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Vigilant Thanksgiving

Thankfulness requires open eyes.

It has been said that “the power of gratitude is the ability to see the good.”[1] In short, we need to notice the good things all around us. Or as the Holy Spirit exhorts us in Colossians 4:2,

Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.

Essential to the practice of prayer is vigilance, when we pray with a keen watchfulness: strive to notice God’s goodness, and then be sure to thank Him for it.

Craig Barnes writes, “I doubt that there is such a thing as a measure of spirituality, but if there is, gratitude would be it. Only the grateful are paying attention. They are grateful because they pay attention, and they pay attention because they are so grateful.”[2] With eyes open for the gifts, we are better prepared to see the Giver.

Quite some time ago, my wife and I read The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha. In it, he helps people to see and appreciate the many small things in life. We should take joy in the ordinary but awesome things, like enjoying the smell of rain on a hot sidewalk, hitting several green lights in a row, or waking up and realizing that it’s Saturday.

In the apt words of the promotional material, “Pasricha reminds us that the best things in life really are free.” We enjoyed his book not only for how it made us smile and laugh, but also for how it encouraged in us a grateful awareness of the many details of our regular days, and attentiveness to the many free gifts of God toward his children.

This awareness should be an essential trait for believers! An attentive child of God will see no limit to His generosity. We will find much to fill a prayer of praise: “The person who has chosen to make gratitude his or her mind-set and lifestyle can view anything—anything!—through the eyes of thankfulness.”[3]

As Nouwen writes, “Every gift I acknowledge reveals another and another until, finally, even the most normal, obvious and seemingly mundane event or encounter proves to be filled with grace.”[4]

And so we should take careful notice of the Father’s daily generosity. By taking an interest in the little things, we imitate Christ. He was “thankful for five small loaves and two small fish,” because in this paltry meal He “saw God’s abundance.”[5]

For what specific gifts and blessings are you thankful?

Keep thinking about it, until that inventory swells—until it humbles you! Then pray in thanksgiving for God’s kindness and unending goodness.

Compiling a list of gifts is no guarantee of increased thanksgiving. In fact, perhaps you’ve experienced the frustration of contemplating the many things for which you should be grateful, yet not feeling thankful. Even so, making a list can be valuable in training us to see God’s gifts.

I have talked to believers who were sick and dying and who yet modelled a grateful spirit. They were insistent on counting their blessings, even the ‘small’ things like a warm house and a good night’s sleep and the opportunity to go to church. Above all, their words gave testimony to how they learned to focus not on what is physical or material. They learned to set the eyes of their heart not on the fleeting things that are seen, but on the unseen things that last forever.

May we all be vigilant in thanksgiving.


[1] Joshua Choonmin Kang, Spirituality of Gratitude: The Unexpected Blessings of Thankfulness (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 2015), 42.

[2] M. Craig Barnes, The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 64.

[3] Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy (Chicago: Moody, 2009), 62.

[4] Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 86.

[5] Kang, Spirituality of Gratitude, 50.


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