Thanksgiving Is a Three-Way Street
It was Saturday afternoon and I had taken my two children bowling. As we drove home it dawned on me that neither of them had said, Thank you.” When I pointed it out to them, my son Isaac said, “Dad, I am thankful. I just didn’t say it out loud.” I’d never heard that one before, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how I have done the same with my Heavenly Father. When questioned or pressed, I can recount the things for which I am thankful to God. Yet I often fail to volunteer outward or spontaneous expressions of my appreciation for His blessings.
Something about thankfulness requires us to say it out loud. We can experience enjoyment or even gladness inwardly, but thankfulness is not a private experience. It must be voiced. This month we celebrate Thanksgiving, which by its very name, reminds us of the important link between being thankful and giving thanks. Again, giving is not something we do inwardly.
If you have to remind someone to thank you (or if you have to be reminded), it means a whole lot less. When people offer thanks of their own accord, it means more—not only because it recognizes the receiver of thanks more genuinely, but because of what it says about the character of the thanks-givers. So it is between God and us.
We tend to think that the one whom we thank is the one who benefits from our recognition. Yet with my children, I am not as concerned about receiving their recognition as I am concerned for them. I want them to recognize for themselves what they receive, so that they will grow up to be thoughtful and grateful individuals. Likewise, God does not need our recognition, but He is delighted when His children are thoughtful and grateful. These proper attitudes reflect God’s goodness and when we are reflecting His character, we are fulfilling the purpose for which God created us. Thanks-giving builds the qualities that God loves most within our own hearts—and those qualities improve our lives and the lives of those around us.
For the believer, every day should be a day of thanksgiving. Giving thanks is a spiritual discipline. God has commanded us to do it as much for our own benefit as for His enjoyment. “Give thanks to the LORD, call on His name, make known His deeds among the people” (1 Chronicles 16:8).
When we give thanks to the Lord, we are not only benefiting ourselves and blessing our Maker, we are also “making known His deeds among the people.” We are extending God’s blessings to those around us so that they can share in our thanks-giving. When thanksgiving flows from a heart that is truly grateful, it waters the souls of all those around.
I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify Him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the LORD better than an ox or bull, which has horns and hooves. The humble shall see this and be glad; and you who seek God, your hearts shall live (Psalm 69:30,31).
What do the humble see? They see the LORD magnified through our praise. They see more of Him and it makes them glad, it makes their hearts live. So when we give thanks to the Lord we delight Him, we build godly character in our own lives and we extend blessing to others around us. It is a genuine three-way street.
Over the years, we Jews for Jesus have tried to stay on that three-way street, looking for ways to reflect our thankfulness to the Lord and to you, our Jews for Jesus friends and family. I hope that our forthrightness and zeal for proclaiming the gospel flows from gratitude to God for saving us and giving us such a wonderful hope in Christ. Real evangelism is making known His deeds among the people. I believe that is the very best way of thanking God for His salvation.
When we tell you about the good things the Lord is doing through Jews for Jesus, we are also giving thanks to the Lord in a way that we hope flows over to refresh your hearts too. And when we thank you for your friendship and support, I hope we do so in ways that help you to rejoice with us in God’s goodness. Since the earliest days of Jews for Jesus, Moishe Rosen encouraged us to write personal notes of thanks on postcards to our friends and supporters. Many of you have commented how much you appreciate receiving these postcards from staff members, but they are only a small reflection of the gratitude we have for you and most of all for our Savior, Yeshua.
Nevertheless, I could wish to see more thankfulness in my own walk with God and I think most of our staff could also be more thankful than we are.
The Jewish religion interpreted the command to give thanks into the ritual of reciting “bruchas” or blessings as a daily exercise. There are blessings to be said upon waking up in the morning and for going to sleep at night, blessings for hand washing, even a blessing for a man to say when he sees a beautiful woman. In a humorous scene from Fiddler on the Roof, a villager asks the local rabbi if there is a blessing for the Czar. “Of course there is,” the rabbi replies. “May God bless and keep the Czar…far away from us.”
Jewish tradition offers blessings for just about every activity of life. Yet, the fact that my people have developed this ritual does not necessarily fulfill the command to give thanks. Ritual can become rote. It can be so for Christians as well. It is all too easy for us to be perfunctory in our thanks-giving. That does not mean we cannot express true thankfulness within various liturgies and set formats. We certainly can. Nevertheless, if we are not careful and focused, if our words do not express a heartfelt reality, then not only our liturgies but often-used phrases like “praise God” or “thank you, Jesus” can violate the commandment, “Do not take the name of the Lord in vain.” True thanksgiving requires care and thoughtfulness. We all need to strive for that kind of care.
Dr. Vernon Grounds is president emeritus of Denver Theological Seminary, the author of numerous books and a long-time member of our Jews for Jesus Board of Directors. He has been an example to me of the kind of care and thoughtfulness that flows from a thankful heart. Over the years, I have received numerous notes and letters from Dr. Grounds which I deeply treasure. His annual Christmas letter, recounting the joys and sorrows of the year, always ministers to my heart. The reason, it seems to me, is because of the genuine heart of gratitude to God that flows throughout his thoughtfully worded prose. Even when he has, on occasion, thanked me for some small kindness, he does so in a way that brings glory and honor to the Lord. This remarkable ability is a gift I covet for myself and for the staff of Jews for Jesus.
Remember the story of Jesus and the ten lepers? He sent them all to show themselves to the priest. While they were on their way, He healed them all; yet only one man, a Samaritan, returned to thank Jesus. “Jesus asked, îWere not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?'” (Luke 17:17,18). I am afraid that those ten lepers are a fair representation of humanity in general, and Christians in particular. We have experienced the cleansing, transforming power of God in our lives. We, more than all others, have cause to give thanks to the Lord. Yet too many of us, like the other nine lepers, continue on our way with ungrateful hearts.
We need to continually cultivate an attitude of thoughtful and heartfelt thankfulness, and we need to develop the art of voicing our thanks. As we do this, I know it will make us more effective servants of God. May He grant us the grace to be like that one Samaritan, returning each day to the feet of Jesus to thank Him for all He has done for us.
Executive Director, Missionary
David Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus. David oversees the world-wide ministry from its headquarters in San Francisco. David received his Master’s degree in Missiology with a concentration in Jewish Evangelism and Judaic Studies from the Fuller School of World Mission. He has authored several books, and has been interviewed on national television shows such as Larry King Live. David’s daughter, Ilana is a recent graduate of Biola. His son, Isaac is on the missionary staff of Jews for Jesus. Isaac and his wife, Shaina, have one daughter, Nora, which makes David part of the grandparent club, a membership he is very proud of. See more here.