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.
Thanksgiving Made Visible
The Church is the chosen vessel for making the praise of God visible in the world. On a few occasions, the Apostle Paul paused to offer thanks to God for the work and witness of the churches in which he ministered (see Ephesians 1:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:3). Specifically, Paul noted how their faith had been enlarged by the example of their love for one another. Their perseverance under difficulty, their faith in the midst of persecutions, and their resilience in afflictions were all visible grounds for Paul’s thanksgiving. Christian, are you thankful for your church? Are you enlarging the faith of your fellow members? Are you modeling perseverance under duress? The gathered Church is the embodiment of the grace of Christ in the world. Our praises, fellowship, and various efforts for outreach are tangible expressions of thanksgiving to God.
Thanksgiving Every Day
365 days in a year offer us 365 unique opportunities to demonstrate our life in Christ. 365 opportunities to pray, to lead our family in worship, to grab a friend by the hand and pray with them, to minister to the sick, to prepare a meal for someone who is hungry, to take in a fatherless child, to go on mission, to write a check to a missionary, to roll up our sleeves and serve in the church, and 365 distinct opportunities to tell someone that “Jesus will set you free.” In this way, thanksgiving is every day.
Clearly, there are many opportunities to express thanks to God. Do our various celebrations of thanks carry the distinct aroma of the glories of Christ? For the Church, thanksgiving is every day. After all, her name is “thankful.”
Here are a few ideas for incorporating thankfulness into your Day of Thanks:
· Read or sing Psalms of thanksgiving (Psalms 9, 30, 32, 34, 40, 41, 92, 103, 107, 116, 138).
· Pray through Ephesians 1:3–10 and discuss with friends and family what Christ has done in your life this year.
· Sing or listen to Charles Wesley’s hymn “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”
· Have each person detail something they are thankful for and then use the opportunity to pray and give thanks to the Lord.
· For small children, have them create a picture or a craft that demonstrates the practice of thanksgiving to God.
· Serve someone in physical and/or spiritual need whether in your local church or in your community (nursing home, hospital, shelter, etc.).
Dr. Paul Lamey is Pastor of Preaching at Grace Community Church, Huntsville, Alabama. He and his wife, Julie, have four children. You can read more from Paul at his blog, expository thoughts and follow him on Twitter @paulslamey.
Gerald Bray, God is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 35.