The word “Thanksgiving” has taken on a whole new meaning since the Pilgrims and Native Americans celebrated together in 1621. Since that first Thanksgiving, we Americans have layered the word with thoughts of turkey roasting in a warm kitchen, pumpkin pie piled high with whipped cream, and families gathering. We plan, we shop, we cook in preparation. Even those of us who don’t consider ourselves to be particularly religious feel a pull, a longing to express our gratitude to something or someone bigger than ourselves. But the concept of Thanksgiving has its roots in eternity. If we travel backward in time, bypassing the first American Thanksgiving, what does Scripture tell us about the power in this word?
A strategy of thanks
I was fascinated to discover that in Scripture, thanksgiving, or giving of thanks, is not so much a response to God’s blessing as it is an impetus to his intervention. In fact, the more impossible the situation, the more inducement to give thanks. Let’s go back into the book of 2 Chronicles and examine one of these incidents. In 2 Chronicles 20, when Judah’s King Jehoshaphat is outnumbered by enemy armies, he sends singers and praisers out in front of the army. “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever,” they declare. A suicide mission? No, a bold exercise in trust. God had spoken through the prophet Jahaziel. God honors their faith and routs the enemy armies without one skirmish.
Then there is the well-known story of Daniel in the lions’ den. How does Daniel respond to the decree that whoever petitions anyone other than the king for the next 30 days would be fed to the lions? Three times a day, as was his custom, he kneels in front of his open window to pray and give thanks to the God of Israel. It isn’t long until the princes see to it that Daniel is tossed into the lions’ den. I’m not sure I would have been particularly thankful under those circumstances. But when, after a sleepless night, the anguished king runs to check on Daniel, the answer comes loud and clear. An angel has shut the lions’ mouths. I’m left to wonder if Daniel had a better night’s sleep than King Darius.
What about our Lord and the five loaves and two fishes in John 6? Now here is a challenge: 5,000 men, plus women and children. What could Jesus do with one little boy’s fish sandwich? But he looks up to his Father and gives thanks, and as the food is passed out, everyone eats their fill. No one leaves hungry, and there are even leftovers.
On to the story of Paul and Silas in Philippi, recorded in Acts 16. Beaten and bloody for preaching the gospel, their feet fastened in stocks in the innermost prison, they have no idea if they will ever see the light of day again. Their response? They are found praying and singing hymns of praise to God. Their thanksgiving provokes a great earthquake and one of the first conversions of a Gentile family.
All of these incidents in Scripture remind me of the power of thanksgiving. Isn’t it interesting that in each of these cases, thanksgiving precedes a demonstration of God’s power? First thanksgiving, then deliverance. Could it be the same for me? What if I were to thank God in the middle of difficult situations? There is a wonderful translation of Psalm 50:23:
"The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”
God loves a heart of thanksgiving. Is it possible that when we give thanks—even in tough circumstances—God responds by intervening? An attitude of thankfulness is an attitude of expectation that God is aware and actively involved in the lives of his children.
The source of thanks
Paul warns us in 2 Timothy 3 that one of the marks of the “last days” is a spirit of ingratitude. It’s right in there with a list of other appalling sins. God takes it seriously. We see this spirit all around us on a daily basis, and it’s easy to get sucked into it. It’s probably not the best way to share Christ. But this is where grace comes in. God’s power in our lives causes us to change gears, to look up to heaven and say, “Thank you, Father.” One look at the cross and we can never doubt God’s love and goodness toward us, no matter what we are facing. For we who have trusted in Christ, there are always reasons to give thanks.
What an adventure, to begin to see things from this perspective, to reaffirm God’s love in spite of the hard situations we face. What if I gave thanks when dealing with that coworker who rubs me the wrong way, the rude postal clerk, my child who won’t go to sleep, my demanding aging parent? What if I raise those impossible problems to God with thanksgiving, remembering that he is in control? We can see from Scripture that thanksgiving is much more than turkey and gravy, more than a once-a-year feast. I’m challenged by Scripture to make thanksgiving a way of life.
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