In a culture that seems to have forgotten its Godly heritage, how can we bring God back to the center of our Thanksgiving celebrations and prayers? Will it be disrespectful to other faiths to say "grace" at our table? How do we remove some of the awkwardness of prayer if our families are not accustomed to praying together on a daily basis?
This Thanksgiving, I'd like to give you some practical ideas to honor God as you celebrate the harvest with family and friends. Grab a pencil and jot down the ones you think might work for your festivities. Above all, don't let a fear of offending others keep you from shining your light! You might be surprised at how attractive that light becomes!
Thanksgiving doesn't need to become a dreaded holiday where food is abundant, God is absent, and guilt follows you right into the next week! Even if you are sharing a meal with family and friends of other faiths, there are ways you can bring God back to the center of the festivities. Here are some of the things I do to keep the focus where it should be:
Prayer Walk Your Street
A prayer walk is a simple way to prepare both your body and your spirit for Thanksgiving day. It's a great thing to do in the morning, before you visit with family and friends. Simply walk your neighborhood and pray for your festivities and for the people in your community.
Stuck on what to pray specifically? Ask God to give safety and protection to families and children as they come and go. Pray for peace in your streets, whether from rioting, gangs, burglaries, or accidents. Ask God for opportunities to share about Him with your neighbors. (And be ready to say a friendly hello!)
Is there a corner where accidents seem to happen on a regular basis? Take a moment and pray for angelic protection there, asking the Lord to break any curses of calamity or death in your area. Finally, if you pass schools or churches as you walk, ask the Lord to bless them, no matter what denomination! God can reach a Hindu or a Muslim through your prayers just as easily as He can reach an atheist!
Most of all, use the morning prayer walk to pray for your involvement in your Thanksgiving celebration. Ask God to open doors of opportunity for you (see Colossians 4:3) to be a light, to serve others, or to share your testimony.
Pray for Your Guests
If I am hosting Thanksgiving dinner (or any dinner, for that matter), one of the ways I prepare is by praying over every seat before my guests arrive. Similar to churches anointing every pew before a service, this is a tradition I have found to be extremely powerful. No anointing oil or special props are needed. I simply ask the Lord to post angels inside and outside my home, lift the heavy burdens off those who come in, and bless them and our conversation while they are here. As I clean the house, I also "cleanse" the spiritual atmosphere in my home by commanding any evil spirits to leave.
Here's the funny part: most of the time, I do this in our dining room (see photo above), which is where we serve and entertain for dinner. Over the years, I've noticed that despite the hard wooden chairs that surround our table, people will sit for hours in the dining room, refusing to move to the more comfortable couches even long after dessert is over!
I believe this is because people's spirits are sensitive to the Presence of God, and they gravitate to those places where prayers have been offered on their behalf. (Obvious But Related Tip: If you prefer not to sit on your hard dining room chairs long after the football game has started, I suggest you anoint your living room couches, too! :-)
Just like my chairs, the Holy Spirit can soften the hearts of even the most stiff or hardened people, giving you opportunities to share His love as you meet together.
Say Grace & Encourage Gratefulness
Saying a prayer at Thanksgiving can feel awkward and, well, grace-less without a plan, especially if you're not used to praying out loud before meals! But Thanksgiving is one of the easiest times to bring back this tradition, because most Americans expect to thank God for the food on their tables. After all, isn't this what the holiday is all about? Even a simple prayer you read (click here for a printable sample) can take the pressure off and restore the focus on God.
Here are some pain-free ideas for honoring God at your table when you have a variety of ages and faiths represented:
1. Tell the story of the Pilgrims (this is a great idea if you have smaller children), explaining the difficulties they faced when they came to America and the gratefulness they felt when God provided necessary food for them - even by the generosity of "unbelieving" Indians!
2. If you have time, write a scripture on the back of each place card, maybe something that reminds you of the person whose name is represented at that place. (Someone with the gift of hospitality might remind you of Martha, for example, or someone who frequently does good for others might inspire the scripture about Tabitha.) It's an encouragement and a great conversation starter!
3. Create a "blessing jar" as your centerpiece. Take an old mason jar, vase, or ceramic pumpkin, and let guests fill it with personal blessings they are thankful for from the past year. Each one can write down their blessing and contribute it to the jar. (This can be continued year-long as well, and the blessings can be read and reread as a memorial to God's goodness in your family's life.)
4. Gather some bittersweet (it is free and abundant in wooded areas or by the roadsides at this time of year). Use the slender stalks to make a "Thanksgiving tree" for your centerpiece. Add small decorated tags (see photo below), one for each guest:
I created just such a Thanksgiving tree about 5 years ago at our feast. Each of us wrote down one thing we were grateful for that year, shared our thoughts, and rehung the tags on our little tree.
I had no way of knowing it then, but that Thanksgiving would be the last holiday one of our parents would be with us before passing.
His Thanksgiving tag (center of photo) - a heartfelt "love letter" for his wife - is one of the last things he ever shared with us, and remains a very special keepsake in our family album.
When You Are Not the Host(-ess)
If circumstances simply do not allow for a time of prayer at your Thanksgiving dinner, or you are not the host(-ess), there is still one simple way you can redirect people to God. During your conversations, ask people, "What are you most thankful for this year?" Or: "How have you seen God at work in your life this year?"
Most people will, out of courtesy, ask you the same thing in return, providing you also with an opportunity to share a short testimony. Have something ready that highlights God's goodness to you! If nothing else, you will have served some delicious "food for thought" that will have a far greater impact on their lives than the mashed potatoes and gravy! Your story can bring that guest one step closer to God.
I pray that your Thanksgiving Dinner will be full of the Presence of God, simply because YOU are there. Christ in you is the hope of glory, not just for you, but for all those who meet you!
Need a Thanksgiving prayer to read at your dinner? Click here. Have other ideas? Share them with our readers in the comments below so we can all benefit!
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.