The Transforming Power of Thanksgiving and Forgiveness

When I give thanks, I am reminded of how utterly dependent I am on God and of how incredibly good He is to me.

Forgiveness is harder than thanksgiving, and for that reason it is even more powerful. To forgive someone is to release them from the debt they owe us. It is to surrender our claim to vengeance. Forgiveness is hard, but it is easier when I realize how much I have been forgiven. Forgiveness is powerful in my life for two reasons: It reminds me that I am not God and it releases me from the trap of bitterness.

 

Thanksgiving is coming this week. For many, the holidays bring the mixed blessing of extended family gatherings. Our Thanksgiving gathering always takes place at the same house here in Georgia, and we’re thankful that our travel time has been reduced over the years from 12-14 hours to 6 minutes. We’re blessed to have a Thanksgiving gathering free from awkwardness, hurt feelings or resentment, but I know not everyone is so blessed.

Every challenge brings opportunity, and this week, many will have opportunity to exercise two of the most powerful forces in our lives: Thanksgiving and Forgiveness. Few things we do have the power to transform our perspective, our attitude and our lives like giving thanks to God for our good gifts and forgiving those who have wronged us.

Thanksgiving is a national holiday, but for believers, it should be so much more. Our culture emphasizes turkey and football. I love both, but neither is life-changing like the spiritual discipline of giving thanks. When I stop and get out a piece of paper and start specifically and comprehensively giving thanks to God for the blessings He has given me, I am overwhelmed by two realities: I am unbelievably blessed and I don’t deserve any of it.

I cannot say that I have earned most of my richest blessings in any way: forgiveness of my sins, adoption into God’s family, access to my Heavenly Father in prayer, a wife who loves me and is faithful to me, three wonderful children who love me, a sound mind, meaningful work, freedom of speech and worship, etc. When I give thanks, I am reminded of how utterly dependent I am on God and of how incredibly good He is to me.

Forgiveness is harder than thanksgiving, and for that reason it is even more powerful. To forgive someone is to release them from the debt they owe us. It is to surrender our claim to vengeance. Forgiveness is hard, but it is easier when I realize how much I have been forgiven. Forgiveness is powerful in my life for two reasons: It reminds me that I am not God and it releases me from the trap of bitterness.

God alone is the judge. He alone has the right to condemn, not me. When I refuse to forgive, I am putting myself in the place of God and condemning someone in my heart. I cannot do that and, when I try, it overwhelms me with bitterness and resentment. Forgiveness releases the one who has offended me, puts me in my proper place before God and heals my bitterness. It transforms my life.

God alone is God. He is the source of every good and perfect gift we enjoy in this life. He is the only final judge and the One who graciously forgives us all of our sins through Christ our Savior. As we practice forgiveness and thanksgiving, we enter into a deeper awareness of our need for God to be who He is in our lives- to provide and to redeem. Knowing Him better in the daily experience of our lives changes everything about who we are, how we think, how we treat other people and how we see the world.

This week, I hope we all enjoy so much more than just turkey and football. Let’s enjoy the transforming power of giving thanks and forgiving others.

Jason A. Van Bemmel is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. This article appeared on his blog Ponderings of a Pilgrim Pastor and is used with permission.