Joy & Gratitude

The Real Reason Thanksgiving Comes First

Doug Bender

November 23, 2022 | 2 minute read

There’s something deeply philosophical about starting the holiday season with Thanksgiving. Christmas often turns into a holiday of excess. We celebrate with weeks worth of overeating and piles of gifts. But perhaps a simple glance at the calendar would reorient our hearts to a better approach. 

Thanksgiving comes first. 

Think about that for just a moment.

What would happen if every time we were tempted with excess, materialistic gain and piles of unnecessary spending, we put our hearts in a position of thankfulness instead? Perhaps, we would celebrate the poverty-stricken birth of a refugee child to a teenage mother in a manger with more humble offerings. 

But how do we get into a mindset of thankfulness? Let me suggest a strong dose of serving others. Sure you can just buy people more presents. People like gifts. Of course, you can send money to your favorite charity, which is a great thing. (And – shameless plug – did you know we are a non-profit organization in need of donations?) But these things won’t move your heart or reshape your focus quite like good ole fashioned volunteering. 

Volunteering is inconvenient. It’s hard work. It puts you in contact with messy people, messy situations and hard-to-fix societal problems. But it will let you see how much you really have and the gifts you have already received. 

Volunteer at a Food Bank

Offer your time at a local food bank, and you will realize there are people who worry about not having food. That will make you thankful that you have to worry about overeating.

Volunteer at a Church

Most churches offer special Christmas services, musical productions, outreach programs and the like. All of these things take time from willing volunteers. And then come New Year’s. Then, finally, it all has to get packed up and put away. So instead of just attending church this Christmas and “consuming” another church program offering, consider what you might learn by giving your time.

Volunteer Your Home

This one gets personal, I know. But it can also be the most rewarding. Every year my wife and I look around and try to find people with nowhere to go on the holidays: widows who lost their husbands, friends whose families long since stopped gathering or coworkers whose families live far away. And then we invite them over for all our holiday events. We count them as family. They can come for Thanksgiving dinner. They can bake cookies with us in December. They can even join us for presents on Christmas morning. Nothing makes us more thankful for family and home than to share these with someone else. You can learn by doing the same.

Whatever you do this year, I challenge you to remember that while the calendar can teach us that Thanksgiving comes first, serving others can remind us that it should also start with a heart of thanksgiving.

Doug Bender

Doug Bender

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer and small groups coach. He developed many of the small group tools found at and has coached churches, organizations, and individuals to use I Am Second groups to share the message of Jesus with their friends and family. He also works with I Am Second's parent organization, e3 Partners, as a church planter and pastor in countries such as Ethiopia, Colombia, and the US. Doug and his wife, Catherine, have four children: Bethany, Samuel, Isabella, and Jesse.

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