In this year of challenge, change, and stress, perhaps the Church is positioned to shine brightly in the darkness.
You, pastor, have a powerful antidote to so much of what plagues our world today: thankfulness.
We have a holiday every November that puts this theme on a silver platter.
Consider these steps before you dive into creating a Thanksgiving sermon outline. For the full article on how to develop your outlines, click here.
Step #1: Consider WHY You Should Preach about Thankfulness
We’ve already considered a few reasons preaching on thankfulness this Thanksgiving would be a great idea. But there’s more — here are six 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 COVID-19 pandemic, 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.
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 grouchy, complaining, stingy people who always find a cloud in every silver lining.
Therefore, it makes sense that practicing gratitude has several relational, physical, and mental health benefits. Psychology Today reports a number of significant benefits:
- Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.
- Gratitude improves physical health.
- Grateful people sleep better.
- Gratitude improves psychological health.
- Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression.
- Gratitude improves confidence.
- Gratitude increases mental strength.
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!
4. 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.
5. 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.
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.
Many churches create new giving opportunities during the holiday season. Preaching a Thanksgiving sermon series is one powerful step in helping people grow in generosity.
Here’s an example of a series that brilliantly ties gratitude and generosity together.
6. It’s appealing 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 are 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.
If you ask a non-Christian, “Do you think your life would be better if you were more grateful?” he or she will 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!
Step #2: Pray
Prayer must be part of how a preacher prepares himself or herself to communicate God’s truth and encouragement, not to mention maintaining his or her own walk with God.
But prayer must also be a crucial part of interpreting the Scriptures. The Bible is a “God-breathed” book and, thus, cannot be read scientifically or analytically. To be sure, we cannot interpret correctly without good reading techniques (learn more here). But it is possible to read well and still come short of God’s message—especially if we read without the Spirit’s help.
Though we’re considering this as a “step,” prayer must be woven throughout the entire process, from beginning to end.
A few specific items to pray for:
- Illumination — Ask God to open your eyes and heart to the truth of His word.
- Guidance — Ask God to direct the process, helping you to see and say exactly what He knows the people in your church most need to hear.
- Personal Impact — Ask God to use His word to make the goodness and beauty of the truth real to your heart, so it’s not merely something you give to others, but something you experience powerfully.
- Power — Ask God for spiritual power necessary to faithfully and fruitfully proclaim the truth.
Step #3: Review What the Bible Says About Thanksgiving
The Bible has a TON to say about thankfulness and gratitude. It’s hard to find a chunk of Scripture where it doesn’t somehow come up. Thanksgiving takes place in a variety of contexts, by a variety of people, as a response to various situations.
In the Scriptures, it does not encourage gratitude 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
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.
At the fountainhead of evil and disobedience is ingratitude (see Romans 1:21).
2. Giving Thanks is a Strong Command
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.
Christians often struggle with discerning God’s will in various areas of life. 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 different throughout the Bible, taking a variety of forms:
(Psalm 86:12, Matthew 11:25, Colossians 1:3)
(1 Chronicles 23:30, 2 Chronicles 7:6, Psalm 30:4, Psalm 57:9, Psalm 92:1)
Songs of Thanksgiving
(Psalm 95:2, Nehemiah 12:27, Psalm 147:7, Ephesians 5:19–20)
Sacrifices of Thanksgiving
(Leviticus 7:11–15, Leviticus 22:29, Psalm 116:17, ESV).
Thanksgiving in Giving
(2 Corinthians 9:11–12)
Thanksgiving in Conversation
(Matthew 12:34, Ephesians 5:4)
To read the full scriptural examples of what these biblical characters expressed thanks for, see our full blog article.
Final Thoughts on Thanksgiving Sermon Outlines
If you’re looking for a small way to make a big impact this year, consider preaching a Thanksgiving sermon. It will be good for your church and good for you.
Now that you’ve taken time to think about the importance and potential impact of a Thanksgiving sermon or series, visit our full blog article that will take you through the process of developing your outline.
In the full article, we unpack the process you can take to formulate your sermon including how to pick a theme, study the text, ask crucial questions, pick an angle, and create your intro, illustrations, and conclusion.
And remember: the principles we’ve outlined for writing a Thanksgiving sermon outline can be followed in creating nearly any sermon.
May God fill you with gratitude, and may He use this Thanksgiving to fill you and your church’s heart with joy!