Throughout this week, ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ will echo across the land from New York City to San Francisco. The principle of ‘Thanksgiving’ has its origins in a non-sectarian thanks to a loving, merciful and generous God.
While Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations have at times been associated with a special moment in America’s story – as when Presidents Washington, Adams, and Lincoln made their Proclamations – the principle of a day of Thanksgiving continues. For example, in 1789 the first President, George Washington commended that a Day of Thanksgiving be held on Thursday, November 26 of that year.
Washington’s 1789 Proclamation stated: Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:
When we think about it, Thanksgiving is a very Judaeo-Christian theme, for we find it in both the ‘Law, the Prophets and the Writings’ (Old Testament) and in the New Testament.
The theme of Thanksgiving permeates the Book of Psalms, often setting this in the context of God’s goodness in creation and his mercy towards his people, even when they fell away from their whole-hearted commitment to him.
The opening lines of Psalm 103, for example, read: Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits— who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (Psalm 103:1-5).
Significantly, King David, the song writer, is not here talking to God as he usually does in his songs or psalms. He is talking to himself – to his soul. In fact, he continues the conversation with himself through the first five verses.
He is telling himself things he knew he needed to hear. He knew himself well enough to realize that he could slide into being a thankless man of God. And so it is that as he considers afresh who God is and what he has done for him: he reflects on God’s goodness. He identifies God’s many blessings, lest in times of disappointment or backsliding he forget the source of his prosperity and success and take God’s grace and goodness for granted.
It’s an exhortation we all need to hear. We ought to treat God with great honor and thankfulness for he is good to us in countless different ways. He is never over-indulgent. He disciplines us when we need it and, for our good, he doesn’t give us everything we want when we want it. Yet his kindness is vast and often unexpected.
The sad reality is that most of us simply forget to thank God for his undeserved kindness and goodness. We take it all for granted. Like nine of the ten lepers Jesus once healed, we don’t offer even one word of thanks.
Yet so important is giving thanks to God that Paul the Apostle urges us when we pray to have a deep sense of gratitude in our hearts: Do not be anxious about anything, he writes in his Letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (4:5-6).
The context in which we find these words of Paul is his exhortation that we rejoice in the Lord (Jesus) always (Philippians 4:4). Glorying in Christ Jesus and all that he has done for us in rescuing us and bringing us into a vital relationship with God, is central. God wants us to so value the Lord Jesus that we long for the smile of his approval in all we do.
This is the context of Paul’s command: ‘Have no anxiety about anything …’ His words are a timeless and universal remedy for anxiety. Prayer and Thanksgiving together commit us into the hands of the God who is Lord, and who is committed to bringing good for us out of every situation no matter what it is.
‘Thanksgiving’ by its very nature does not have its origin within us. As Karl Barth put it: Grace evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.
May your Thanksgiving first be directed to the God from whom all true blessings flow!
A Prayer of Thanksgiving.
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give humble and hearty thanks for all your goodness and loving kindness to us and to all people. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your amazing love in the redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us that due sense of all your mercies, that our hearts may be truly thankful, and that we may declare your praise not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.