3 Simple “Thanks-Filled” Family Activities for Thanksgiving Season

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“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
– 1 Thessalonians 5:18

During this Thanksgiving season it is common for families and friends to go around person to person during mealtime and highlight things that they’re thankful for. And though that is always a beneficial and constructive experience as we pause, reflect and give thanks for the numerous blessings that we’ve received, one question that has come up in my mind from time to time is this – What are the differences between how Christians should give thanks and how this world gives thanks?

Though there could be many differences that we might be able to list out, there are three primary distinctions of Christian thanksgiving that I want to point out for us this Thanksgiving season. The first is regarding who we give thanks to. When we give thanks, we are not simply saying thank you to other people or to a general life force, but we are giving thanks to God our Creator and the Giver of all good things (Acts 17:24-25). Our thanksgiving is not dependent upon luck or karma or constantly changing circumstances, but founded upon an unchanging God who is always faithful to His promises (1 Chr 16:34).

The second distinction of Christian thanksgiving is regarding what we give thanks for. Though it is always good to give thanks for things like family, friends, food, and finances, Christian thanksgiving should include and specifically highlight evidences of God’s grace in our lives – how we have grown deeper in our faith and in our love for Christ and others – regardless of our external circumstances. Even in difficult and trying times, Christians can give thanks knowing that God works through all things for His purposes and to make us more like Christ (Rom 8:28-29). We can rejoice that responding rightly to the suffering and trials in our lives brings about maturity in our faith (James 1:2-4; John 15:2) and give thanks whenever we see the furthering of the gospel (Phil 1:12-18).

Finally, the third distinction of Christian thanksgiving is regarding the why of our thanksgiving. People might feel the need to give thanks because it’s the “right thing” to do or because of family tradition or even because there are therapeutic benefits in thinking positively. For Christians, we give thanks because it is a means of worship. Furthermore, it fuels our love for God by providing opportunities to reflect upon the many attributes of God. Take a moment this Thanksgiving and ask yourself, “What specific attribute of God am I grateful for?” Perhaps you will recall His love or mercy or grace or forgiveness or patience or providence in your life this past year.

Purposeful and intentional thanksgiving to God does more than just make us feel good. It increases our knowledge of God and His goodness. And when we understand more of God, we receive a greater capacity to enjoy Him and experience Him in our lives.

Below are three simple “thanks-filled” family activities that will hopefully not only cultivate a culture of thankfulness in your family but also fuel your family’s love and worship for God. Each activity takes a simple thanksgiving idea and adds a “God-connection” to direct our thoughts from looking horizontally at the creation to looking upwards towards our Creator:

  • Thanksgiving Food Discussion. Have each person in the family go around and share what their favorite Thanksgiving food(s) is. Explain why it is (e.g. the smell, the texture, memories associated with that food, the different flavors and colors, etc.). God-Connection: Talk about how all of these wonderful foods reveal what a creative God we have who loves to bless His children with amazing-tasting food (God could have made all food tasteless and bland and we would still have to eat it to survive!). Talk about how God is so fun in how He created food in such a way that we can experiment with different ways to cook, flavor, and eat them (deep-fried turducken!). Because we have a heavenly Father who is so thoughtful in the details of something as simple as physical nourishment, we know that He is even more thoughtful and intentional in the details of our daily lives and His ultimate goal of making us more and more like Him!
  • Thankful Hands. Trace your child’s hand on construction paper and cut it out. Ask him/her to write or draw a picture about something or someone he/she is thankful for on each “finger.” Discuss how we should be grateful not only for things but also for people and memorable experiences and life-lessons and wisdom. God-Connection: Talk about how the gifts should point us back to the Giver and how we should not just say “thank-you” to our parents, teachers, and friends but ultimately to God who gives us life and breath and everything else. Talk about how we deserve only death and condemnation because of our sin, but instead because of Christ’s sacrifice and death on the cross not only are we offered salvation but we get to experience all of these amazing earthly blessings and experiences that are completely undeserved. Talk about how the more you fuel your heart with thankfulness and worship, the more it will bring you fullness and joy (and how the opposite is true as well).
  • Thank You Notes. Explain to your kid(s) what a blessing it is to be with family and friends (whether from far off or nearby). Help them write a short note or draw a picture to present to those whom they will be spending time with during Thanksgiving. Think of particular things that you appreciate about each individual and what makes them special and unique. God-Connection: Talk about how God designed and planned for each of us to have the relationships that we have, whether at home, at school, at church, and at work. Take time to reflect upon how God has a reason of why we were born at the time and place that we were born. As we think about our relationships with those around us in light of God’s sovereignty, we can pray to view others the way God views them and to constantly think through how we can point others to Christ and encourage them with what God has been teaching us.

Let us take time this Thanksgiving season to enlarge our praise and thanksgiving list, counting the blessings of God in our lives specifically one by one. And as we take time to reflect upon the goodness of our God, we will be able to marvel and enjoy Him all the more!

Wayne Hu serves as an associate pastor in Children’s Ministry and Small Groups Ministry. In his time at Lighthouse, he has come to appreciate the humility and servant hearts of the church leadership and members. His passion is to equip and encourage families to have a God-centered vision in their lives and in their parenting, and to help parents point their kids to Christ and to the gospel through planting God’s Word in their hearts. Wayne loves spending time with his wife Melanie and their 3 kids, Caleb, Jocelyn, and Allison. He enjoys following his hometown San Francisco sports teams and trying out different types of Asian food and drinks.

M. Div., The Master’s Seminary