By: Jenni Walker
“O Lord, that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness!” (William Shakespeare)
“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17)
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Halloween clearance items lined the endcaps of store shelves while Christmas music played. Signs near each aisle boasted of the soon-to-be Christmas season with messages like: “Make it a Christmas to remember.” “Jumpstart the Christmas season.” “Need some Christmas spirit? Check out our online options!” And it was only November first.
Where was the message of Thanksgiving? For many, this is the meaning of Thanksgiving now – enjoy a low-key Thursday and then shop until you drop on Black Friday. I saw a quote recently that said, “Only in America do people trample others for sales exactly one day after being thankful for what they already have.” This, of course, is a humorously exaggerated experience of Thanksgiving, but for most of us Thanksgiving comes and goes in a blink of an eye. And for many of us, we do not even stop to consider the depth of its meaning.
What is the meaning of Thanksgiving? For many of us, it is a day of boxes to check off: The Pilgrims and Native Americans? That story seems rather antiquated, but I did put up a welcome sign with a turkey in a Pilgrim hat. I thought of things I am thankful for. I posted a photo of my perfect-looking meal and of the family that I love. Yes, I sure do have a lot to be thankful for…but Halloween is more fun for my kids, and now I need to move on to Christmas preparations so I prefer a low-key Thanksgiving. A little bit of family, food, football…‘Tis the season!
Again, what is the true meaning Thanksgiving? It is more than just a day: by God’s design, it is a way of life that should be emphasized, celebrated, and put into practice all throughout the year. Am I thankful only when life feels easy? Do I demonstrate my thankfulness for my family in actionable ways year-round? Am I thankful for the instant gratification of things more than I am for intangibles like high moral character built over a lifetime? Do I say that I am thankful for salvation through the work of Jesus on the cross but not live a life that testifies of it it through the ongoing work of being a “living sacrifice” with a life of service to the Lord? Do I say that I am blessed but not demonstrate it in my thoughts, words, and actions?
The even larger question is this: to Whom do we give thanks? Like the commemorated meal of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans that first Thanksgiving, together we look up to the Source of all our blessings and say, “Praise GOD from Whom all blessings flow, praise HIM all creatures here below!” By God’s design, thanksgiving is something to be practiced not just one day a year or merely as lip service. It is meant by God to be transformative in our lives if we will remember several important aspects about what it truly means to have a thankful heart.
1) Thanksgiving is an attitude.
“An attitude of gratitude” is more than good manners and saying please and thank you. We are called to approach and respond to each part of life with hearts that are surrendered to the Lord. He is our Creator, our Shepherd, our Savior, our Lord, and we come to Him on His terms, not our own. And for this we are grateful, because the One to whom we have surrendered our lives and chosen to follow for all of our days is who He says He is. And He not only says it – He reveals Himself actionably!
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for thanks means “Acknowledging what is right about God in praise and thanksgiving (1 Chr. 16:34). It can also mean a right acknowledgment of self before God in confessing sin (Lev. 26:40).” (Warren Baker and Eugene E. Carpenter, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2003), 419.) Thanksgiving God’s way begins with an attitude of surrender to the lordship of Christ – acknowledging our need for Him and praising and thanking Him for who He is.
In Psalm 100, we are given a beautiful depiction of how a thankful heart is two-fold as both an attitude and action:
“Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth.
Serve the LORD with gladness;
Come before Him with joyful singing.”
“Know that the LORD Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.”
“Enter His gates with thanksgiving
And His courts with praise.
Give thanks to Him, bless His name.”
“For the LORD is good;
His lovingkindness is everlasting
And His faithfulness to all generations.”
True Thanksgiving begins with a heart of thankfulness for who God is and for what He has done!
2) Thanksgiving is an action.
While Psalm 100 demonstrates an attitude of sincere thanksgiving to the Lord, it also emphasizes the importance of responding to who we know God to be! To Whom are we giving thanks? It is the giving of thanks which stems from an ongoing state of being: “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts…and be thankful.” It is from this that our actions can genuinely be from a God-honoring thankful heart, and our lives become permeated with true thanksgiving.
When we understand to Whom we are thankful and that our lives are defined by Him and who He is, our lives take on a deeper sense of purpose because we grow more deeply rooted in our identity as “His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) There is a work we are here to do – to know our Lord and to make Him known others!
On our Cape Cod honeymoon, Bryan and I visited the Pilgrim Memorial, which commemorates the harbor where the Pilgrims first landed. On August 20, 1907, President Teddy Roosevelt gave an address at its cornerstone-laying ceremony in which he observed this kind of attitude in the Pilgrims that came to fruition in the work that they did. He said of the Pilgrims that they laid “deep the immovable foundations of our whole American system of civil, political, and religious liberty achieved through the orderly process of law. This was the work allotted him to do; this is the work he did; and only a master spirit among men could have done it.”
He expounded, saying, “We have traveled far since his day. That liberty of conscience which he demanded for himself, we now realize must be freely accorded to others as it is resolutely insisted upon for ourselves. The splendid qualities which he left to his children…and which we can by no manner of means afford to lose. We have gained a joy of living which he had not, and which it is a good thing for every people to have and to develop. Let us see to it that we do not lose what is more important still: that we do not lose the Puritan’s iron sense of duty, his unbending, unflinching will to do the right as it was given him to see the right. It is a good thing that life should gain in sweetness, but only provided that it does not lose in strength. Ease and rest and pleasure are good things, but only if they come as the reward of work well done, of a good fight well won, of strong effort resolutely made, and crowned by high achievement.
“The life of mere men will pass by with contemptuous disdain alike the advisers who would seek to lead us into the paths of ignoble ease and those who teach us to admire successful wrongdoing. Our ideals should be high, and yet they should be capable of achievement in practical fashion; and we are as little to be excused if we permit our ideals to be tainted with what is sordid and mean and base, as if we allow our power of achievement to atrophy and become either incapable of effort or capable only of such fantastic effort as to accomplish nothing of permanent good. The true doctrine to preach to this nation, as to the individuals composing this nation, is not the life of ease, but the life of effort. If it were in my power to promise the people of this land anything, I would not promise them pleasure, I would promise them that stern happiness which comes from the sense of having done in practical fashion a difficult work which was worth doing.” (http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/Research/Digital-Library/Record/ImageViewer?libID=o286435&imageNo=1)
Many people in our country today have come to believe today that work to do is not something to be thankful for. But true thankfulness to the Lord for who He is and all He has done will spur us to DO what He has called us to do! We are called to be a holy people of action, and doing the will of God is directly tied to a thankful heart: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17)
3) Thanksgiving is ongoing.
Thanksgiving became an officially-recognized holiday in our nation in 1789 at the request of Congress under George Washington’s presidency. In his Thanksgiving proclamation, Washington said, “Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation…”
Washington aptly points out that we give thanks to God in an ongoing manner for “all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” A day to commemorate is important, and I believe the ceremony of tradition and remembrance is honoring to the Lord. But we must not stop there but, rather, should cultivate a heart of thankfulness that is continues during the year and throughout the course of our time here on earth.
The Israelites throughout the Old Testament had feasts which were days of remembrance for what the Lord had done; they erected memorials to commemorate God’s faithfulness to them in specific locations. They also posted the laws of God over the doors of their homes, wore them on their clothing, talked about them at mealtime with their children, and “bound them around their neck” and “wrote them upon the table of their heart” throughout the course of their everyday lives (Deuteronomy 6:6-13).
A recent story that has impressed this on my heart lately is that of Ebenezer Scrooge. This story has become Christmas folklore and has been shared by so many people over the years. This Christmas season is no exception in my local community where I have been preparing to make my directorial debut as director of Ken Jones’ Scrooge’s Christmas, a condensed musical version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. As the director, I have been eating, breathing, and sleeping this play, and I have read the script more times than I can count. With each rehearsal, something about the story seems to strike me in a new way. It was only natural around Thanksgiving last week that I gleaned some new insight into the true meaning of Thanksgiving from this Christmas-themed show.
Near the end of Scrooge’s story, he must face all of the choices and experiences of his upbringing, of the people currently in his life, and of the resulting bleakness in his future. As he pours out his heart in contrition and repentance, he finally exclaims, “I will live in the past, present, and the future!”
We can be thankful for the past because we see the faithfulness of God in guiding our steps, in leading us according to His will, in healing the broken places of our hearts…
We can be thankful for the present because we know that what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal. It is a beautiful peak on a mountain on which to say, “Lord, I have so much higher to go. But thank you for how far I have come and for being with me right here, right now…”
We can be thankful for the yet-to-come. “His mercy endures forever.” “He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” “All His promises are yes and amen.” We can be assured that God is at work and that He is making His plans and purposes come to pass in this earth! That when we pray, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” that He is already answering that prayer in so many ways not just for our time here on earth but for eternity…
This Is the Will of God
This article is not meant to discourage you from watching football on Thanksgiving or shopping on Black Friday. Rather, I pray that it will encourage you to consider what true thanksgiving is supposed to look like in the life of a wholehearted woman of God. True thanksgiving is an attitude, an action, and is ongoing. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” This is not something done in our own strength. It comes to fruition from a heart of full surrender to the will of God and recognizing that thanksgiving is both commanded of us because it is His will, and it also produces great peace and blessing! We are reminded in Romans 8:6 that “to be spiritually-minded is life and peace.” This is why cultivating a thankful heart is so essential to the will of God: it lifts up the eyes of our heart to who our Lord is; it helps us to know Him, depend upon Him, and to experience Him as He truly is in our everyday lives; and it spurs us to action to see His kingdom come and His will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”
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