When our children were young, we wanted them to learn to serve others and be grateful for their many blessings. We knew the man who managed the local mission for the homeless in our city. We contacted him about serving Thanksgiving lunch at the mission. My husband and I served plates on the buffet line. Our four children were responsible for passing out additional rolls and desserts. Our son had one single mom with two children who asked for additional food, which she wrapped in napkins and put in her bag for later. His heart was broken to think that the food we had served was all they would have to eat for the rest of the day.
This kind of service leads to thanksgiving. It also opens our hearts to love others with the kind of love Jesus commanded. According to Jesus, the most important commandment of all is, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.’ The second is, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).
Jesus also said that His followers would actually be known by their love for one another (John 13:34-35). How would others know? They would know we are followers of Christ by our acts of loving service. This focus on others is an overflow of our love for God. Interestingly, psychologists tell us that all humans have an innate need to be loved. Hmm – sounds like we’re on to something. God values love and each of us needs it.
Genuine love always starts with God. He loves us first and enables us to love Him (1 John 4:10). His love then sets us free to love other people. Serving others during the Thanksgiving season is one way to make a difference in the lives of others. But don’t just limit it to this time of the year. You can help your children become more aware of those around them by planning ways to serve that include them. Some of the most beneficial service opportunities for us were: adopting an elderly homebound couple, setting aside money to bless someone with and praying together as a family for God to tell us who to bless and asking a waiter or waitress how we can pray for them before we pray for our meal (make sure you tip them well).
A heart of thanksgiving enables us to focus on others instead of ourselves. Maybe you’re like me and you desire to love and serve others, but you just need a little assistance with some creative ideas for expressing love through service. I recently posted a question on social media about ways we can “love and serve” others and use it as an opportunity to share Christ. I received some fantastic ideas. Hopefully some of these will spark your own creativity.
- Help someone unload groceries into their car and then return the cart.
- Pay for the food of the person behind you in the fast food line and ask the cashier to tell them to have a blessed day.
- Bake cookies for the sanitation workers or your postal delivery person.
- Have the cashier add extra money to the gas pump for someone struggling to pay with change or just a few dollars.
- Buy an extra bag of groceries and deliver it to a single mom.
- Visit a senior adult who lives alone.
- Give another driver your parking spot.
- Ask the cashier at the grocery store to name his/her favorite candy or gum and buy it for them.
- Send an anonymous note of encouragement with a monetary gift to someone who has lost their job.
- Volunteer in a local school, mission or ministry.
- Volunteer to work for an entire Sunday in your church’s nursery.
- Invite someone without family in the area to your home for Thanksgiving dinner.
- Smile a lot!
Discuss possible service opportunities with your family. Maybe we could start a “service revolution” by loving others so radically with the love of Christ that the lost world would notice. Why not start this month? How about one deed a day? You may find that you develop a habit that will change your heart and your reputation. You’ll become known as a Christ follower – not because you profess it, but because you are living it!
What are some practical ways that you can serve someone in your neighborhood or church?
Pray about ways you can express your thanksgiving to the Lord through acts of service. Why not start now and plan a service act a day until Christmas?
About the Author: Donna Gaines, is a pastor’s wife, mother of four and “Nonna” to eleven. She is a Bible teacher, author of Choose Wisely Live Fully: Lessons from Wisdom and Folly, The Two Women of Proverbs and Founder and President of ARISE2Read. Find her at www.donnagaines.org