Preaching a Thanksgiving Sermon Series
Few verses in the Bible are more difficult to obey — and more clear — than 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Thankfulness is a theme that runs through the entire Bible and a practice that radically transforms the hearts of those who express it.
And in today’s current climate, nothing may be more important for Christians than cultivating gratitude. As the world gets darker and filled with more pain, thankful people will shine brightly with the light of Jesus.
Thankful people are joyful people.
Thankful people are generous people.
Thankful people are enduring people.
Thankful people are prayerful people.
Thankful people are winsome people.
Thankful people are hopeful people.
Thankful people are kind people.
On the other hand, we all know people who aren’t thankful (they’re not much fun).
While most Christian virtues get little societal airtime, thankfulness gets prime billing in our national consciousness. Once per year, our non-Christian culture celebrates Thanksgiving — a day to stop and give thanks to God for His abundant grace.
What a perfect opportunity for the church to take advantage of.
In this article, you’re going to discover everything you need to know and consider in order to preach a Thanksgiving sermon series that can both engage non-Christians with the gospel and deepen the gratitude of Christians in your church.
A Brief History of Thanksgiving
Most of us can’t imagine the season of fall without Thanksgiving. For as long as we can remember, we’ve gathered with family or friends for a huge meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and all the rest.
For many people, it’s a day of football — gathering for a morning “Turkey Bowl,” and then watching the Lions or Cowboys play. For others, it’s the kickoff to Christmas shopping, with more and more stores starting Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving night.
We all have our traditions for Thanksgiving. But where did it all come from?
When Was the First Thanksgiving?
Believe it or not, the “original” Thanksgiving is somewhat up for debate.
The typical telling of the Thanksgiving story involves the pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians sharing a three-day meal together in November 1621 in New England.
Others suggest that there may have been as many as three previous Thanksgiving feasts: in 1541 among Spanish explorers in Texas, in 1598 among other Spanish explorers who had just survived a harrowing journey, and in 1607 in Maine.
Interestingly, the fact that there are multiple “first” Thanksgivings reveals that pausing to express gratitude to God is a positive, common way to celebrate key moments of His blessing.
Of course, American tradition points to that 1621 meal in Plymouth, Massachusetts. A letter from Plymouth colonist, Edward Winslow, dated December 11, 1621, explains that the pilgrims wanted to celebrate their first good crop of corn and barley grown with generous assistance from their native neighbors.
How Did Thanksgiving Become a Holiday?
Throughout the Revolutionary War period and the establishment of the United States, there were multiple times when political leaders declared days for giving thanks.
In the mid-1800s, with tensions escalating between the north and south, Sarah Josepha Hale — sometimes considered the “mother of Thanksgiving” and author of the well-known poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb” — began to advocate for the establishment of a national holiday of Thanksgiving.
By 1854, more than 30 states had official Thanksgiving holidays, and on October 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be a national Thanksgiving holiday.
Lincoln’s proclamation, written by Secretary of State, William Seward, made it clear that Thanksgiving was to be a day to express gratitude and humility to God:
I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
Fun Thanksgiving Facts
Any Thanksgiving sermon series will benefit from these interesting anecdotes:
- No turkey was on the menu at the first Thanksgiving. What was on the menu? Deer or venison, ducks, geese, oysters, lobster, eel, and fish. They probably ate pumpkins, but no pumpkin pies.
- The first Thanksgiving was eaten with spoons and knives — but no forks! That’s right, forks weren’t even introduced to the pilgrims until 10 years later and weren’t a popular utensil until the 18th century.
- Thanksgiving is the reason for TV dinners! In 1953, Swanson mistakenly ordered so much extra turkey (260 tons) that a salesman told them they should package it onto aluminum trays with other sides like sweet potatoes — and the first TV dinner was born.
- The very first Thanksgiving football game was played between Princeton and Yale in 1876. American football was in its infancy, but the sport and the Thanksgiving tradition quickly caught on. By 1893, 40,000 spectators showed up to watch the Princeton-Yale Thanksgiving game in New York’s Manhattan Field.
- The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade began in 1924 with 400 employees marching from Convent Avenue to 145th Street in New York City. No large balloons were at this parade, as it featured only live animals from Central Park Zoo.
- Americans eat 46 million turkeys each Thanksgiving. The average Thanksgiving turkey weighs 15 pounds.
- Canadians also celebrate Thanksgiving, but they do so on a different day and for an unrelated reason. While American Thanksgiving pays homage to a feast between the pilgrims and the Native Americans, the Canadian celebration commemorates a feast between English explorer Martin Frobisher and his crew after their successful sail from England to the Canadian territory in 1578. Canadian Thanksgiving takes place on the second Monday of October every year.
Why Should You Preach a Thanksgiving Sermon Series?
There are so many different subjects and passages you could preach on. Why bother with a Thanksgiving series? Here are five big reasons:
1. It’s a major biblical theme.
As we’ll see below, Thanksgiving is a theme that runs throughout the Bible. The Old Testament law encourages it, the Psalms model it, Jesus exemplifies it, and the Apostle Paul can’t write a letter without sharing a bunch of it.
This shouldn’t surprise us when we consider that God is the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). As generous as He is to us, the appropriate response is gratitude.
2. Because 2020 has been ROUGH—and people need a new focus.
Nearly everybody would say that 2020 has been one of the most challenging years of their lives.
Not only are there all the normal challenges of life, but add to that a global pandemic of COVID-19, huge economic and employment losses, social unrest related to racial justice, and a presidential election.
You and the people in your church are likely feeling isolated, frustrated, emotionally worn out, and discouraged.
Out of this situation, a new word has broken through: “doomscrolling.”
Doomscrolling happens when we get obsessed with bad news, and constantly scroll through our phones seeing bad story after bad story.
In the midst of a rough year, we need a new focus and a new perspective. Rather than complaining, we need contentment. Rather than tantrums, we need thankfulness.
As you’ll see below, gratitude is a massive biblical theme. But it’s also perhaps one of the most valuable things that believers could cultivate during this difficult year.
As it says in James 1:2, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”
2020 has been a major trial. Of various kinds. What will help us “count it all joy”? Gratitude.
3. It leads to greater happiness and well-being.
Not only is thanksgiving the appropriate and commanded response to God’s goodness, it’s also in line with how we are created to live. We were not made to be stingy, grumpy, complaining, finding-a-cloud-in-every-silver-lining kind of people.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that practicing gratitude has a number of physical, relational, and mental health benefits. Psychology Today reports a number of significant benefits:
- Gratitude opens the door to more relationships. Saying “thank you” to people makes them more likely to want a relationship with you — or to strengthen the relationship you already have.
- Gratitude improves physical health. One 2012 study indicates that thankful people experience fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier, and may also be more likely to prioritize other healthy practices.
- Grateful people sleep better. A big part of physical health is sleeping well. A 2011 study indicates that spending time before bed writing down areas of gratitude may lead to better and longer sleep.
- Gratitude improves psychological health. The world’s leading expert on gratitude is Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California – Davis, who discovered that gratitude reduces toxic emotions, increases happiness, and reduces depression.
- Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. Thankful people are more likely to be kind to people — even to those who aren’t kind to them. A 2012 study indicated that those who were more grateful were less likely to retaliate when given negative feedback.
- Gratitude improves confidence. When we are grateful, we’re less likely to compare ourselves to others. Guess what? Those who don’t play the comparison game are more likely to be confident, happy, and able to appreciate other people’s accomplishments.
- Gratitude increases mental strength. Life is hard, and for some the challenge is multiplied by facing trauma. How do we cope? One strategy is gratitude. Multiple studies have shown that those who practice gratitude have more resilience and lower rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
As a pastor and preacher, your job isn’t to make people feel good. But if you can help people develop practices that honor God and improve their well-being — that’s a good reason to try!
3. It equips people to fight the pain of the holiday season.
The time from Thanksgiving to Christmas can often be the best and worst time of the year. While some people relish every moment, many others can’t wait for it to be over.
The pain of the holidays often comes from grieving the losses of loved ones, an increased sense of isolation, colder weather, shorter days, extra stress, financial pressures, and the expectation to be happy all the time.
If gratitude is a practice that increases happiness and well-being, then what better time would there be to preach on thanksgiving in the months of November or December?
Think about how a Thanksgiving sermon series might equip and prepare your people with the necessary resources to resist and push back against the holiday blues.
4. It paves the way for generosity.
The Bible indicates that gratitude and generosity are linked (2 Corinthians 9:11-12), and research demonstrates that it’s true. Grateful people enjoy giving more, and generous people tend to be more grateful.
Christina Karns, a neuroscientist at the University of Oregon, did an experiment where participants were in a brain scanner while they watched a computer either give actual money to a food bank or put it in their own account. What did she see? Here’s what she says:
“It turns out that the neural connection between gratitude and giving is very deep, both literally and figuratively. A region deep in the frontal lobe of the brain, called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, is key to supporting both. Anatomically, this region is wired up to be a hub for processing the value of risk and reward; it’s richly connected to even deeper brain regions that provide a kick of pleasurable neurochemicals in the right circumstances.”
“The participants I’d identified as more grateful and more altruistic via a questionnaire [showed] a stronger response in these reward regions of the brain when they saw the charity gaining money. It felt good for them to see the food bank do well.”
Karns decided to see if gratitude also helped people become more generous. It did. Those who started journaling about their areas of gratitude became more attracted to charitable giving than receiving money for themselves. She said:
“Practicing gratitude shifted the value of giving in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. It changed the exchange rate in the brain. Giving to charity became more valuable than receiving money yourself.”
As pastors, we want our people to be generous with their resources. We want this for their sake and for the sake of the church’s mission.
Additionally, many churches create new giving opportunities during the holiday season. Preaching a Thanksgiving sermon series is one powerful step in the process of helping people grow in generosity.
Here’s an example of a series that brilliantly ties gratitude and generosity together.
5. It’s something that appeals to Christians and non-Christians.
As pastors and preachers, we are often looking for something that has relevance and importance for both Christians and non-Christians.
We want our messages to disciple the people already in our church and be an entry point for the gospel with non-Christians. Thanksgiving is a perfect topic to do just that.
Though many of us tend to be naturally more complainers than thanks-givers, we all know that gratitude is a better way. Not only does the Bible say a lot about gratitude (see below), but tons of non-Christian websites and articles esteem it as well.
If you ask a non-Christian, “Do you think your life would be better if you were more grateful?” he or she will almost certainly respond affirmatively. We have the opportunity to leverage God’s word to connect with something that will help those with and without Christ — what an opportunity!
Don’t Let These Objections Stop You
We grow through challenge and risk. Maybe it feels difficult or risky to preach a Thanksgiving sermon series. Don’t let these objections stop you:
“I Plan My Sermons Week to Week—That’s How the Spirit Moves.”
There’s no question that the Spirit of God often moves in the moment. Jesus Himself said that there would be moments when the Spirit would provide just-in-time content:
“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12)
But notice the setting of the Spirit’s last-minute provision: “when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities.” In other words, when you are arrested for your faith in Jesus, then the Spirit will give you the power to say what He wants.
Our regular preaching, however, is totally different. It’s not in the middle of persecution (though in some churches with grumpy people it might feel like it!). Rather, it’s the intentional spiritual feeding of a congregation that we love.
As we read through scripture, we see that God’s planning and the movement of the Holy Spirit are not at odds with one another. On the contrary, they work in perfect agreement with one another and our teaching should show this agreement. God makes plans and the Holy Spirit works within them while interceding between us and God.
If the Spirit can lead us in the moment, He can also lead us in advance. Stop the last-minute planning, build a preaching calendar, and trust God to provide what you need in advance.
“Thanksgiving Has a Checkered History.”
In recent years, more people have raised concerns about the history of the Thanksgiving holiday. Rather than seeing it as a holiday that celebrates unity between different people groups and an opportunity to express gratitude to God, some see it as a holiday that promotes racism, colonialism, and oppression of indiginous peoples.
While the history of the holiday is mixed, the vast majority of Americans still celebrate it. Thus, it’s still a good opportunity to leverage for the sake of biblical teaching.
After all, your sermons would not be some kind of defense of the American holiday of Thanksgiving. Rather, your sermons would leverage this holiday to help explore the biblical call for gratitude.
Perhaps the checkered history is worth acknowledging as you preach, but it shouldn’t stop you from preaching on a crucial biblical theme.
“Doing a Thanksgiving Sermon Series Promotes Civil Religion.”
Many pastors are rightly concerned about the confusion between Christian faith and civil religion. Sociologist Robert Bellah argued that that the United States had “an elaborate and well-instituted civil religion,” which existed “alongside of” and was “rather clearly differentiated from the churches.”
In other words, many people have turned the traditions, rituals, and expressions of America’s story into an alternative kind of religion. In many cases, this “civil religion” is somewhat merged with some kind of Christian story as well.
Thus, it could be argued that a Thanksgiving sermon series would further contribute to the meshing of Christian faith and American civil religion.
No doubt this danger exists. But, again, a Thanksgiving sermon series should not be an exposition of the American holiday, but rather an exposition of the Bible.
In fact, a Thanksgiving sermon series might be a helpful way to highlight the biblical distinctives of gratitude and how those contrast with many popular cultural views of gratitude.
A Closer Look at The Bible’s Teaching on Gratitude
With the Thanksgiving holiday as our entry point and the Scriptures as our authority and guide, let’s consider God’s perspective. The Bible has quite a bit to say about gratitude. Thanksgiving takes place in a variety of contexts, by a variety of people, as a response to various situations.
In the Scriptures, gratitude is never encouraged as a way to manipulate or sweet talk God into doing something. Rather, it is a conscious, joyful expression of thanks and praise — often in response to God’s character, blessings, protection, and love.
Why Thanksgiving is So Important
In the Scriptures, it is clear that giving thanks is crucial. Rather than being an optional practice only for the super-mature, God sees gratitude as an essential part of life in His world. Consider these two reasons why thanksgiving is so important:
1. The Lack of Thanksgiving is the Source of All Kinds of Sin
At the end of Romans 1, the Apostle Paul describes the unraveling of the world as a result of sin. He describes idolatry, impurity, sexual immorality, and all kinds of sin:
They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (Romans 1:29–31, ESV)
But before you get to all the ugliness of verses 29-31, there’s a key sin that takes place in verse 21:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21, ESV)
At the fountainhead of evil and disobedience is ingratitude.
2. Giving Thanks is Strongly Commanded
Thanksgiving isn’t merely a suggestion or recommendation in the Bible — it’s a command.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul writes: “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
When you examine the Greek of this verse, you discover that the verb “give thanks” is both an imperative (you must do it) and present-tense (you must keep doing it continually). We are never to stop expressing our gratitude.
Not only does the verb structure communicate the importance of giving thanks, but Paul goes so far as to say, “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Christians often struggle with discerning God’s will: Should I take this job? Should I marry that person? What’s the best path for me to take? Is this an opportunity I should pursue?
But one thing we know for sure is that giving thanks is God’s will. Whatever decisions we make or paths we take, we must do them with gratitude.
Different Kinds of Thanksgiving in the Bible
Of course, thanksgiving looks differently throughout the Bible, taking a variety of forms:
This is the most obvious and straightforward kind of gratitude. Often God’s people directly express their thankfulness to God. This is not merely feeling grateful, but actually expressing it to the Lord in prayer.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. (Psalm 86:12, ESV)
And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:13, ESV)
To you, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of you, for you have made known to us the king’s matter.” (Daniel 2:23, ESV)
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children…” (Matthew 11:25, ESV)
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you… (Colossians 1:3, ESV)
Closely related to thanking God is praising God. Though technically thanking the Lord and praising the Lord are different, they share similar qualities. Both are finding joy in God, looking to God to share with Him how we appreciate Him, and acknowledging His goodness.
The role of the Levitical priests was to lead the way in thanking and praising God:
Then he appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel. (1 Chronicles 16:4, ESV)
And they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the LORD, and likewise at evening… (1 Chronicles 23:30, ESV)
The priests stood at their posts; the Levites also, with the instruments for music to the LORD that King David had made for giving thanks to the LORD—for his steadfast love endures forever—whenever David offered praises by their ministry; opposite them the priests sounded trumpets, and all Israel stood. (2 Chronicles 7:6, ESV)
The Psalms — which often use parallelism to link key ideas — frequently indicate that thanksgiving and praise go together.
Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. (Psalm 30:4, ESV)
I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you. (Psalm 35:18, ESV)
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. (Psalm 57:9, ESV)
But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise. (Psalm 79:13, ESV)
It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High… (Psalm 92:1, ESV)
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! (Psalm 100:4, ESV)
Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. (Psalm 111:1, ESV)
Songs of Thanksgiving
We’ve already seen the link between thanksgiving and praise. Of course, praise can take multiple forms, but a common form in the Bible seems to be music. The example of God’s people and the exhortation of the Scriptures is that we would express our gratitude through singing:
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! (Psalm 95:2, ESV)
Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers. Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! (1 Chronicles 16:7–9, ESV)
And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. (Ezra 3:11, ESV)
And the Levites: Jeshua, Binnui, Kadmiel, Sherebiah, Judah, and Mattaniah, who with his brothers was in charge of the songs of thanksgiving. (Nehemiah 12:8, ESV)
And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres. (Nehemiah 12:27, ESV)
Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre! (Psalm 147:7, ESV)
For the LORD comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. (Isaiah 51:3, ESV)
Out of them shall come songs of thanksgiving, and the voices of those who celebrate. I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will make them honored, and they shall not be small. (Jeremiah 30:19, ESV)
…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… (Ephesians 5:19–20, ESV)
Sacrifices of Thanksgiving
Leviticus 7 describes a number of kinds of peace offerings that could be made, each according to their associated motivations. The first is “for a thanksgiving”:
And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings that one may offer to the LORD. If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the thanksgiving sacrifice unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of fine flour well mixed with oil. With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with loaves of leavened bread. And from it he shall offer one loaf from each offering, as a gift to the LORD. It shall belong to the priest who throws the blood of the peace offerings. And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering. He shall not leave any of it until the morning. (Leviticus 7:11–15, ESV)
These “sacrifices of thanksgiving” are discussed elsewhere as well:
And when you sacrifice a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the LORD, you shall sacrifice it so that you may be accepted. (Leviticus 22:29, ESV)
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy! (Psalm 107:22, ESV)
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD. (Psalm 116:17, ESV)
Thanksgiving From Giving
We easily connect the idea of our gratitude flowing out of God’s generosity. But the Bible teaches that thanksgiving is the fruit of our generosity as well. Here’s how the Apostle Paul puts it:
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. (2 Corinthians 9:11–12, ESV)
Thanksgiving in Conversation
Jesus said that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). It makes sense, then, that thanksgiving would be part of the conversations of grateful people. This is a contrast to the ugliness that is far too pervasive in our in-person and online conversations.
Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. (Ephesians 5:4, ESV)
What Did God’s People Thank Him For?
Living in relationship with a generous God creates many opportunities to express thanks to Him. It’s no surprise, then, that we see God’s people in the Scriptures continually thanking God for many things. Consider these biblical examples:
For His Majestic Creation
Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. (Psalm 104:1–2, ESV)
For Good News (the ark arriving in Jerusalem)
Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! (1 Chronicles 16:8–11, ESV)
For Bad News (even in Job’s suffering)
And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21, ESV)
For His Enduring Love
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (1 Chronicles 16:34, ESV)
For His Righteousness
I will give to the LORD the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the LORD, the Most High. (Psalm 7:17, ESV)
For Deliverance from Enemies
I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. (Psalm 30:1–4, ESV)
For Deliverance from Death
Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. For Sheol does not thank you; death does not praise you; those who go down to the pit do not hope for your faithfulness. The living, the living, he thanks you, as I do this day; the father makes known to the children your faithfulness. (Isaiah 38:17–19, ESV)
For Forgiveness of Sin
You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.” (Isaiah 12:1, ESV)
For God’s Restoring Kindness
“Thus says the LORD: Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob and have compassion on his dwellings; the city shall be rebuilt on its mound, and the palace shall stand where it used to be. Out of them shall come songs of thanksgiving, and the voices of those who celebrate. I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will make them honored, and they shall not be small.” (Jeremiah 30:18–19, ESV)
For Answered Prayers
Blessed be the LORD! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. (Psalm 28:6–7, ESV)
For Being a God of Justice
For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he. (Deuteronomy 32:3–4, ESV)
For God’s Sovereign Grace
But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:9, ESV)
For the Grace of God Given to Others
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:4, ESV)
For Leading Us in Mission
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. (2 Corinthians 2:14, ESV)
For Entrusting Us With Ministry Responsibility
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, (1 Timothy 1:12, ESV)
For Freedom from Sin
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17–18, ESV)
For the Faith and Love of Others
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers (Ephesians 1:15–16, ESV)
For Others’ Partnership in the Gospel
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3–5, ESV)
For the Way God Leads Our Convictions
The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:6, ESV)
For Opening Doors for the Gospel
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— (Colossians 4:2–3, ESV)
For Victory Over Sin and Death
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:56–57, ESV)
For God’s Rescue From Sin
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:24–25, ESV)
For the Peace of Christ
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:15, ESV)
For More and More People Experiencing Grace
For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:15, ESV)
For Jesus Himself
Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15, ESV)
For the Inheritance We Have in Christ
…giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:12, ESV)
For Authorities and Governmental Leaders
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1–2, ESV)
For Being Rooted and Built Up in Jesus
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6–7, ESV)
For God’s Abundant Provision
Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. (John 6:11, ESV)
For the Fellowship of Friends
And the brothers there, when they heard about us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage. (Acts 28:15, ESV)
For God’s Worthiness and Glory
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:9–11, ESV)
For All That We Do
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17, ESV)
Biblical Characters Who Modeled Thanksgiving
Given the biblical importance of giving thanks, we should not be surprised to find that many people in the Bible modeled gratitude. In addition to the many prayers of Paul, consider these examples:
David, after the people gave to the Lord for the Temple:
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. (1 Chronicles 29:11–13, ESV)
The Levites, who regularly led the people in worship:
…and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters; and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the LORD), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the LORD, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the LORD, was filled with a cloud… (2 Chronicles 5:12–13, ESV)
Hannah, after giving birth to a baby after a long season of infertility:
And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my horn is exalted in the LORD. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. (1 Samuel 2:1, ESV)
Daniel, who received an interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream:
“To you, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of you, for you have made known to us the king’s matter.” (Daniel 2:23, ESV)
Daniel (again), as both a regular practice and an act of protest:
When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. (Daniel 6:10, ESV)
Jonah, after being rescued by the Lord despite his disobedience:
“But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:9, ESV)
Anna, after seeing Jesus as a baby:
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36–38, ESV)
Jesus, who was recognized by the disciples on the road to Emmaus only after they saw him give thanks:
When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him… (Luke 24:30–31, ESV)
Paul’s Four Expressions of Gratitude
In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, P.T. O’Brien points out that the Apostle Paul uses four different “joyful responses to God’s gracious saving activity in creation and redemption.” God is gracious, and Paul respondes with:
- Benediction — Paul affirms God’s grace to them and shares his gratitude. These often take place at the beginnings (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2, etc.) and endings (Rom 16:20, 24; Gal 6:18; Eph 6:24, etc.) of his letters.
- Blessing — Though blessing language is more common in the Old Testament, Paul employs it a number of times to declare praise for God’s goodness and grace (2 Cor 1:3–4; Eph 1:3–14; Rom 1:25; 9:5; 2 Cor 11:31; 1 Cor 10:16; 14:6)
- Doxology — These short, hymn-like praises flow from Paul in the midst of his letters and often feel like the overflow of gratitude in his own heart (Rom 11:36; Gal 1:5; Phil 4:20; 1 Tim 1:17)
- Thanksgiving — O’Brien notes that Paul mentions thanksgiving more in his letters, line for line, than any other Greek author, whether pagan or Christian (see above for many examples).
Thanksgiving Sermon Series Ideas from Ministry Pass
Perhaps your mind is spinning with ideas for preaching a series that pushes into giving thanks. Or maybe you’re stuck and thinking, “Where should I begin?” Either way, consider these ideas for a sermon series that leverages Lent.
Since Thanksgiving moves dates each year, you can consider a three or four week series (or even just a stand-alone sermon). Lent traditionally involves an Ash Wednesday service followed by six Sundays. Thus, these suggested series are either six or seven weeks.
This is a one-week sermon guide to be used ideally near Thanksgiving. Looking at Paul’s instructions to the Philippians on rejoicing and thanksgiving, this message reminds us that our perspective determines our joy level, and we can choose gratitude despite our circumstances.
This three-week Thanksgiving series addresses how we can develop a heart of gratitude to God, which in turn leads to generous giving. Thankfulness is not an occasional act but a lifestyle of intentional and spontaneous appreciation that leads us into the presence of God, empowers us to be grateful in all circumstances, and generates an overflow of generosity.
This four-week series provides insight into what it means to be thankful and how this leads to praise and gratefulness to the object of our faith, Jesus Christ. When believers practice thanks to their Creator, it does something for the soul that cannot be explained otherwise.
This four-week series analyzes the spiritual virtue of gratitude. Through seeing that all good things in life come from God, remembering God’s Word, being thankful in all circumstances, and cultivating a thankful heart, we can fully grasp God’s work in our lives and live a life of gratitude.
We spend so much of our time chasing after careers, people, or possessions that never satisfy us in the end. When is enough, enough? This four-week series examines the biblical concept of contentment and how we can find it in Christ.
We spend so much of our time chasing after careers, people, or possessions that never satisfy us in the end. When is enough, enough? This four-week series examines the biblical concept of contentment and how we can find it in Christ.
This three-week series explores what it means to appreciate God’s goodness. Gratitude helps protect us from living a life of selfishness, gluttony, or pride while enabling us to see the beauty in what God brings to us. When we offer thankfulness to God for His work in our lives, it allows us to better find contentment in His love and grace.
Other Thanksgiving Sermon Ideas
- Francis Chan, “Start a Lifestyle of Being Thankful”
- Miles McPherson, “Thanks and Giving” series
- Charles Stanley, “Thanksgiving Every Day”
- Chris Brown, “The Nine Guys Who Missed Thanksgiving”
- Rick Warren, “Learn How Your Life Can Be a Thank You Gift to God”
- Brian Houston, “Count it All Joy”
- Craig Groeschel, “Grateful”
- Andy Stanley, “I Owe Who”
- Journey Christian Church, “30 Days of Thanksgiving”
- John Piper’s Sermons on Gratitude
How to Engage Thanksgiving Beyond the Sermon
Every pastor knows that sermon series are crucial tools for moving a congregation forward (which is why you spend so much time thinking about them). But every pastor also knows that if people engage beyond Sunday, the impact increases dramatically.
The Perfect Short-Term Window
Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to experiment with beyond Sunday practices because it’s a short-term window. It’s really difficult to challenge people to begin a new lifelong habit, but many Christians are remarkably open to a short-term challenge.
Many churches have proven the effectiveness of 40-day spiritual growth campaigns or 90-day tithe challenges. The shorter commitment makes people more open and churches more focused.
It’s hard to stay focused on something for too long. But challenging people to commit to cultivating gratitude for three or four weeks is really doable.
What could you do? Here are a number of ideas.
Idea 1: Launch a 30-Day Gratitude Challenge
Since November has 30 days, it’s a perfect window to create a 30-Day Gratitude Challenge. It could look a few different ways:
Option #1: Track Your Gratitude
For 30 days, ask God to show you the many ways He has blessed you. Keep track of what He shows you and express gratitude to Him and others daily for specific praises. Revive Our Hearts Ministry has a helpful guide that you could encourage people to use.
Option #2: Thank-You Notes
For 30 days, write a thank you note to someone you appreciate. This takes some work (especially with the stamps), but it sure can be meaningful. In a world of digital communication, a handwritten note can go a long way. This article digs deeper.
Option #3: Assorted Gratitude Activities
Idea 2: Encourage These Books & Resources
A number of authors have created excellent books and guides to help cultivate gratitude. Here are some recommendations:
One Thousand Gifts: Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are — Ann Voskamp’s best-seller on how to look to the Lord in appreciation of His gifts.
Christian Gratitude Journal for Kids: Daily Journal with Bible Verses and Writing Prompts — A journal to help kids cultivate a practice of gratitude.
Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy — Nancy Leigh DeMoss explores how crucial gratitude is for living a fulfilling life.
Lessons From a Hospital Bed — John Piper reflects on the role gratitude played in helping him during a time of recovering in the hospital.
How Happiness Happens: Finding Lasting Joy in a World of Comparison, Disappointment, and Unmet Expectations — Max Lucado’s book on the link between gratitude, generosity, and joy.
Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World: How One Family Learned That Saying No Can Lead to Life’s Biggest Yes — Kristen Welch helps parents do the seemingly impossible: raise grateful kids.
Stop Your Complaining: From Grumbling to Gratitude — Ronnie Martin looks at the flip-side of gratitude, complaining, and then helps readers move toward a more grateful spirit.
Chasing Contentment: Trusting God in a Discontented Age — Erik Raymond unpacks contentment (“the inward gracious spirit that joyfully rests in God’s providence”).
Idea 3: Organize a Food Drive
Many churches already do food drives around the holidays by collecting turkeys or other assorted food for the community. Here’s an opportunity to connect it to gratitude and giving. Be sure to check out Feeding America’s “Three Tips For Hosting the Best Holiday Food Drive.”
Idea 4: Initiate a Thanksgiving or Christmas Offering
We’ve already explored the link between gratitude and generosity. Plus, with the natural tendency in society for charitable activity to ramp up with Thanksgiving and Christmas, it could be the perfect time to create a Thanksgiving or Christmas offering.
How do you do it?
Pick one or more causes or community partners outside the church who are making a good impact in your community. Consider incorporating a testimony or interview related to these causes, and invite people to give a one-time special offering.
Whether you take the offering around Thanksgiving or Christmas, these offerings are fairly simple — but the best offerings take a few months to plan and do well. Here’s a step-by-step guide to getting started.
For years, North Point Community Church has done a “Be Rich” campaign, where they challenge every single person to give at least $39.95 to benefit their community and global partners. The impact is incredible, with hundreds of churches now participating and millions of dollars going out in the name of Jesus.
Additionally, if you want a master class in how to talk about giving, check out Andy Stanley’s “Be Rich” sermons — they are compelling!
Idea 5: Hold a Thanksgiving Wednesday Service
Some churches find that holding a Thanksgiving Wednesday service can be quite meaningful. Attendance tends to be a bit lower (with all the meal prep happening) but the folks who attend really enjoy it.
Some ideas for getting started with a Thanksgiving Wednesday service:
- Keep it short and sweet — It’s a Wednesday and people have things going, plus some big plans for the next day. Don’t drag it out.
- Reflect on scripture — Have a short Bible reading or exhortation, casting a biblical vision for this experience of gratitude.
- Share gratitude testimonies — Create a few moments for people to share what they are thankful for.
- Get some coaching — Might be good to talk with a pastor acquaintance who has done a Thanksgiving Wednesday service and see what else they’d add (read this article too).
- Find resources — Ministry Pass has a few different Thanksgiving bundles to use during these services.
Final Thoughts on Preaching and Leading Through Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is an American holiday that creates a natural open door for sharing about Jesus — the person Christians are most thankful for.
Both Christians and non-Christians want to be more grateful. We know there are tremendous mental and physical health benefits of thankfulness.
After a tough year filled with trials and turmoil, few things would help create stability and deepen faith as much as focusing on being thankful.
And, since gratitude is a major biblical theme, opportunities abound to preach about it. In fact, you may decide to make it a regular part of your annual preaching calendar.
You have a lot to be thankful for, and so do the people in your church. God is glorified when we give thanks, and we are refreshed and encouraged. So give your people the refreshment that comes from a new perspective by preaching a Thanksgiving sermon series this year.