Food, football, and family have become the annual trifecta of the American Thanksgiving Day. I liberally indulge in all three, and look forward to doing so. I’m not here to bash on the fact that Thanksgiving has become almost a day of secular worship around an unholy trinity. And that’s because I really believe that underneath all the gravy, naps at halftime, and obnoxious relatives that we actually know why we are celebrating the day: to give thanks for our abundant blessings. And I think even those who do not readily acknowledge a God in the world intuitively know that there is a power and source of blessing well beyond themselves that makes all good things occur.
Celebrations are a spiritual activity. Parties were not invented by secularists. God created them. When Israel was preparing for a new national life in the Promised Land, God told them to celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the first-fruits of the crops (Exodus 23:16). The Levitical law prescribed how to go about giving thanksgiving offerings; they were commanded and expected. Gratitude was an important dimension of Old Testament worship. Even before America as we know it was in existence, the people of God were used to setting aside certain days as events of special thanksgiving to God. The church has always acknowledged that God as our Creator is also the Provider of all the bounty we receive.
Consider some biblical verses that encourage us toward giving thanks. “Come to worship the LORD with thankful hearts and songs of praise” (Psalm 95:2). “Be thankful and praise the LORD as you enter his temple. The LORD is good! His love and faithfulness will last forever” (Psalm 100:4-5). Our mouths need to speak our thanks out loud to God. “Tell the LORD how thankful you are, because he is kind and always merciful” (Psalm 118:1).
In the New Testament, Luke tells the story of ten men with leprosy who were miraculously healed by Jesus. A Samaritan, the lowliest of the low, was the lone person who came and fell at Christ’s feet with intense gratitude. While the other nine went about their lives free from disease and glad for it, only one guy took the time to thank Jesus (Luke 17:11-19). Indeed, sometimes we must be reminded to give thanks and to show gratitude for the ways in which God has provided for us. And it is often the homeless, the sick, the lowly, the marginal of society that are the ones who lead the way and teach us what genuine thanksgiving looks like.
The people of God are to never forget what they possess in Christ. Paul told the Colossian church, “You have accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord. Now keep on following him. Plant your roots in Christ and let him be the foundation for your life. Be strong in your faith, just as you were taught. And be grateful” (Colossians 2:6-7). Prayer and thanksgiving are to go together like mashed potatoes and gravy: “Never give up praying. And when you pray, keep alert and be thankful” (Colossians 4:2). Since God created everything – each bite of juicy turkey, every homemade roll, and that piece of pumpkin pie – it is all good (maybe not good for you – but good!). Every meal is to be eaten with the cognizance that God is really behind it all (1 Timothy 4:4).
If church ministry is not perpetually punctuated with times of celebration, praise, giving thanks, and even blowout parties, then that particular local church will become dull, boring, lifeless, and will not have the lifeblood of Jesus coursing through their corporate veins. But a joyous church which takes advantage of giving thanks to God at every excuse to do so will be attractive, winsome, and peculiar (in the good way, and not in the weird way of your strange uncle). Christians really ought to be at the forefront of having maximum fun because they have been forgiven; know the presence of God; are provided for; are confident in the fact they are protected; and, know the power of the Spirit and the shepherding ministry of Jesus.
Yes, eat to your heart’s content and have a belly full of cornbread stuffing. But remember to give thanks – out loud and with others – for the God who stands behind every good gift of creation. Let thanksgiving and not constant complaint shape you and your church. Be that one person who comes back to Jesus and offers praise, worship, and gratitude – and see how God can change your life and your church.