How to Find Purpose in Thanksgiving

Dr. Bob Barnes and Torrey Roberts Sheridan House Family Ministries

What if we’ve completely missed God’s intended purpose of Thanksgiving? What if this is the year we should “do it right” but missed it? 

There are great mandates to celebrate by remembering what God has done for us, and yet so often we celebrate the “celebration” and forget the intended purpose. The Lord’s Supper is a perfect example. So often you can take part in the Lord’s Supper at church and totally forget to do the work of doing it “in remembrance of Him.”



Thanksgiving is another example. The first Thanksgiving celebration was a time of thanking God. It was a great time to refocus. The pilgrims spent a year of incredible loss and starvation, and yet they gathered together to focus on what they had, rather than what they had lost. They refocused.  

This had to be a great lesson for the children because many had lost one of their parents during that first harsh winter to sickness. Yet, the remaining adults decided, certain under God’s direction, to look instead at was God was doing for them.

In what is going on around us, it would be naive to think the children around you aren’t worried about what the future holds. Certainly God is directing us to use this Thanksgiving to get back to its intended purpose; the giving of thanks to God. 

As parents, it should not escape our notice that Thanksgiving appears on our calendar providentially before Christmas. What if we used the Thanksgiving meal as a time to discuss what we’re going to do as a family to give thanks at Christmas? What if we focused less on making lists of what we want and more effort on making a list of want to do’s for others … in the name of Christ … as His birthday gift from us?


Count your blessings

Let’s use this Thanksgiving to refocus our family. Let’s use this Thanksgiving as a time to remember the blessings we have been given. The fact that we live in a great country; the fact that we have options for food, the fact that…  Well, get the children to build a list. Make it a contest. Spend the week of Thanksgiving competing over who can come up with the most blessings our Father has given to us.

Once the focus has become one of thankfulness instead of greediness, take the next step. Who can come up with the best way we as a family can express our gratitude. What can we do to say thank you to Jesus?

What will this do? It could start a new family tradition, but more than that it will take the focus off of “me” and put the focus on others. It’s amazing how my world gets bigger and brighter when I’m not in the center of it.

How many parents wished they could help their children not be so self-centered? How many parents today wish they knew how to help their children stop being so materialistic? This is the chance we’ve all been waiting for.

Thanksgiving wasn’t started by the “Turkey Lobby.” Motivated by God in 1621, Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared a harvest fest, acknowledged as the first Thanksgiving celebration. They saw a need to focus on what their people had rather than morn what they had lost. The Pilgrims, having experienced great tragedy and hardship, celebrated that week. They celebrated and gave thanks to God, focusing on what they had. They reminded themselves that as bad as it was, they had fared far better than their Jamestown counterparts.


Table talk

ThanksgivingUse thanksgiving to get ready for the best Christmas ever. Table talk: What can we do for others this Christmas? By doing this, you will be teaching the most difficult and yet greatest lesson: It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Don’t waddle away from this year’s Thanksgiving table stuffed with turkey, instead walk away stuffed with the joy of gratitude and a focus on others. You will be giving your children a gift they will treasure forever. The gift of giving!


Visit for more advice from Dr. Bob Barnes and Torrey Roberts.

For more articles by Dr. Bob Barnes and Torrey Roberts, visit

Share this article