5 Thanksgiving Sermons Just Waiting to Be Preached
In the 18th-century classic, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, William Law made the following statement:
“Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world? It is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms or is most eminent for temperance, chastity, or justice; but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God wills, who receives everything as an instance of God’s goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it. Could you therefore work miracles, you could not do more for yourself than by this thankful spirit, for it turns all that it touches into happiness.”
Law makes a great point. When you see God at work and respond to what he is doing with thankfulness instead of resistance, you will develop many other virtues he describes.
We’ve developed five thanksgiving messages to help your church recognize and celebrate God’s gifts.
Thanksgiving Message #1: Developing a Grateful Heart
Just like the acquisition of most virtues, you can’t instantly become thankful. You only become thankful when you habitually practice gratitude in your life.
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”
–1 Chronicles 16:34
“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 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.”
- Everything good in your life comes from God (James 1:17). We’ll grow closer to God when we understand this truth and build our lives around it.
- Developing these habits can help us become more thankful:
- Regularly practice giving thanks. We should make a habit of expressing gratitude. Thankfulness rather than criticism should be our default position. When you see something good in your life, point it out. Thank God for it. We all complain occasionally, but practice responding to your own complaining by finding things to be thankful for. This helps to rewire your brain to be as proficient at recognizing the good in your life as you are at identifying the bad.
- Express gratitude regardless of the situation. Paul tells the Thessalonians to give thanks in all circumstances because God wills it (1 Thess. 5:18). Why? We never see the full picture. We can’t look at every situation and clearly understand why it’s happening. We can only know God is at work in these situations and working them out for our good and his glory (Romans 8:28). Regardless of what’s happening, we can thank God for his presence. He is redeeming the situation and sustaining us through it. On our own, we focus on the current situation. We rise above the situation when we purposefully look for what God is doing in the middle of it. A.W. Tozer says, “Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now.”
- Praise God when all is well. You may believe this is obvious, but it’s critical we do it. We’re conditioned to believe that life will go well for us. When life runs smoothly, we don’t tend to see this as God’s gift to us. We don’t see how He protects and guides us along the way to green pastures and still waters.
- Learn to see how bad experiences can produce good outcomes. We should all take some time to consider the benefits of the difficult times in our lives. After a period away from the situation, we should be able to see the good that came out of those experiences. Often you’ll be able to see how those bad experiences helped you gather strength and momentum for future blessings in your life. Regardless of that, learning to see past trials through eternity’s perspective enables us to be more thankful during times of struggle.
- Make gratitude a part of your interactions with other people. Gratitude should impact both our relationship with God and our relationships with other people. Rick Warren once said, “To appreciate means to raise in value. That’s not only true of things, it’s true of people. When you appreciate somebody, you literally raise their value. We ought to appreciate people because it increases their self worth.” Make it a regular practice to say thank you to people in your life. Often, the people we express gratitude with the least in our lives are those the closest to us.
- Lean into the strength gratitude provides. I know many people who have been through extremely tough situations. I’ve noticed those who are the most grateful and have learned to see God’s work regularly show the most perseverance.
- Thanksgiving is a superpower. It enables us to see past our experiences and embrace how God is moving. Not only are thankful people able to draw strength from gratitude, but they’re also able to empower others with their perspective as well.
To learn how your church can use technology to grow the reach of your Thanksgiving message, talk to one of our experts. We can show you how other churches are using easy-to-manage tech tools like a custom church app to engage more people with their messages so they can make a bigger impact on the community.
Thanksgiving Message #2: Thank the Lord for His Character
Learning to be grateful is about much more than just your immediate circumstances. You can’t let what’s going on in your life determine the level of thanksgiving in your life.
Instead, let your thankfulness spring from your understanding of God’s character.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
“At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens’ This phrase, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
- When you dig into the back story of Habakkuk, you’ll quickly realize it’s a dark book. Israel’s reform-minded king Josiah has been killed, and the nation of Israel has slid back into sin and apostasy. The prophet Habakkuk struggles with God’s silence and His unwillingness to judge Israel.
- In Habakkuk’s third chapter, the prophet prays for God to revive His work in Israel. Toward the end of the of the prayer (v. 17-18), Habakkuk recognizes the potential hardships that will come with God’s judgment. Despite those difficulties, he resolves to take joy in God’s salvation. We tend to judge everything from our own limited perspective. Unless we have what we believe we should, we see no reason to be thankful. That’s not Habakkuk’s perspective. He tells us to show gratitude even if we don’t have what we want—or need. We need to prioritize what God is doing in a situation over our own wants and needs. We can learn from Habakkuk to rejoice even during troubling times.
- Our ultimate source of thanksgiving should come from what God has revealed about himself in the Word and in the person of Jesus Christ:
- His love
“God bestows His blessings without discrimination. The followers of Jesus are children of God, and they should manifest the family likeness by doing good to all, even to those who deserve the opposite.”
- His patience
“Quite honestly, most people are quick to “write someone off.” But our God is a God of the second chance. Learn from One who is patient with you, and you’ll learn to be patient with others.”
- His salvation
“Since no man is excluded from calling upon God the gate of salvation is open to all. There is nothing else to hinder us from entering, but our own unbelief.”
- His sovereignty
“What does it really mean to affirm God’s sovereignty…? It means that God rules over all space and time and history. It means that He created the world for His glory and directs the cosmos to His purpose. It means that no one can truly thwart His plans or frustrate His determination. It means that we are secure in the knowledge that God’s sovereign purpose to redeem a people through the atonement accomplished by His Son will be fully realized.”
- His wisdom
“Wisdom is the power to see, and the inclination to choose, the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it. Wisdom is, in fact, the practical side of moral goodness. As such, it is found in its fulness only in God. He alone is naturally and entirely and invariable wise.”
–J. I. Packer
- His mercy
“The mercy of God is an all-embracing mercy and it breaks down the barriers that man erects.”
“Everything about God is great, vast, incomparable. He never forgets, never fails, never falters, never forfeits His word.”
–Arthur W. Pink
- His love
- As we’re told in the book of Hebrews, we are receiving an unshakable kingdom (Heb. 12:26–29). Why is this coming kingdom so firm? Because the Author and Finisher of this kingdom is Himself unshakable. This means we can look past our immediate situation towards a kingdom that we’re inheriting—one we can trust is steadfast and trustworthy. This should cause thanksgiving to constantly well up within us.
Thanksgiving Message #3: How to be Unthankful
Let’s be honest. None of us are as thankful as we should be. We love to complain, and our attention is usually on the negative. This sermon uses humor to show us what causes us to become ungrateful. The goal is that listeners can learn to cultivate a life of thanksgiving by rooting out ingratitude.
“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”
- Thanksgiving isn’t easy. Although the Bible tells us to do everything without complaining, maybe maybe we just haven’t perfected it yet. Surely if Paul knew how good of a complainer would could be, he’d change his tune. These practices are guaranteed to make you an efficient complainer.
- Keep a journal. No matter how minute, keep track of everything that bugs you. We all have pet peeves. If you write these annoyances down, you’ll keep track of them better. Try to write down three or four things that irritate you daily. Regardless of how insignificant these issues are:
- Set aside time daily to ponder what other people do to bug you.
- Whenever you find yourself accidentally happy, take your journal out and review all of your frustrations. Maybe even write these frustrations on notecards and post them around your house.
- Use negative words whenever you can. The lives of grateful people aren’t that different from yours, but they’re not realists like us. They simply need to practice reciting their frustrations more. Language matters so be mindful of the adjectives you use. The more strongly you label things, the better you’re going to be able to cultivate a grumbling spirit. Use adjectives like:
- Be constantly distracted. Thankful people usually can’t (or refuse to) remember the bad stuff that’s happened in the past. They don’t worry enough about all the awful things that could happen in the future. If you want to be an A+ complainer, you must be able to do both. Always, always, always multitask. Don’t waste your time by simply enjoying a meal. Entertain yourself constantly by looking at your phone and watching TV. If you give yourself too much time to focus on the good stuff happening around you all the time, you’ll miss out on the potential threats on the horizon or bad stuff you’ve already experienced.
- Focus on yourself when you pray. Use your prayer time to get what you want. Praising God for who he is will waste your time. He already knows how great he is. He doesn’t need you blabbering on about it. Instead remind him of everything you want that you don’t have.
- Let your health deteriorate. Thanksgiving and physical health tend to work together. Healthy people are usually grateful and positive. Then the positivity tends to just lead to healthy decisions. It’s a vicious time-wasting circle.
- Make sure you’re never getting all of the sleep you need. When you’re tired, you get anxious. Anxiety is like steroids for complainers.
- Exercise is poison. You get endorphins when you exercise. Those positive chemicals in your body prevent you from recognizing the awful realities of the world. You can’t afford to let anything stand in the way of that.
- Of course, we don’t need help to become serious complainers. Fortunately, you can reverse all the points in this sermon to show what it looks like to be grateful and less of a Negative Nelly.
Thanksgiving Message #4: Defeating a Troubled Heart
We all face disappointment. We can’t live without expectations, and we all fall short of these expectations at times. This means that we’ll need to learn how to overcome disillusionment and the most difficult of days. But God has given us weapons against discouragement!
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 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, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
- In Ephesians 5, God points to a reality we rarely like to admit, but we know is true—”the days are evil.” The brokenness in this world means we must make the best use of our time. Paul tells us this for two reasons. First, the days are evil because they trick us into thinking we have more time and opportunities than we really do. Second, the days we live in introduce evils into our lives. We must be careful to make sure these expressions of evil won’t hobble us.
- In this brief passage, Paul tells the Ephesians what they need to do in order to walk wisely:
- Don’t get drunk on wine, but be filled with the Spirit. Ever since we learned to ferment fruit to create alcohol, we’ve been enamored with its ability to shield us from life’s painful realities. But Paul doesn’t just tell us to avoid drunkenness; he instructs us to be filled with the Spirit. You can substitute many things for wine in this verse, and the instruction is the same. Don’t ignore the difficulties in life by burying yourself in wine, drugs, sex, or mindless internet surfing. You may think you’re avoiding pain, but you’re just postponing it. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, and you’ll be equipped to deal with life’s difficulties instead of avoiding them.
- Address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.. We all need to understand the power of Scripture, praise, and worship. The key portion of this verse is the reminder to “address one another.” Paul’s wasn’t just telling us something that was for our own good. Paul is addressing the church and wants them to accept their responsibility for one another. He tells them to remind each other of God’s goodness through:
- Psalms: scriptures of praise
- Hymns: songs of praise to God written by the church
- Spiritual songs: impromptu responses of praise
- Singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. God wants us to both encourage one another with praise, and make worship a regularly part of own lives. Music inspires and changes us. The devil can never grab a hold of our lives if we worship God habitually.
- Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul tells the church of Ephesus to give thanks always and for everything. When we respond to the Lord out of gratitude, we see the world differently.
- Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Finally, the Bible says mutual submission helps us to walk wisely. On our own, we often can’t see truth in our circumstances. We must lean on the perspective of other Spirit-filled believers. We must respectfully and willingly submit to the recommendations of others and they should do likewise to us.
Thanksgiving Message #5: Why Thanksgiving and Generosity Go Together
God doesn’t just want to bless us so we can meet our own needs, but he does it so we can meet the needs of others. As we give generously in Jesus’ name, the recipients thank God, not us.
“He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 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. By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!”
–2 Corinthians 9:10–15
- Gratitude doesn’t just come because we receive something. Generosity also inspires thankfulness in the one who gives. That gratitude gets translated into more generosity. It’s cyclical and addictive.
- If we look at what we have as something we’ve earned, we hold on to it tightly. If we recognize God gave us the ability to make money, it’s natural to see ourselves as stewards of what he has entrusted us. One of the keys to thankfulness and generosity is seeing that everything belongs to God.Here’s a story that illustrates this from Greg Laurie’s book, A Time to Worship: “I read a story of a woman who had finished her shopping and returned to her car to find four men inside it. She dropped her shopping bags, drew a handgun from her purse, and with a forceful voice said, ‘I have a gun, and I know how to use it! Get out of the car!’ Those men did not wait for a second invitation. They got out and ran like crazy! The woman, understandably shaken, quickly loaded her shopping bags and got into the car. She just wanted to get out of there as fast as she could. But no matter how she tried, she could not get her key into the ignition.Then it hit her: This isn’t my car! She looked, and indeed her car was parked four or five spaces away. She got out, looked around to see if the men were near, loaded the bags into her own car, and drove to the police station to turn herself in.The desk sergeant, after hearing her story, nearly fell out of his chair laughing. He pointed to the other end of the counter, where four men were reporting a carjacking by a woman with glasses and curly white hair, less than five feet tall, and carrying a large handgun. No charges were filed.”
- Mark tells us about a rich young ruler who comes to Jesus looking for eternal life. Jesus tells him to sell everything he has and give the proceeds to the poor. Since he had so many possessions, he walked away dejected (Mark 10:17–22).
- Sometimes we hold so tightly to our “stuff” we can’t obey what God is telling us to do. We don’t recognize that as we give to others, God blesses us with joy and thanksgiving.
- We’re told by our consumer culture that we’ll be happier the more stuff we have. Jesus calls us out of that culture and to generously give what we have. What we don’t see is that when we trust him in this, he blesses us. We’re not called to suffer through giving to others; it’s just that we won’t see the blessing in it until we learn to be obedient.
- Probably the most generous and thankful people you know aren’t the wealthiest. It is entirely possible to give generously with limited means.
- When it comes to generosity, Paul has a particular lexicon. The words he associates with giving generously are words like:
- Surpassing grace
- When we abound in our generosity, thankfulness is the natural response. We can’t internalize this truth though until we regularly practice generosity.
- When it comes to generosity, Paul has a particular lexicon. The words he associates with giving generously are words like:
- God is increasingly generous to us. You can see this in creation and in how he blesses people who follow him and those who don’t. God doesn’t bless us because we deserve what he gives. God gives us abundantly because it’s his nature to be generous. Anytime we realize how good God has been to us, it becomes obvious that we should act generously with others because we’re thankful for what God did with us.
Now you’re set for multiple sermons on this important topic. Turn these outlines into a starting point to teach your church about a life of thanksgiving. By the way, be sure to check out our Advent and Easter in Easter sermons and Christmas sermons blogs in the coming months as you prepare for those important holidays.
Many churches see increased gratitude and generosity during the Thanksgiving season. Often, sermons on generosity can naturally follow ones on Thanksgiving. If you’re uncomfortable having those tough giving conversations after the holidays, we can help. Learn how we can help you encourage generosity in your community during this holiday season. Talk to an expert today.