Today is the day that Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving. Typically, the most common reason for this day is that it is an opportunity to take time out and give thanks and appreciation for what we have.
In Canada it is usually associated with lots of food, turkey, stuffing, football, sleeping, more food, dessert, drinks, family and friends and more food, maybe a sibling fight or two, and the possibility to help serve at a homeless shelter…. Oh yeah, we must not forget the moment when we all share that one thing to be thankful for as we sit around the table, most notably being all the great blessings which we’ve received throughout the year of family, fitness, freedoms, finances, etc.
Now of course that is generalizing, however I think it pretty much summarizes the feel most of us have at our Thanksgiving celebrations. Please don’t get me wrong, I think those things are great (minus the tendency to gluttony and the sibling fight thing), but really, why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? Maybe a better question is what should we be thankful for?
For the disciple of Jesus Christ, I’d like to share 3 non-traditional approaches to being thankful and to what thanksgiving is about, that run counter culture in our world today.
1 We are to be thankful in all circumstances, even in the bad stuff
“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Did you catch that? Give thanks in all circumstances. Thankfulness should be a way of life for us, naturally flowing from our hearts and mouths. That surely doesn’t mean that we should be thankful even during the nasty bits of life – or does it?
We often look to Thanksgiving Day as a day to celebrate all the good things that are going on in our lives and we don’t or won’t talk about the bad stuff. But the truth is that for us Christians we need to give thanks even in spite of the bad stuff.
“I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. O Lord my God, I called to you for help and you healed me. O Lord, you brought me up from the grave; you spared me from going down into the pit. You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever” – Psalm 30:1-2
Here David gives thanks to God following an obviously difficult circumstance. This psalm of thanksgiving not only praises God in the moment but remembers God’s past faithfulness. It is a statement of God’s character, which is so wonderful that praise is the only appropriate response. David always wanted God to receive glory and for God to be made known – to be made famous.
There are examples of believers’ thankfulness in the New Testament as well. Paul was heavily persecuted, yet he wrote, “Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him” – 2 Corinthians 2:14
Peter gives a reason to be thankful for “grief and all kinds of trials,” saying that, through the hardships, our faith “may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed” – 1 Peter 1:6-7
In each of these moments the writer, while in distress is giving glory to God, making him famous. They are revealing a faithful, worthy, amazing God to the world around them in how they react with thanksgiving in all circumstances… even the bad times.
When we react and respond to the stuff going on in our lives, what do we reveal about God?
2 We are to be thankful because of God’s constant goodness, not with my happiness
Paul wrote, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose”. – Romans 8:28
God works in all things, not just isolated instances, for our good. That doesn’t mean that all that happens to us is good. Evil is prevalent in our fallen world, but God is able to turn everything around for our long-range good.
It’s important to note btw, that Paul isn’t saying that God’s will is to make us happy. Paul isn’t saying, believe in yourself which is the path to realizing that you can be all that God has meant you to be. Nor is he saying that you can realize a better you. No – God’s will isn’t to make us happy, but rather to fulfill his purpose.
Notice also that this promise isn’t for everybody. It can be claimed only by those who love God and are called according to his purpose. ‘Called’ meaning, those who the Holy Spirit has convicted of their sins and has enabled to become disciples of Jesus Christ, and so have a new perspective, a new mindset on life.
A true disciple of Jesus’ trusts in God, not life’s treasures; they look to heaven for their security, not to the things on earth. And they learn to accept, not resent pain and persecution because they have learned to trust in God’s ultimate plan, knowing that God hasn’t stopped being good simply because the circumstances of life surrounding them have become difficult.
3 We are to be thankful because of Jesus’ sacrifice even if my life isn’t fun
If we really understand what Jesus sacrifice on the cross meant we’d naturally become thankful every day and live lives full to the brim with gratefulness even if our lives seem to be heading south, because Jesus sacrifice gives us an eternal picture when understood, that clearly sees the future with him, taking our focus off the temporal today. In fact, this is precisely why we celebrate the Lord’s supper. It is a thanksgiving celebration if there ever was one.
The Last Supper was both a Passover meal and the last meal Jesus had with his apostles before his arrest and subsequent crucifixion. One of the important moments of the Last Supper is Jesus’ command to remember what he was about to do on behalf of all mankind, which was to shed his blood on the cross thereby paying the debt of our sins.
Keep in mind that this tied in with the Passover feast which was an especially holy event for the Jewish people in that it remembered the time when God spared them from the plague of physical death in Egypt.
The Last Supper was a significant event and proclaimed a turning point in God’s plan for the world. In comparing the crucifixion of Jesus to the feast of Passover, we can readily see the redemptive nature of Christ’s death. As symbolized by the original Passover sacrifice in the Old Testament, Christ’s death atones for the sins of his people; His blood rescues us from death and saves us from slavery.
“And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood’” – Luke 22:17-20
Jesus’ was linking his death to the offering of the Passover sacrifice. The Passover lamb was the animal God directed the Israelites to use as a sacrifice in Egypt on the night God struck down the firstborn sons of every household.
This was the final plague God issued against Pharaoh, and it led to Pharaoh releasing the Israelites from slavery. After that fateful night, God instructed the Israelites to observe the Passover Feast as a lasting memorial.
Just as the Passover lamb’s applied blood caused the “destroyer” to pass over each household, Christ’s applied blood causes God’s judgment to pass over sinners and gives life to believers.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 6:23
As the first Passover marked the Hebrews’ release from Egyptian slavery, so the death of Christ marks our release from the slavery of sin.
“For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death”. – Romans 7:5
When we recognize the nature of our depravity and understand that, apart from God, there is only death, our natural response is to be grateful for the life he gives.
As our society becomes increasingly secular, the actual “giving of thanks to God” during our annual Thanksgiving holiday is being overlooked, leaving only the feasting.
May God grant that he may find us grateful every day for all of his gifts, spiritual and material. Remember as we celebrate this season that God is good, and every good gift comes from him. May he find us to be his grateful children.