Originally posted November, 2006.
To All Ye Pilgrims: Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience; now, I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November ye 29th of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty-three, and third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor, and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.
It’s been 383 years since Governor William Bradford called the Pilgrims to the first Thanksgiving celebration in the New World. 156 years later, after a long, hard war for independence, our first President, George Washington, called the United States of America to a day of thanksgiving:
Whereas, it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; Whereas, both the houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness!” Now therefore, I do recommend next, to be devoted by the people of the states to the service of that great and glorious being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be, that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country.
The giving of thanks may be one of the most difficult mandates in all of Scripture. A classic text on the subject is located within the first letter to the Thessalonian church where Paul writes, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (5:16-18, ESV) . Doesn’t sound too difficult, you say? How can rejoicing and praying and giving thanks be hard? The adverbial attachment to each of these verbs brings the rub. “Rejoice always?” “Pray without ceasing?” “Give thanks in all circumstances?” How does one rejoice when facing the crisis of his life? How do you pray unceasingly? How do I give thanks when, for example, someone is elected to public office whom I voted against? No, these commands are not easy, but they are the will of God. I want to spend some time ruminating with you on the concept of thanksgiving, or gratitude. This is not an academic paper, a theological treatise, or a controversial hot-button. The implications, though, of expressing gratitude in all things are enormous and should both command our attention and demand our submission.
In my word study of thanksgiving, I was confronted with a very interesting fact. In the Old Testament, the overwhelming reference to the giving of thanks comes from the Hebrew yadah, which means “to extend the open hand.” Now before you write me off as an emotionally-driven charismatic, consider this prolific example of thanksgiving. First, it was always directed to God. Second, it expressed adoration and gratitude. It was a blessing for God. Third, it was done in a corporate, worship setting.
Now, friends, you may say what you will about the association of raising hands in worship. The fact is, however, that while there is no New Testament mandate for its use in the church, there is also no restriction upon its use in the church. Paul even desired that men should employ the lifting of holy hands before God in prayer (1 Tim. 2:8). We must come to our own conclusions in this matter; but please, brothers and sisters, do not denounce those in our midst who would exercise this very biblical expression of worship to God. In my opinion, we must return to a more biblical exemplification of worship in the assembly, which should include the raising of hands, the bowing of bodies, the shouting of saints, the kneeling of knees—all done in humility before a righteous and holy God.
The New Testament word for thanksgiving is eucharisteo. It is also an interesting word. We would literally translate it “good gracing.” The idea behind it, like the raising of the hands in the Old Testament, is the blessing of God. We do this practically when we “say grace” or “return thanks” before a meal. It’s almost a “we bless Him because He first blessed us” type of response. So, let’s think together. Why should we bless God, and how can we even do so?
Why bless God? First, and most obviously, we give thanks to God because of His saving grace to us. Certainly, the love of God expressed in the sacrifice of Christ is a sufficient motivation for Christian thanksgiving. Spurgeon exclaims,
The remembrance of that bleeding body hanging upon the cross is ever present to our faith. The nails and the spear, his griefs, the anguish of his soul, and his sweat of agony—these will prevent us always from ceasing our songs, and sometimes fire our hearts with rekindling rapture in praise of the man Christ Jesus. Yes we will bless thee, dearest Lord; our souls are all on fire (Sermon 319).
The apostle Paul adds,
For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God (2 Cor. 4:15, ESV).
As God’s saving grace spreads from person to person, the result is thanksgiving to God. Isn’t that amazing? Part of the purpose of our Christian witness is to produce new renderers of thanksgiving worship to God.
Yet, as if that were not ample motivation, we have further reason to give thanks to God. Later, in the same book, Paul declares,
You will be enriched in every way for all your generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God (2 Cor. 9:11).
In other words, we will give thanks to God because He has met our needs. Have you experienced the goodness of God recently? Surely you have and you are. From the essential to the extravagant, our Father takes a keen interest in providing for His children. The result of everything that God does for us should be a never-ending stream of thanksgiving back to His throne of grace. We grace Him because He first graced us. Hallelujah!
How do we bless God with our thanksgiving? Of course, the real wonder is that we can have any effect on the Almighty God given our sinfulness. That’s why propitiation is a mighty powerful concept. God not only considers Christ-followers righteous but also accepts our dreadfully inadequate expressions of worship. That in itself is grace. Thank God for the covering of our sinfulness with the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ!
One area in which we can thank the Lord is with our speech. Consider this admonition:
Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving (Eph. 5:4).
Paul is addressing the Christian’s speech, and what does he say? Thankful speech is characteristic of a follower of Christ. Later in the same chapter, he gives another admonition:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph. 5:18-21, emphasis added).
What does a spirit-filled believer look like? He addresses other believers in song. He makes melody in his heart to God. He gives thanks all the time for everything. He considers others as more important than himself. Thanksgiving is a natural byproduct of the Spirit-filled life and should be obvious to all who hear our speech. It gushes out.
In his letter to the church at Colossae, Paul shows how thankfulness should characterize our walk as well.
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving (Col. 2:6-7).
The believer is to be abounding or overflowing with thanksgiving. Was Paul just exaggerating, or did he really mean that? Look at the rest of the book:
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful (Col. 3:15).
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col. 3:17).
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving (Col. 4:2).
He meant it! Thanksgiving should be characteristic of our life in Jesus Christ. It should be heard each time we open our mouths to speak. It should be observed in our actions, our responses, our prayers. If you want a standard by which to measure your own spirituality, here’s a standard. Speaking on 1 Thessalonians 5:18, John MacArthur summarizes,
Don’t judge your spirituality by church attendance. Don’t judge your spirituality by ministry activity. Don’t judge your spirituality by the fact that you do your duty as a Christian … you give your money, you show up at your Bible study, whatever it might be. Don’t judge your spirituality by the fact that you haven’t raped anybody, you haven’t robbed anybody, you haven’t murdered anybody, you haven’t committed adultery, you haven’t committed fornication, you haven’t lied and cheated on your Income Tax, you haven’t abused your wife, you don’t abuse your children. Don’t judge your spirituality on that. Get deeper than that.
There are a lot of folks who can carry out the functions on the outside in a hypocritical way. If you want to get in touch with the reality of your spiritual condition, if you want to know whether you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then all you need to do is ask yourself … am I increasingly thankful? Because that’s the spring from within. That’s what’s coming out from the inside. It will lead to a right attitude in all the duties that you do, in all the responsibilities and ministries, but the innermost recesses of the redeemed heart are touched when there is constant thanksgiving. If you’re not a thankful person, you’re struggling with the flesh (http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/52-29.htm).
How about it? In this season of thanksgiving, are you demonstrating a walk with God that is overflowing with gratitude? Is your speech “seasoned” with grace? Are you thankful in everything? Do you acknowledge God’s goodness in your life in times of corporate worship? Are your prayers characterized by thanksgiving? Brothers and sisters, this is how our light shines. This is how our salt seasons. This is essential to our Christian witness. This brings glory to God. It is His will.
As you gather today with your loved ones around the Thanksgiving table, remember that, for the Christian, thanksgiving is more than a holiday—it is a way of life!
Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices
Who wondrous things hath done
In whom His world rejoices
Who from our mother’s arms
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love
And still is ours today.
(Words: Martin Rinkart, translated by Catherine Winkworth)
Brian McCrorie is a graduate of Northland Baptist Bible College (Dunbar, WI) and Calvary Baptist Theological Seminary (Lansdale, PA). He currently serves on the board of Indianapolis Theological Seminary and is working on a D.Min. at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.