What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think about Thanksgiving? If you’re truly honest, you’d probably say “turkey,” because it’s often at the center of our celebrations. Who doesn’t look forward to the traditional foods of the holiday and fellowship with family and friends? However, as believers, Thanksgiving is an occasion to express our thanks to the Lord. That’s why we offer a sincere prayer of gratitude for all God’s blessings before the feast begins.
But what comes after dessert? For some people, it’s a football game or a nap on the couch. Others start planning their Christmas shopping for the next day. But shouldn’t there be more to Thanksgiving? When the holiday comes to an end, our expressions of gratitude to God should continue throughout our daily lives.
In the Old Testament, the Lord established a thanksgiving offering to remind the Israelites that He was the One who made them into a great nation and provided for all their needs (Lev. 22:29-33). Since Jesus was the final, perfect sacrifice, we are no longer required to offer animals, but the principles taught through the sacrificial system are still true and applicable for us today. How can we who have benefited from such a great salvation in Christ be any less thankful than the Israelites? Just as God saved, kept, and provided for them, so our Savior does for us today.
What are some ways we can follow the example taught by the sacrifice of thanksgiving? First of all, we ought to view gratitude as a way to focus our minds on the Lord and lift Him up. Psalm 50:23 says, “He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me.” Appreciation reminds us that the Lord is the source of all our blessings and helps us to realize that we cannot make it through life without His help.
Just consider all that Christ has done for us as the result of our salvation—He’s sent us His indwelling Spirit and promised us eternal life, resurrection from the dead, and a home in heaven. Beyond this, God has also given us His written Word to instruct our lives—and to reveal His nature, ways, works, and promises. Basically, He’s provided everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3).
Second, we should take note of simple blessings. So often we take His provisions for granted, not remembering that all good things are gifts from God (James 1: 17). For example, a car to drive to work, income from a job, family, a home, food, and a good night’s sleep—all these are reasons to be thankful.
Third, thankfulness should become a pattern of thinking which powerfully impacts our lives. Instead of reserving gratitude only for what seems good, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” By thanking the Lord in the midst of our pain or difficulty, we’re acknowledging His loving sovereignty. Because He alone knows what’s best, we can thank Him, even if we don’t understand why something is happening. This may seem unreasonable, but God honors our gratitude the most when we feel like we have the least reason to thank Him.
Being thankful helps me trust the Lord and is essential if we are to learn to rejoice in our suffering.
I’ve had to thank the Lord for some pretty tough situations in my life, but gratitude has lifted my burden time and time again. It didn’t alter the situation, but it changed my attitude, and that made all the difference in the world. Being thankful helps me trust the Lord and is essential if we are to learn to rejoice in our suffering. The alternative is to groan and complain, and that will only lead us into a pit of despair. But songs of praise and thanksgiving in dark times serve to restore our hope, assuring us that God can accomplish His good purpose through any situation.
Fourth, the gratitude we express to God must be sincere. For the Israelites, this meant offering an animal as a sacrifice of thanksgiving. But for us, Hebrews 13:15 recommends “a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” The author of Hebrews continues: “And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (v. 16). Our vocabulary should be saturated with thanksgiving, but heartfelt gratitude is also manifested by our actions. When we are truly appreciative of the Lord and all He’s done for us, we’ll demonstrate it with obedience and a godly lifestyle. Instead of selfishly clinging to whatever He’s provided for us, we’ll be free to give of our time to help others.
This year, I’d like to encourage you to let Thanksgiving Day remind you to cultivate a grateful heart all year long. There will be times when thanking and praising God comes easily because His blessings are so abundant and obvious. But on other occasions, it will be a sacrifice of praise because thanking Him will be the last thing you feel like doing. I know it’s not easy, but I can assure you that it’s the best option. If you’ll focus on the Lord with a heart of gratitude, your anxiety and fretting will be replaced with trust, and you’ll experience Christ’s peace and joy, which are beyond all human understanding.
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. Thanksgiving is a great time to look back over the past year and remember the ways God has blessed us. As I think about all the blessings God has bestowed upon us at In Touch Ministries, you are among them. I am so grateful for your partnership with us. May you have a joyful Thanksgiving as you celebrate the goodness of the Lord with family and friends.