Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

 

Thoughts About Thanksgiving

 

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

 

Copyright © 2010 by Mark D. Roberts and Beliefnet

 

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Thoughts About Thanksgiving: Introduction

Yes, I know that today is not Thanksgiving Day. Yes, I know that the
official American holiday falls on the fourth Thursday in November, not
the third. So, yes, I know that I’m a week early. But I’d like to begin
to offer some thoughts on Thanksgiving, even though we won’t be sitting
down to a Turkey dinner for another 168 hours or so.

Why start a
conversation about Thanksgiving now? I do not mean in any way to
undermine the power of the traditional holiday. I think it’s great that
the United States continues to set apart a day a year for giving thanks.
And I think it’s doubly great that most of us still believe that
Thanksgiving is a day for actually giving thanks to God, not just a time
for feeling nebulously thankful. My hope is that by writing about
Thanksgiving a week early, I might actually enhance your celebration,
not detract from it. Thus, today’s post will be the first of several on
giving thanks.

There is a danger, I believe, in identifying one
day a year as Thanksgiving Day. It’s the danger of implying that thanks
is due on this day, but not on others. We face a similar danger, for
example, when we designate the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.
Shouldn’t children honor their mothers more than once a year? Similarly,
shouldn’t we be thankful more often than once a year on the fourth
Thursday of November?

As a Christian, I would argue that giving
thanks to God is important because it honors God. I would also argue
that consistent gratitude is consistent with biblical teaching. But
there is also case for gratitude that doesn’t depend on biblical
theology. In fact, it appeals to common sense and even self interest. To
put the matter bluntly: Gratitude will improve your life.

Gratitude
magnifies our experience of the good things in life, enabling us to
enjoy them more thoroughly. Gratitude also helps us to endure the hard
things in life with dignity, perhaps even with humor. Gratitude is like
savoring a fine meal, enjoy every bite, rather than racing through a
meal as if it’s some sort of race.

Let me offer a person example
of what I’m talking about here. I was able to go to college because I
received generous financial aid. Harvard expected me to earn a fair
amount of money through working, both during the summers and the school
years. I was also required to take out a reasonable loan. But the
majority of my tuition, room, and board was covered by a grant from the
school. This was not a merit-based scholarship, I might add. I’m not
bragging here. Harvard’s assistance was based on financial need, of
which I had plenty. (Photo: Straus Hall, my freshman dorm.)

straus-hall-harvard-5.jpg

During
my first fall in college, I received a letter from the financial aid
office informing me that there was a special fund for students who
needed to buy a winter coat. If I would show up at the financial aid
office at certain designated times, I would receive some extra funds to
help me get ready for winter. I thought this was amazing, and I did need
a winter coat. So I arrived at the appropriate office at one of the
identified times. I joined the end of a line that might have included 25
other freshman students. Calculating how long it took each student to
get their share of money, I figured I would be in line for a half-hour
to an hour. That was just fine with me.

As I was standing there, I
felt waves of gratitude. I was thankful for the privilege of being part
of a university that cared about my physical well-being. I was thankful
for those who had given money to support this effort. I was thankful to
God for his multiple blessings.

My little reverie of gratitude
was suddenly interrupted by a student who was ahead of me in line. He
was mad. He resented having to wait in line for his coat money. Speaking
loudly to no one in particular, he said, “I can’t believe they’re
making us wait like this. I have things to do. Why can’t they hurry up?
Hey, JUST GIVE ME MY MONEY!”

I was shocked. I couldn’t believe
his sense of entitlement and ingratitude. Such attitudes were not only
rude and selfish. They were also stealing his joy. There I was, with my
heart warmed by thankfulness, whereas this other student was groveling
in anger and resentment. I realized that I was so much happier than he
was, and I even felt thankful for the ability to feel thankful.

Those
of us who go through life like that ungrateful student are simply
missing out on so much joy. We are cheating ourselves, not to mention
those who have been gracious to us, including God. But we are also
cheating ourselves, big time.

As we approach Thanksgiving Day,
perhaps you and I ought to step back and consider our attitudes. Are we
like that ungrateful student? Or are we allowing thankfulness to enrich
our lives? Why not start giving thanks today? You don’t have to wait a
week!

 

 

A Brief History of Thanksgiving

Several years ago, I asked my six-year-old nephew, “On Thanksgiving, to
whom do we say thank you?” He quickly responded, “To the native
Americans.” (No, I’m not kidding.) “Do we say thank you to anybody
else?” I queried persistently. “To the Pilgrims.” “And to anybody else?”
I prodded further. “To God!” he exclaimed.

Well, though his
order may be a little curious, that just about nails the historical
roots of Thanksgiving. It’s common knowledge that the American
celebration has its origin in 1621, as the Pilgrims invited the
neighboring Indian tribes to join them in a feast of gratitude for God’s
blessings. There’s no evidence, however, that they actually celebrated
this on the fourth Thursday in November, or that it lasted only one day,
or that they played a mean game of touch football after dinner. (Note:
Some folks argue that the first official Thanksgiving in the New World
happened, not in New England, but in Virginia. Check out the evidence here and here.)  (Picture: “The First Thanksgiving” by Jennie August Brownscombe, 1914)

brownscombe-thanksgiving-5.jpg

New
Englanders remembered the Pilgrims’ effort for many years through
regional celebrations of Thanksgiving. Sometimes American Presidents
would set aside a day for the nation to be thankful. In 1789, for
example, President George Washington proclaimed November 26th as a
national day of thanksgiving. Here’s the core of his presidential proclamation:

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-and Whereas both 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 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 and assign Thursday the 26th day of
November next to be devoted by the People of these 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 previous to their becoming a
Nation-for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable
interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and
conclusion of the late war-for the great degree of tranquility, union,
and plenty, which we have since enjoyed-for the peaceable and rational
manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of
government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national
One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with
which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing
useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors
which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we
may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to
the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our
national and other transgressions-to enable us all, whether in public or
private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly
and punctually-to render our national government a blessing to all the
People, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and
constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed-to
protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have
shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace,
and concord-To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and
virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us-and generally to
grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone
knows to be best. 

hale-to-lincoln-letter-4.jpg

The
idea of a permanent, national celebration each November came 242 years
after the first Pilgrim-Indian festival in the early 17th century.
During the Civil War, many Americans clamored for some sort of national
religious holiday. One of the most vocal was Sarah Josepha Hale (who, by
the way, wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb”). Hale used her clout as editor
of the influential Godey’s Lady’s Book magazine to motivate
President Lincoln to proclaim a national holiday. On September 28, 1863
she wrote a letter to the President encouraging him to “have the day of
our annual Thanksgiving made a national and fixed Union Festival.” Five
days later Lincoln issued the “Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863” (which
we’ll examine below). (Picture: The first part of Hale’s letter to
Lincoln. The underlined part reads “have the day of our annual
Thanksgiving made a national and fixed Union Festival.”)

In his
proclamation, Lincoln set apart the “last Thursday of November” as “a
day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in
the heavens.” Throughout the next eight decades, all American Presidents
followed Lincoln’s example. But during 1933, as the Great Depression
raged, many merchants appealed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to
change the day from the last Thursday in November to the fourth
Thursday. The reason for this request? November, 1933 had five
Thursdays, which left the minimum number of shopping days between
Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Roosevelt denied this request,
leaving the holiday on the last Thursday of the month.

But in
1939, the next “five-Thursdays-in-November year,” President Roosevelt
gave in to the requests of business owners and established the fourth
Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day. National chaos ensued, with
some states following Roosevelt’s lead and others sticking with the
traditional last, and in this year, fifth Thursday. This meant, among
other things, that families living in different states were in many
cases unable to celebrate Thanksgiving together. The national
controversy over the day of the holiday continued, until Congress passed
a law on December 26, 1941, making the fourth Thursday of November the
one, official, national day.

telegram-thanksgiving-roosevelt-5.jpg

Canada,
I might add, does not recognize the fourth Thursday in November as
Thanksgiving Day. I learned this the hard way while in college. Some
friends and I decided to celebrate Thanksgiving by driving from Boston
up to Montreal. It didn’t dawn on us that Canadians celebrate their
Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October. This wouldn’t have been so
bad, except that the restaurant in which we had our Thanksgiving dinner
didn’t even have turkey on its menu. I had to settle for quiche, of all
things. Now that’s a Thanksgiving travesty! (Picture: One of many
critical communications Roosevelt received in light of his controversial
Thanksgiving decision. This telegram, written in November 1940 by two
restaurant owners reads: CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR REELECTION. WHEN SHALL
WE SERVE OUR THANKSGIVING TURKEY 21ST? OR 28TH?)

I want to close
by printing the text of Lincoln’s original Thanksgiving proclamation. I
won’t add my own comments. But I will italicize a few sections that
strike me as especially profound. As you read this proclamation, you
might ask yourself: What would happen if an American President used this
kind of language today in an official proclamation? What in this
statement speaks to the heart of our national crisis today?

Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1863

 

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To
these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to
forget the source from which they come, others have been added which are
of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and
soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the
ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.
 

In the midst of
a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes
seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression,
peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained,
the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed
everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that
theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies
of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength
from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not
arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the
borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well as the iron and coal
as of our precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than
heretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste
that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the
country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor,
is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of
freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal
hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the
Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath
nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit
and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully
acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American
people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the
United States, and also those who are in foreign lands, to set apart and
observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and
praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I
recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to
Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with
humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend
to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners,
or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably
engaged, and fervently implore the imposition of the Almighty hand to
heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be
consistent with the divine purpose, to the full enjoyment of peace,
harmony, tranquility [sic], and union.

In testimony whereof I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the city of Washington, this 3d day of October, A. D. 1863, and
of the Independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

Finding the Heart of Thanksgiving

As you know, this coming Thursday we celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Yet for many
of us, that day is so full of activity that we actually have little time
for intentional, extended giving thanks to God. So, as has been my
tradition for many years, I am putting up several posts in anticipation of
Thanksgiving Day in order to encourage my readers to let this whole
week by devoted to genuine gratitude.

When you think of Thanksgiving, what images come to mind? Roast
turkey? Pumpkin pie? Watching football with your family? Perhaps the
Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade?

I
grew up watching this parade on television, marveling at the giant
helium balloon representations of Underdog and Bullwinkle, and waiting
for Santa to appear to kick off the Christmas shopping season. (Photo: Mr. Potato Head makes an appearance in the 2006 parade.)

macys-mr-potato-head-4.jpg

In 1982 I had the privilege of spending Thanksgiving Day in New York
City. Of course I had to see the Macy’s Parade in person. There,
standing alongside Central Park, I watched the bands and giant balloons
from only a few feet away. I discovered that it was a lot colder
watching the parade in person than from the comfortable vantage point of
my living room. But plenty of hot coffee kept me going through the
whole spectacle.

That
evening some friends and I had Thanksgiving dinner at the Helmsley
Palace Hotel. (Yes, the one once owned and managed by the infamous Leona
Helmsley and her husband. It’s now called The New York Palace.) We arrived an hour before our prearranged
sitting and enjoyed appetizers in the hotel bar. It was the most elegant
place I had ever enjoyed a drink and some peanuts. And, believe me, I
paid for every inch of elegance. Thanksgiving dinner was served in the
fabulously ritzy dining room. It was one of the most over-the-top meals
of my life.

But it still wasn’t quite right. After all, for me, the heart of the
Thanksgiving holiday isn’t going to parades or eating fancy meals. It’s
about sharing a day with family, and mine was 3,000 miles away. The best
tasting turkey in the most opulent dining room didn’t satisfy the real
longing of my heart – to be home.

I wasn’t the only one who felt such a longing. In fact the Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest travel weekend of the year. The American Automobile Association predicts
that 42.2 million people will travel at least 50 miles this year to
celebrate Thankgiving with friends or relatives. (How in the world do
they know that?) Most of these folks are driving to be with their relatives.

If
you think about it, however, the actual events of Thanksgiving Day can
be rather underwhelming. In addition to watching the Macy’s Parade, tens
of millions of people watch football, while tens of
millions of people cook mass quantities of traditional
food. Then they all get together to eat more than they should, only to
top off their gluttony with pumpkin or mince pie. Then there’s clean up,
a bit more TV, and that just about sums up the day for many of us. It’s
more about armchair quarterbacking and eating voraciously than our hearts.

A college friend of mine named Jeff decided one year that his
family’s Thanksgiving was far too secular. So Jeff, as a new Christian,
volunteered to say the blessing before the meal. It was usually done
perfunctorily by the most religious of the uncles, which wasn’t saying
much in Jeff’s family. But Jeff was going to redeem Thanksgiving once
and for all. So when it came time to pray, he started by thanking the
Lord for the family’s many blessings. Then he turned to larger issues,
expressing gratitude for freedom, for our country, and so on. Finally
Jeff got explicitly religious, using his prayer as an opportunity to
evangelize his godless relatives. After about five or six minutes, these
godless relatives were about ready tar and feather Jeff. Finally his
mother tapped his arm and said softly, “Honey, don’t you think it’s time
to eat now?” In response to which the slightly religious uncle yelled,
“Amen!” Jeff’s family immediately dug into the turkey, leaving Jeff
somewhere mid-sentence.

Now I do not recommend Jeff’s evangelistic strategy. But I do
appreciate his intentions. Thanksgiving should be about more than a parade, a gridiron battle,
and pumpkin pie. In spite of the modern penchant for referring to the
day as “Turkey Day,” it’s still meant to be a time for intentional
gratitude. This has been the point of Thanksgiving Day for throughout American history.

thanksgiving-dinner-2004-5.jpg

Don’t worry. I’m not going to ask you to give up any of your prized
Thanksgiving traditions. Go ahead and watch the parade and the games, if
you wish. Drive several hours to grandma’s house and back. Eat way too
much turkey. Take a long nap. Or whatever. These can be delightful
traditions. (Photo: Some of my family members enjoying Thanksgiving dinner.)

But
I am going to ask you not to forget the heart of Thanksgiving. In fact,
I’m going to encourage you to let Thanksgiving be more than just a day.
Why not take time this whole week to remember God’s blessings and thank him for them? If your
Thanksgiving Day is already full with family folderol, then set aside
some time on the day before or the day after to remember all that God
has given, and to say “Thank you.” Better yet, do this for several
minutes each day this week. If you do, not only will you be doing the
right thing, since God deserves thanks for all he has done for you, but
also you will find that your celebration of Thanksgiving is richer and
fuller than you have imagined it could be.

Expressing heartfelt gratitude to God is one of life’s greatest joys.
It’s a joy that many of us rarely experience. And it is the true heart
of Thanksgiving. So let me invite you – yes, urge you – to take time
this week for real expression of gratitude to God. You’ll be glad you
did.

Remember to Thank Other People Too!

I’ll never forget something I heard at the baccalaureate service that
was part of my graduation from college. As I sat in the Memorial Church
of Harvard University, the President of Radcliffe College (part of
Harvard) said something like, “The baccalaureate service is a
traditional ceremony of thanks and praise.” Wow, I thought, that’s
surprisingly good! But then the President continued, “So, on this day,
we keep the tradition of baccalaureate by thanking you for being part of
this university and praising you for your outstanding achievements.”
Oops! She got the thanks and praise part right, but rather confused who
receives them. The traditional baccalaureate service features thanks and
praise to God, not the graduates! (Photo: The steeple of Memorial
Church at Harvard University.)

harvard-memorial-church-5.jpg

Similarly, the primary purpose of Thanksgiving Day is to express
gratitude to God for his many gifts. Although sometimes this gets
forgotten in our secular culture today, still most people realize that
our thanksgiving should be directed most of all in God’s direction.

However, this season of year also gives us a chance to say thanks to
others. We can express our gratitude to the people in our lives for whom
we are grateful and who sometimes don’t get to hear this from us very
much. As long as I’m thanking the Lord for my wife, my children, etc.
etc., doesn’t it make sense to tell them?

We see an example of this sort of thing in the letters of the Apostle
Paul. On several occasions, he not only thanks God for his churches, but
also tells them of it. Consider Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians
Christians, for example. Here we read:

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly. (1:2)

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? (3:9)

Imagine how you’d feel to hear this from someone important in your
life. My guess is you’d feel honored, happy, maybe a bit embarrassed,
and even thankful. It’s a wonderful thing to hear that someone is truly
thankful for you. In fact, it’s one of the best feelings in life.

Thanksgiving provides a salutary occasion for saying thanks, both to the God from whom all blessings flow and
to those who are conduits of divine blessings in our lives. It’s a time
to stop what we’re doing and say “Thank you” to the people in our lives
who deserve to hear this from us. Even if you manage to thank only one
other person this Thanksgiving, that small gesture can make a big
difference in the life of that person.

So, may I encourage you to use the occasion of Thanksgiving to thank
the people in your life who matter to you. Tell people that you’re
thankful for them. Drop someone a note. Or make a short phone call. If
they’re under twenty, you can even text them! Telling people that you’re
thankful for them will enrich your life as well as the lives of those
for whom you are grateful.

But How Can I Be Thankful When . . . ?

The Bible instructs us to be consistently thankful. In writing to the
Thessalonian Christians, the Apostle Paul said, “Give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:18).
This sounds nice enough, until you find yourself in difficult, even
painful circumstances. Then inspired biblical truth can feel like an
insensitive platitude.

“How can I be thankful when . . . ?” Various scenarios complete the
sentence. “How can I be thankful when this is the first Thanksgiving
since my mother died? Or when my family is in such disarray? Or when I’m
in the middle of chemotherapy?” Throughout my years as a pastor, I’ve
often heard this sort of question, especially as Thanksgiving Day draws
near. People would really like to feel grateful, but their life
circumstances seem to make genuine gratitude impossible. They feel stuck
in discouragement and despair.

If we take the Psalms as a model for prayer, then we should certainly
feel free, even obligated, to share with the Lord our frustrations and
disappointments. Genuine prayer is not putting a happy face on our true
feelings. If you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, or feeling afraid
because you’re facing a serious illness, you should surely share these
feelings with God in prayer. Being thankful in all circumstances does
not mean pretending or denying.

Mark-Dad-toddler-5.jpg

But
it does mean that we must look beyond our particular circumstances.
Gratitude comes when we look at the bigger picture, when we remember the
multitude of ways in which we are blessed, even if we’re also feeling
sadness or fear or whatever else seems inconsistent with being thankful.
For example, this will be my twenty-fourth Thanksgiving without my
father, who died of cancer in 1986. Every year on this holiday I think
about my dad. I miss him. I wish we could watch football together. I
wish he were there to carve the turkey. Mostly I just wish I could be
with him. So, ironically, on Thanksgiving Day I feel more sadness than
usual over the loss of my father. (Photo: my dad and me in 1957.)

Yet I also feel thankful for him. Although I wish I could have
had more time with my dad, I treasure the time I did have. I thank God
for the hours my dad and I spent playing Candy Land and Star Reporter;
and for his subtle sense of humor; and for his solid example of
Christian faithfulness; and for his support when I desperately needed
it. I am able to offer genuine thanks for my father, without denying the
sadness I feel over his early death.

“But,” you may object, “you lost your father a long time ago. You
still feel pain, but the wound isn’t fresh. What about people who are in
the midst of suffering right now? Can they be truly grateful?” My
answer is “Yes.” How do I know this? Because I’ve seen it time and again
in my ministry. I’ve watched people in the midst of a crisis
nevertheless be able to express authentic thanks to God.

Rinkart-Martin-t.jpg

When
I think of gratitude in the face of suffering, I remember Martin
Rinkart. He was a pastor in the city of Eilenburg, Germany during the
first decades of the seventeenth century. If you remember your European
history, this was during the so-called Thirty Years’ War. Eilenburg, as a
walled city, was often overcrowded with refugees. This often led to
famine and disease. Conditions were so horrible in Eilenburg that
thousands of people died, and, for a season, Rinkart was the only
minister in town. During this period of time he performed up to fifty
funerals in a single day. Over his lifetime he officiated at over 4,000
funerals. We can only imagine the horrific suffering Rinkart
experienced.

In the midst of this ordeal he wrote several hymns. One caught on
among German speaking people and, in translation, among English speaking
people as well. What was this popular hymn? In the original language it
begins: “Nun danket alle Gott, mit Herzen, Mund und Händen.” In English
translation the hymn is a Thanksgiving favorite:

Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things hath done,
In whom this world rejoices;
Who, from our mothers’ arms,
Hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love,
And still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts
And blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in God’s grace,
And guide us when perplexed,
And free us from all ills
In this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God,
Who reigns in highest heaven,
To Father and to Son
And Spirit now be given.
The one eternal God,
Whom heaven and earth adore,
The God who was, and is,
And shall be evermore.

I’ve always liked this hymn. But I had probably sung it fifty times
before I learned about its background. Now it means so much more to me.
Martin Rinkart was calling for thanksgiving, not in a season of plenty,
but in the midst of want. He was reminding us to look above our pain and
to remember God’s “wondrous things” and “countless gifts of love.” The
hymn acknowledges that we will sometimes be “perplexed” and suffer “all
ills.” But by lifting our eyes above these immediate circumstances, we
are able to give thanks to God. The last verse looks, not to the good
things God has done for us, but to the very nature of our good God, who
deserves “all praise and thanks.”

The ability to look beyond our immediate circumstances is itself a
gift of God’s grace. If you’re struggling to be grateful, ask the Lord
to give you a fresher and truer perspective on your life. Allow yourself
enough time to remember and reflect upon God’s gifts. Most of all,
think about who God is. Meditate upon his mercy and love. The more you
do, the more you’ll find true gratitude flowing from your heart.

Thanksgiving: Not Just a Day, But a Way of Life

And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:17)

 

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, a day set apart by the
national government so that American might express their thanks. The
roots of this holiday grow deep into American soil, touching the very
beginnings of the country. The value of setting apart a day for giving
thanks has been affirmed by many presidents, beginning with George
Washington. (Photo: Thanksgiving postcard from c. 1900)

 

 

 

thanksgiving-postcard-1900-5.jpg

I think it’s a fine thing that the United States (among other
countries) sets apart a specific day for gratitude, even if this day is
often more devoted to football and feasting than to actually giving
thanks to God. But sometimes I think we American do ourselves a
disservice by identifying one day a year for gratitude. The danger, as I
see it, is that we might not live thankfully all year round.

Scripture calls us to a life of gratitude, not just a day.
Colossians 3:17, for example, urges: “And whatever you do or say, do it
as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God
the Father.” Everything we do and say should have two basic
characteristics. First, it should be done “as a representative of the
Lord Jesus.” The original Greek reads more literally, “in the name of
the Lord Jesus.” This does mean “as his representative,” but it also
suggests that we are to seek his agenda and to be committed to his
purposes.

Second, we are to do and say everything “giving thanks” to God the
Father through Jesus. This doesn’t mean that we are to stop every action
and every conversation in order to offer a literal prayer of thanks to
God. Rather, we are to act and speak thankfully. We are to live each
moment with an awareness of God’s grace at work in our lives and in the
world. Sometimes we will express our gratitude to God or to others. But
even when we’re silent, we are to receive all of life and do all that we
do with an awareness that we are living by grace.

Living thankfully gives God the credit he deserves, and that’s
sufficient reason to do it. But living thankfully also transforms us. It
gives us a deeper appreciation of life. It steers us away from focusing
too much on our struggles. It enables us to see God’s presence even in
hard times. It motivates us to live each moment of each day for God and
his glory. Pervasive thanksgiving enables us, therefore, to “glorify God
and enjoy him forever.”

So, be thankful today, for sure. But be thankful tomorrow as well. And the next day. And the next. . . .

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What helps you to
live thankfully each day? What gets in the way of your gratitude? What
might you do differently to help you act and speak with thankfulness?

 

 

PRAYER: Dear Lord, as I pay attention to the
encouragement to do everything in your name, giving thanks to you, I
realize how easily I fall short of this goal. I can so easily take your
gifts for granted. Or I can focus on what is wrong, filling my heart
with worry rather than thanksgiving. Forgive me, Lord, for my ungrateful
heart and my thankless living.

Help me, I pray, to be thankful to you in all that I do and say. May
thanksgiving become a true habit of mind, heart, and action. May I
learn to acknowledge you with expressed thanks, both to you and in the
presence of others. May I see your gifts and delight in them.

Thank you, gracious God, for the opportunity to live thankfully.
Thank you for your Word that instructs and challenges me to do it. Thank
you for your grace and for your Spirit who help me to live with
gratitude each day.

All praise and thanks be to you, gracious, loving, giving God. Amen.

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This devotional comes from The High Calling: Everyday Conversations about Work, Life, and God (www.thehighcalling.org).
You can read my Daily Reflections there, or sign up to have them sent
to your email inbox each day. This website contains lots of
encouragement for people who are trying to live out their faith in the
workplace. The High Calling is associated with Laity Lodge, where I work.