. Read of His beauty. Pray that the Spirit will reveal to you new features and depths of His love. May we spend the rest of our lives coming to a greater understanding of Him. May we spend our days meditating on Him. And may our lives overflow with praise and thanksgiving to His marvelous name. 

1John Owen. The Glory of Christ. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2021 (Reprint from 1684), 33.

Mike Engelsgjerd recently separated from the U.S. Army after 15 years of service. Towards the end of his service, Mike began to feel God’s call to full time Christian ministry. In following this call, He is pursuing an M.Div. at TMS with the goal of becoming a Chaplain in the U.S. Military and a Pastor.

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