Sometimes when we Americans gather around the table for a Thanksgiving feast, and everyone is asked to say something they are thankful for, we say stupid things like, “I’m thankful that Aunt Mary didn’t bring her stuffing this year” or “I’m thankful I don’t have to go to work for four more days.”
The story of the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, sobered me. There were so many times they thanked God before that three-day celebration.
- For arriving in the new world safely—even though it was winter, they hadn’t landed where they intended, and they had to stay the winter on board the Mayflower.
- All through that long first winter as children became orphans, and as all but four of the married men lost their wives.
- As they planted seeds with no assurance that they would reap a successful harvest.
- At the first of that successful harvest, they stopped several times to thank God.
“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” (Colossians 3:17). They knew who God was, and they knew that they could accomplish nothing without Him.
I read this morning (The Voice of the Martyrs, Nov. 2021) of a Christian woman in Ethiopia, whose husband was beheaded because he shared his Christian faith with his Muslim neighbors. She and her daughter found his body and his severed head. They have continued to go through very hard times, but this woman still continues to evangelize the Muslim community. She says she is thankful that God spared her and her daughter. She is thankful for God’s comfort through these hardships. “God has blessed me,” she says.
“ For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. ”
“Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:4b-5). This woman continues to share her Jesus, despite severe persecution, and counts it all blessing to do so.
In Deuteronomy 26, God instructs His people not to ever forget how He has blessed them, how He has led them from the slavery of Egypt to the promised land. He tells them to recount these blessings every time they bring him the first fruits of their harvest. Psalm 50:14 says, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving.”
“Through [Christ] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Hebrews 13:15).
Basing my next words on what the Israelites were supposed to say in front of the priest when they presented their first fruits (Deuteronomy 26):
- I am thankful for being born into a family that knew God, for learning who He was from my beginning.
- For having so many of His people in my life at any one time.
- Even so, I wandered into the foreign land of pleasing other people and pleasing myself more than loving God, and I got lost in that land for many years.
- But remembering what Jesus had done for me, realizing I didn’t have to remain bound to that nation of self-centeredness (which often led to anxiety and despair), I cried out to the Lord, the God of my fathers, and He heard me and freed me to live for Him.
- I am thankful to be among His people, serving Him there, and I am thankful for seeing Him best when He sometimes leads through hard things and difficult trials.
- I am thankful for the life that He gave to me.
- I am thankful for how He made my life a part of His will.
- I am thankful that He loves me.
- I am thankful that He will one day bring me to a new home where I will live forever with Him.
- Not to mention so many blessings in this life—every day blessings and all the time blessings.
Maybe as present-day Americans we need to be suffering a lot more for our faith. Maybe we need to take our faith a lot more seriously. Maybe then we would be grateful for even having the free gift of faith given to us through the blood of Jesus Christ. Maybe then we would appreciate one another a lot more and instead of dissension at every level of society, church, family—there would be unity. Maybe if we were just thankful together all the time.
“ You would realize that your complaints about them are nothing more nor less than blasphemies. ”
Jean Pierre de Caussade, a French Jesuit priest and writer, wrote this several hundred years ago: “You would be very ashamed if you knew what the experiences you call setbacks, upheavals, pointless disturbances, and tedious annoyances really are. You would realize that your complaints about them are nothing more nor less than blasphemies - though that never occurs to you. Nothing happens to you except by the will of God, and yet [God's] beloved children curse it because they do not know it for what it is.”
Aside from being instructed in God’s word to give unceasing thanks to Him, to be grateful rather than to complain, to bless rather than curse—God, in His amazing way, created our bodies to work best in a thankful frame of mind. While this should not be the reason we practice gratitude, (genuine thankfulness should come from an obedient heart to the Lord), it is interesting to know that our Creator designed us to live best when we are thankful to Him: “Research on the effects gratitude has on our biology shows how being thankful increases our longevity, our ability to use our imagination, and our ability to problem-solve. It also improves our overall health” (quoted from The Psychology of Gratitude in Dr. Caroline Leaf’s book, Think, Learn, Succeed).
“ It is interesting to know that our Creator designed us to live best when we are thankful to Him. ”
For we believers in Jesus Christ, does not this “sacrifice of thanksgiving” referred to in Psalm 50, make way for the Holy Spirit who dwells in us to “perform our vows to the Most High?” And when we “call upon [Him] in the day of trouble;” He does indeed deliver us and He turns our praise into glory for Himself (Psalm 50:14-15). This is very encouraging! A colony in New England persevered to become a nation. A widow in Ethiopia enthusiastically carries on her husband’s dangerous work for the Lord. You and I continue to grow in Christ, vigorously taking on new assignments to build up His kingdom.
So many times throughout Scripture we are told to give thanks. I especially like this verse because it gives step by step instructions: “Do not be anxious about anything [not even one thing], but in everything [in all things] by prayer and supplication [by simply asking] with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God [tell God the desires of your heart]” (Philippians 4:6; additions mine).
It is not an option to be thankful. It is the natural outcome of a heart that truly loves God.