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Still Thankful

29 Nov Student Ministry | Comments Off on Still Thankful
Still Thankful

Now that the Turkey is finished, the football’s been watched, and the naps have been taken, we’re all pretty much ready to move on to the next thing. But Thanksgiving should be at the heart of our Christian experience year round, not just leading up to T-day.

It sometimes feels like we switch gears so quickly, moving on to blockbuster black Friday sales, Christmas parties, and extended vacations, that we sometimes forget to take thanksgiving with us. Frankly, it feels like a miss. We go from being thankful to being obsessed with what we’re going to get next – presents, time off, parties, etc.

All this got me thinking, how can we keep thankfulness as a core value and practice in our lives? What are some ways we can help students carry it forward through the holiday season?

 Why Give Thanks?

The other day I watched my daughter Natalie play a game of Shadow with a friend.  The game is simple: mimic someone’s actions, words, sounds, tone, etc. as precisely as you can.  It was entertaining to say the least.

It started out innocently enough with inquisitive laughter.  It was funny to hear my seven year old’s repetitive retorts. Then it got a bit more challenging as her opponent’s phrases and actions came faster and more sophisticated.  Finally the game began to implode, as they both were reduced to incoherent grunting, wheezing and what seemed to be a spontaneously invented language.  I imagine that is how most games of Shadow end.

When I think about it Shadow is a game we all unconsciously play at times.  We mindlessly repeat what we’ve heard; maybe even when we pray.  More specifically, giving thanks when we pray.

Have you ever noticed that as Christians we are Thanksgiving experts?  We “give thanks” all the time – thanks for food, journey’s mercies, God’s presence when we’re gathered in a group. Most people pray using a series of “Thank you’s”.  It becomes a framework for our prayers. We start with the “thank you’s” so we can make way for the requests.

Maybe it is more like the Shadow game then we realize, simply mimicking how and what we’ve heard others pray.  It is not that we’re not thankful, but that thanksgiving has become our only way of communicating with God.  It would be very odd to have a relationship with someone with whom you only communicated by thanking them.

Maybe it’s time to take a break from being “thankful”

Take a step back.  Ask the question, “Why?” Why give thanks?  Where does our gratitude come from?  Who is God and what has He done that makes us so thankful.  Asking “why?” gets us beyond simply going through the motions of thanksgiving. It may even show your students’ how much they truly know or do not know about God’s character.  Asking “why?” can expose your students’ heart on the matter, even challenge them to search scripture as they try to articulate their reasons to give thanks.

Here are some next step suggestions:

  1. Start off a small group with the discussion question “Why am I thankful (without saying what you are thankful for).”
  2. At your next large group gathering, have students text in their answers to a series of questions centered around thanksgiving. You can have someone in the back prepare a PowerPoint top 10 list for the end of the night.
  3. Invite students to post stories of thanksgiving on your group’s Facebook page throughout the week. No bullet points or one-liners, have them tell a story.
  4. Challenge your leaders to get beyond just asking what we’re thankful for. As they model it for students, they’ll pick up on it, too.

As we move forward into the Christmas season, let’s not just go through the motions of thanksgiving. I pray that Thanksgiving this year will be a catalyst for spiritual growth in your student ministry.  May it drive their adoration and affection for God to a deeper level.  As it does, I trust it will impact the way they pray.

Ben Myers
Camp Director at Arrowhead Bible Camp
Ben Myers has served as the Camp Director at Arrowhead Bible Camp in Brackney, PA for the past 13 years. Arrowhead is a ministry committed to discipleship through its programs for adults with developmental disabilities, missions opportunities for youth groups, and mentoring of High School and College students. Ben also teaches as an adjunct professor at Lancaster Bible College and holds degrees from Cairn University and Baptist Bible Seminary.