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Have you ever had the feeling you’ve lost your congregation’s attention to the distractions of the holiday season? You know the signs: Attendance dips ever-so-slightly, people don’t hang around after the service to fellowship with one another, and then there’s the glazed-over look in their eyes as you try to bring a fresh slant to the same topics and Bible passages they hear every year.

By the time the Thanksgiving holiday rolls around, your congregation is probably overwhelmed with Christmas. Perhaps there was a time when Thanksgiving signaled the "beginning of the Christmas season," but these days people feel they’re behind the curve if they haven’t gotten an early jump on Christmas preparations. And it’s not just shopping. Look around: Your congregation is likely stressed out about holiday finances or feeling the pinch of household projects that need to be completed before the relatives come visiting.

But you can give them a gift from the pulpit by helping them see God’s goodness right now, and by helping them rekindle the habit of giving thanks. Everyone knows they’re supposed to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day, but the heart-attitude won’t kick in by magic: it has to be cultivated.

Here are three ways—maybe even a three-week sermon series—to help your people:

1. Thanksgiving is more than an American holiday; it’s a godly way of life. A thankful heart is more than a good idea; it’s the will of God for his people.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Paul’s words in Thessalonians have something to teach us about the will of God: He wants us to be thankful from the heart. Why torture ourselves over discovering God’s will when the obvious first step is right in front of us?

2. True thankfulness should be a mark of God’s community. Look at the way of life exhibited by the early church:

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:46-47).

How many times have we overlooked the “glad and sincere hearts” mentioned in the Scripture? Happiness is not a duty required by God; it’s the result of new life in Christ! You don’t have to get very far into the fruit of the Spirit to see the role of thankfulness in producing love, joy and peace.

3. The best defense against holiday stress is a happy heart. For example, you can refer to this excellent article from WebMD, Boost Your Health With a Dose of Gratitude. The title of this secular article could be the title of a sermon! It’s no surprise that God’s way is the good way. Preach the benefits of a thankful heart to both body and soul, even for the simple everyday things around us. Remind your flock: It doesn’t matter if you repeat yourself some days—some things are worth giving thanks for every single day. God’s people should be a thankful people.

A thankful heart is a heart awake to God’s goodness. It lives in the constant wonder of his first judgment about the world: “It is good.” Let the world overflow with thanksgiving. The thankful heart speaks the language of heaven.

You can capture your congregation’s attention by preaching a thanksgiving a month “early.” By doing so, you will serve them well and maybe even make November and December a happier—and more godly—place around your church.

Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His newest book is Deeper Grace, a guide to the connection between grace and spiritual maturity. Ray currently lives in central Kentucky, coaching and consulting church leaders. You can visit his blog at Students of Jesus.

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Charmine Durrant

commented on Oct 23, 2014

This is so good, in all thing we must give God thanks, and thankgiving is not only for November, but for every month , week , day of the year.

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