Next to Christmas the Thanksgiving holiday is the most celebrated day of the year. In many ways it probably affects more people because it is not religious in nature and the spirit of it can be appreciated by all people, regardless of their faith. It is also interesting to note that this holiday is uniquely American because Americans can easily relate to both concepts included in Thanksgiving. In the United States of America there is much to be thankful for. In the United States of America giving is possible because there is abundance.
In Haiti, for example, they don't celebrate Thanksgiving because when the mainstay of your diet is thin milk and pieces of bread, or small pieces of meat in rice (and every few days), there isn't much to celebrate. And if you are the poorest nation in the western hemisphere you are usually on the receiving end of charity, not on the giving side. I don't say these things to make us feel guilty or to spoil the holiday, but rather to make us aware of the fact that Thanksgiving is a holiday well suited to this country because of its special blessings.
With this idea in mind I'd like to review, from a Biblical perspective, the two main ideas contained in Thanksgiving (Thanks & Giving). Perhaps if we get beyond the turkey and the day off from work, and really understand these terms, we may turn this holiday into a day of true thanks and true giving.
Different Aspects of "Thanks"
Thanks as Self-Awareness
I believe more prayers are said on Thanksgiving Day than at any other time of the year. People who don't normally pray or have any kind of religious life will usually pause and acknowledge their blessings and good fortune on this day. People who don't usually say grace will not be embarrassed to return thanks according to custom on this day. People who are faithful Christians and who always pray at mealtime will especially take the time to offer grace at this special time.
I think that sooner or later a person realizes that the United States is a pretty wonderful country with so many advantages and prosperity that thanking God becomes an obvious necessity. To offer thanks is a way of acknowledging that this is the United States and not Haiti or North Korea, that this place is special and life is good here. Thanks for blessings is a way of confirming that we are not blind to the prosperity we enjoy; it is the collective expression of self-awareness concerning our blessed condition. Thanks says we know we are well off, we see other nations and other people, and we see very clearly our advantage and appreciate it...thanks, as self awareness.
Thanks as Self-Protection
No one likes a person who is an ingrate. You do something for them and they don't appreciate or acknowledge it. God is more gracious than we are.
He sends the rain on the just and the unjust.
- Matthew 5:45
God is able to bless even those who don't acknowledge that the blessings come from Him or give Him thanks. However, the day will come when God will hold all persons accountable for their actions, good or bad, whether they acknowledged and thanked Him or not.
God shall judge the secrets of men.
- Romans 2:16
The Lord shall judge His people.
- Hebrews 10:30
Sometimes God judges His people in this life by removing their blessings and their advantages. The Jewish nation lost their privileges when they failed to acknowledge God and His word. They were destroyed and scattered. The pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar, lost his throne and sanity because he refused to give God the credit for his military success.
In all cases, He will judge our response to His blessings and our use of them when Jesus returns.
But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.
- Matthew 25:31
Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain.
- Psalm 127:1
The best protection for our blessings and the surest guarantees for continued prosperity are not safety deposit boxes or strong armies. To preserve our blessings we need to acknowledge and thank the One who provides them in the first place.
Thanks as Self-Edification
It is good to give thanks to the Lord
And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning
And Your faithfulness by night,
With the ten-stringed lute and with the harp,
With resounding music upon the lyre.
For You, O Lord, have made me glad by what You have done,
I will sing for joy at the works of Your hands.
How great are your works, O LORD!
Your thoughts are very deep.
A senseless man has no knowledge,
Nor does a stupid man understand this:
That when the wicked sprouted up like grass
And all who did iniquity flourished,
It was only that they might be destroyed forevermore.
But you, O LORD, are on high forever.
For, behold, Your enemies, O LORD, will perish;
All who do iniquity will be scattered.
But You have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;
I have been anointed with fresh oil.
And my eye has looked exultantly upon my foes,
My ears hear of the evildoers who rise up against me.
The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree,
He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
Planted in the house of the Lord,
They will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still yield fruit in old age;
They shall be full of sap and very green,
To declare that the Lord is upright;
He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.
- Psalm 92
Some think that giving thanks is a one way action, that we thank and God receives our gratitude because that makes Him feel good. God doesn't need anything and the reason that our thanks pleases Him is because this action provides Him a way of blessing us in yet another way. You see, sin and death cause us to experience all kinds of things - sorrow, pain, guilt, fear, shame, anger, depression, discouragement, etc. None of these things are pleasant.
Other types of things however, cause us to feel pleasant and joyful experiences.
- Faith in Christ causes us to feel hope, security, happiness, and enthusiasm.
- Forgiveness brings peace and relief, among other things.
- Knowledge of God's word causes us to feel zealous, bold, secure, happy, mature, and wise.
In the same way, the giving of thanks makes us feel joyful, complete, and closer to God while giving closure to our feelings of appreciation. Closure in that we know where our blessings come from and doing what is right concerning them. The giving of thanks helps us to deal with our wealth without feeling guilty. Our thanksgiving helps lift depression because it allows us to have a proper balance between all that we have in contrast to what we don't have.
My favorite Psalm is Psalm 92 because the author explains that the giving of thanks should be an attitude of the heart that lasts from morning until night, from youth to old age. As a matter of fact, he suggests that this attitude is the secret for staying physically and mentally healthy into old age. God wants us to thank Him because it makes us feel good, not Him. He rejoices for us as we learn the sweet experience that comes from thanking Him.
Different Aspects of Giving
The true purpose of this holiday is to give thanks (why it's called thanksgiving). We've already discussed some of the elements involved in the "giving" of thanks.
- Giving thanks is a road to self-awareness.
- Giving thanks is a form of self-protection.
- Giving thanks is a good way of self-edification.
But Thanksgiving is incomplete if all we do is recognize our blessings in the giving of thanks. Since Thanksgiving helps us recognize the generous nature of God's giving, I think it should be a time when we consider the nature and quality of our own giving as well. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul reviews with the Corinthians the true nature and style of Christian giving.
1. Before you give anything, you must first give yourself to the Lord.
Your giving can only bring joy and satisfaction if it stems from the fact that you have submitted yourself totally to the Lord (or in the process of doing so). Many don't enjoy giving and consequently don't give generously because their heart is not into it. If your heart truly belongs to the Lord, your money will easily find its way into the collection plate.
2. Attitude not amount.
For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.
- 2 Corinthians 8:3-5
Note the attitude of the Macedonian churches in giving to the poor, described by Paul.
- They were willing.
- They were enthusiastic.
- They gave beyond their means.
In verse 12 Paul says that God judges the attitude, not just the amount.
For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.
- 2 Corinthians 8:12
If the attitude about giving is right, the amount given will be right according to that person's ability. When the attitude is right, the money given becomes an expression of faith, love, and confidence.
3. Giving is a way to demonstrate true fellowship.
For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction but by way of equality.
Therefore openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you.
- 2 Corinthians 8:12-13; 24
The way to develop true and sincere fellowship is by developing generous giving. You see, the ones that have the blessings and the wealth need to share because it helps them maintain their faith.
- Wealth leads to worldliness.
- Ease leads to carelessness.
- Prosperity leads to callousness about the plight of others.
The wealthy (and in this world that means us in the United States of America) need to give to express our love and concern for our brethren and our own dependence on God to provide for our giving. The poor, the needy, need to receive because otherwise they will lose hope, and without hope their faith will collapse. Not only will they have a miserable life here, if their faith goes, they face the prospect of no life with God after this miserable life.
In the first century, Paul was able to create fellowship between the Jews and Gentiles through the giving by the Gentiles to the starving Jews in Jerusalem. Nothing demonstrates that we share the same faith and hope with others as when we share our worldly goods with others to keep their faith strong.
I hope that we will take advantage of the double blessing available at this time of year.
- Enjoy the blessings and prosperity we have with our family and friends.
- Enjoy the particular benefits of both recognizing and thanking our gracious Lord who has provided these gifts not only for this week, but for every day of our lives.