My thrice-great grandmother was a Choctaw Native born in South Mississippi in 1845. Her name was Clementine “Thankful” Page. I’m not sure what her parents called her in the day-to-day but I’ve imagined it would be great if she went by “Thankful.” I can imagine that name echoing through a house in those antebellum years. “Thankful, it’s time for dinner” or maybe, “Thankful, what did you do?” What a wonderful name and a great way to be remembered. For whatever reason, her parents chose to mark her life with a constant reminder of gratitude. Likewise, Christians have been given a new name in Christ and we should be marked by the virtue of thanksgiving. “Thankful” should be our name.
Many nations have their own traditional “Day of Thanks.” Here in the United States, our country celebrates Thanksgiving every fourth Thursday of November. It has a long history and has been on the books since 1863, when Lincoln declared, “Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” To be sure, there are gluttonous excesses associated with the holiday that old Abe probably didn’t envision but I believe it can serve as a vital reminder to followers of Christ. Any “Day of Thanks” should serve as a genuine cue for the believer that real thanksgiving is a daily virtue skillfully pondered and carefully applied.
Move Beyond a Generic Thanksgiving
The interesting thing about Thanksgiving Day, Gerald Bray writes, is that it “manages to be religious and secular at the same time.” However for the believer, a secularist perspective will not do. Bray gets to the point of this noting that, “Today it is a major celebration when people are expected and encouraged to be grateful, but no one specifies to whom thanks should be given.” This requires us as Christians to move beyond a generic thanks.
So what is biblical thanksgiving? If we tied together the wealth of the Bible’s teaching we would see that thanksgiving is the recognition that God has blessed us. One of the biblical words used for “thanksgiving” (yada) means to praise, confess, or witness. These are words that are directed to something or better still, to someone. This of course points us to the fact that our confession and our witness are rooted in the character and work of the Triune God. As Christians, we do not offer generic thanksgiving to a generic Being with generic adulation. So, we confess the work of the Son as given by the Father in the power of the Spirit (2 Corinthians 2:14). As believers, we are witnesses to the grace of God, which has been richly lavished on His Church (Ephesians 1:3).
Thanksgiving for Every Occasion
In Scripture, especially in the Psalms, thanksgiving is often bound together with praise. So to offer praise to the Lord is to give thanks (Psalms 106:1; Psalms 136:1). In thanksgiving, we loosen our tongues and proclaim with our voices all that the Lord has done. We declare all of His wonders (Psalms 26:7). So in this way, the Psalms can serve as a voice for our particular praises of thanksgiving (Psalms 95:2). Taking our cue from the Psalms we can learn to offer thanks in some unexpected places. We learn that thanksgiving can come through the channel of suffering, spiritual apathy, and lament as well as times of exuberance, joy, and prosperity. In this way Calvin was right to call the Psalms “An anatomy of all parts of the soul.” Biblical thanksgiving will move our hearts to confess the works of the Lord in all circumstances.