There are few things that reveal the true attitude of our hearts toward God more than thanks. If doubt has crept in it becomes very difficult to say thank you. If were full of worry or anger or sorrow, expressing thankfulness can feel hypocritical. If weve become proud and self-reliant, thanks seems unnecessary because, in our minds, what were enjoying is the fruit of our own labors. Turning to God and recognizing Him as the Source of the good things in our lives (Jas 1:17) is an expression of faith. Saying thank you means were indebted to Him, that Hes given us something good we didnt deserve. And in order to think of something for which to give thanks I have to focus my attention on whats good. It pries me away from the negative and forces me to remember the positive. Thanks can be downright disruptive. It can challenge us and make us feel uncomfortable. It demands that we bow our knee to someone greater.
Isnt it wonderful that we still have a national holiday in which all citizens are invited to give thanks to God? Sure, there will be homes this Thursday where there will be only a brief sense of awkwardness before diving into a lavish dinner. And there will be homes where there is not a trace of anything special to mark the occasion. But there are still many in this nation who will pause to thank God for His goodness, and that simple act of faith, mixed with humility, will not go unnoticed in heaven. God will hear their sincere prayers and answer with a blessing.
Yet regardless of how our nation responds as a whole, or how nominal Christians or unbelievers respond this Thursday, the real question is how we, the believing church, will respond. Will we be thankful? Will sincere prayer rise from our hearts? What attitudes will that day reveal in us? Is our faith still strong, or has doubt, or worry, or anger, or sorrow, or even self-reliance crept in?
Anxious for nothing (Php 4:4-9)
v4 - Paul says its possible to rejoice in the Lord, independent of the circumstances in our lives. We can always rejoice.
v5 - He wants us to react to trouble and offense with patient reasonableness rather than becoming emotional and argumentative, demanding our rights.
v6 - When problems come were not to worry about them but instead take them to God in prayer. And whenever we pray, were supposed to thank God by faith for the answers Hes sure to give.
v7 - And a wonderful peace which doesnt depend on an improvement in the situation will settle over us, preventing fleshy and demonic attitudes from gripping our thoughts and emotions, and protecting us from making bad decisions.
v8 - When false teachings and lies come, Paul tells us to focus our minds on Gods truth; when were disrespected or dishonored, were to focus our minds on the respect and honor God has given us; when we face injustice, were to think about Gods justice; when we feel condemned or are tempted by moral impurity, were to think about Christ and the purity He has given us; when we see prejudice or hatred, were to think of how God loves people; when we are gossiped about or slandered, were to think about what God says about us. Were to look for something positive in that person or situation, something we can praise God for, and then rethink the situation in light of these until our attitude changes.
v9 - This is the way Paul himself functioned. Its the way he kept himself from becoming bitter or sad, and he tells us to imitate him.
So, regardless of what may have happened this year, Paul says we can sincerely and joyfully give thanks. When bad things happen he says we are able to refuse worry and turn instead to God because God is our Help. He is not the source of sin, sorrow or sickness even though we live in a world filled with those things, and at times they may touch us or those we love. In the midst of trouble we can run to God for help because we know who He is and how He feels about us. Were not tormented by questions of why He caused this problem or allowed it to happen.
I admit the Book of Job shows God permitting a righteous man to be severely tested. Paul acknowledged a simpler test in his own life (2Co 12:7-10). In both cases the source of the suffering was Satan, but God did allow them to be tested, either to honor that person (Job), or to protect him from pride (Paul). Yet both those men show us that if we really trust Gods love and wisdom we will find a way to peacefully rest in His arms while enduring such trials. Through it all we continue to come to Him as the One who forgives us, restores our souls, and heals our bodies. In the midst of the storm He remains our solution, not our problem.
By persevering in prayer, with thanksgiving, we often receive our answer in this life, but if not we still refuse to blame Him. We keep on remembering who He is and who we are in Christ and determine to do so until we die. Thats what Job did. He said,
Though He slay me, I will hope (wait expectantly) in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him. This also will be my salvation, for a godless man may not come before His presence (Job 13:15-16).
The greatest danger that comes when we have to endure in faith for a long time is the temptation to let disappointment sour into accusation. Listen to what the Lord said to Job later on: Will you really annul My judgment? Will you condemn Me that you may be justified? (Job 40:8). God told Job that there were many things he would never be able to understand and that he would have to trust Him. And thats still true even though there may be circumstances in my life that limit what Im able to receive. These may have to do with my cultural or religious environment, my spiritual history, or even my own unconscious choices. These influences can be so complex and hidden I will never really understand them, nor entirely escape them, even though Christ has made possible for me much more than I ever receive.
Such limitations to my faith are not Gods fault, but in a very real sense theyre not my fault either. All I can do is the best I know to do, and then seek to keep growing in my understanding and obedience. And God knows these weaknesses and limitations in me, and loves me unconditionally, as a parent loves a child whos wounded. Theres no condemnation, theres no anger, just grace along with His constant prodding to reach out and lay hold of all I can.
If I can keep this perspective, then I can wait for a long time without accusing myself or God. I can keep praying and not lose heart (Lk 18:1). I can keep thanking God knowing He will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him (Lk 11:13). I can keep thanking my heavenly Father knowing He will give what is good to those who ask Him (Mt 7:11).
The Pilgrims at Plymouth must have had this perspective, otherwise how could they have given thanks to God in the midst of such adversity. Listen.
Peter Marshall, David Manuel, The Light and the Glory, Fleming H. Revell Co., 1977, pp. 117-144.
The Pilgrims gave thanks for Gods loving care even though they had just endured a great struggle, both physical and spiritual, and were undoubtedly going to endure more. But they didnt condemn themselves, though heartfelt repentance was surely part of the process, and they didnt accuse God of failing to protect them. They focused on what He had provided, not what they lacked. And because of that attitude joy arose. They didnt mutter thanks; they celebrated Gods goodness with a great feast, especially the fact that they could be confident that those who had died were waiting for them in heaven.
A national holiday
Even though the Pilgrims hosted the first Thanksgiving dinner in America, the holiday itself actually had its origins almost 170 years later after the Revolutionary War had been won and our American Constitution had been adopted. In 1789, Congress approved the Bill of Rights, the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution. Congress then recommended a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to thank God for blessing America. President Washington declared November 26, 1789, as the first national day of prayer and thanksgiving to the Lord.
Another 75 years later, after the Civil War ended, President Abraham Lincoln established the last Thursday in November as a day to acknowledge the gracious gifts of the Most High God bestowed upon America. Every president did the same until 1941 when Congress officially made Thanksgiving a national holiday (quoted from an article in the National Liberty Journal, November 2004, written by David C. Gibbs Jr. and David C. Gibbs III, entitled, The True Origin of Thanksgiving).
Celebrating Thanksgiving (suggestions)
1) Its a national holiday, not a family holiday. As a nation we thank God for all He has provided, recognizing Him as our Source.
2) Dont eat alone, if possible. Add places to your table and invite those who might not have a place to go. Or invite someone to join you at a restaurant. Have turkey (or venison) unless youre allergic.
3) Spend time discussing the good things God has done for you this year, and promises in the Bible for which you are thankful.
4) Pray for our country, our church, the church worldwide, missionaries, our leaders (national, denominational, congregational).
5) Have a blessed day!
Questions (see above)