THANKSGIVING should be a special event, but for many it is reduced to a ho-hum, hum-drum knot in a string of otherwise endless days. For those people, Thanksgiving merely means ingesting and digesting another traditional turkey before watching another traditional football game. Either might cause indigestion but neither will be remembered beyond the leftovers and instant replays.
Praise God, we have more to look forward to than plastic zip lock bags that seal in the memory of too much food! In Jesus, the Thanksgiving holiday becomes a thanks giving” event.
Holidays are rituals of intensification; they remind us of our commitments and thus become occasions to strengthen those commitments. For those who lack commitments, holidays mean little more than a few decorations and a fuller-than-usual stomach.
Perhaps most of all, holidays provide opportunities for that most important of all human endeavors: worship. But unless we are in touch with the Creator of all, holidays become the occasion to adore and worship ourselves and our own.
The Ever Living God designed thanksgiving (the act, not just the holiday) so we could show how much we love and appreciate our Creator and Provider. In order for us to be properly thankful, it might help to reflect upon the quality of the soul that we call “thankfulness.”
Few seem to realize that acts of true thankfulness transform us. To the beginner, GIVING THANKS is an entrance to a new and deeper walk with God. To the mature believer, each act of thanksgiving is a step upward to the higher life—a giant step forward toward the delightful destiny God has for each person who loves Him. The true celebration of Thanksgiving will last forever because no matter where we are in our walk with God, it dramatically changes us.
How does thankfulness transform us?
Thankfulness brings us face-to-face with grace.
To be truly thankful, we have to acknowledge the source of every good thing: we have to realize that our health, our family, any abundance—even luxuries we may have—are from God. Moreover, we have not earned His blessings, but He lovingly chose to bestow them. Each gift from God, whether it is a new house or a new friend, shows that the Giver knows who we are and what has meaning and value to us. When we are truly thankful, we can’t help knowing and declaring that God is so much better to us than we deserve. And that leads to the second change.
Thankfulness humbles us.
There is a strong link between grace and humility. Perhaps God gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34, 1 Peter 5:5) because humble people are thankful people who know how to recognize grace. Why give people something they can’t understand or appreciate?
Pride fades when we sincerely believe that everything good comes from God. (Have you noticed that pride flares when we expect people to take note of us instead of looking to God for the attention and everything else that we need?) And pride pretty much disintegrates when we realize that God has given us much more than we deserve. (Have you ever noticed how many of our prideful comments begin with the unspoken but implied preface, “I deserve better…“?)
Thanksgiving also humbles us because, strive as we might, in the balance of fairness we are forced to admit that we depend upon God for every good thing in our lives. Pride is closely tied to a spirit of independence. Thankful people realize that our independence is an illusion and our real strength is in the fact that the Almighty invites us to depend upon Him.
Thankfulness humbles but never humiliates us. We gain humility by acknowledging all we have, all the good we are, all the good we might accomplish is due entirely to God’s enablement. True humility produces a dauntless dignity—because it is based on an unshakable understanding of who God is and how He values us in Christ.
Thankfulness motivates us
When I go to a church to speak, I spend time with the pastor of the congregation before the service. I frequently ask the pastor, “When you are alone in prayer, what do you find yourself asking God to do in your church?” The answer to that question helps me know how to prayerfully approach the congregation with the message of the worship service. Often pastors tell me they pray for their congregations to have “a higher level of commitment,” “willingness to witness,” or “more love for one another.”
The problem I most often need to address from Scripture is lack of spiritual motivation.
Lack of spiritual motivation is at the root of most problems in the life of a church or an individual. People who are not spiritually motivated usually lack one thing: the ability to sense God’s reality. That’s right, the one thing that can spiritually motivate, mobilize and empower us to feats of faith is sensing of the reality of God. The best possible path to gaining that reality is the path of praise and thanksgiving.
In order to know that God is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him, we need to see the many acts of God in our lives. We need to number, mark and be aware of the manifold benefits He has bestowed upon us. A simple song phrased it this way:
Count your many blessings,
Name them one by one;
Count your many blessings,
See what God has done.
Thanksgiving is an act that springs from an attitude of thankfulness. Without the act of thanksgiving the attitude of thankfulness eventually dries up and disappears.
It’s one thing to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving or to stand up in public and say, “I thank God for ____ .” Songs are easy to sing and statements are easily uttered. Both can soon be forgotten because they cost us little. But if the act of Thanksgiving costs us no more than the breath we expend to utter, sing or speak words of thankfulness, it just won’t go very far in showing us the reality of God that we so urgently need to sense.
If a person wanted to intensify the act of Thanksgiving, what could she or he do? What could you do? God gave us something to do. We don’t even like the word that describes the act, because it points to the high cost. Regrettably, many of us shop for bargain basement spirituality—something that looks good enough to be acceptable and can be gained at a cheap price. But God has provided a more authentic way to intensify our thanks to Him.
The best way to exercise Thanksgiving is through SACRIFICE. If God seems remote and you want to draw close, maybe you need to make a sacrifice.
Our Heavenly Father is pleased that we care to give to Him. It is an awesome thing to please Him.
I remember the first real gift I ever gave. It was a birthday present for my mother. I didn’t get a weekly allowance but I earned pennies for doing errands for neighbors. I saved those pennies and bought her a gift with my own money—a potato peeler that cost me a big 15ó.
My mother realized that was a lot for a nine-year-old. She knew I could have bought 15 pieces of candy, and the fact that I had bought something for her with money I had earned made her grin with approval and enjoyment. That smile was worth the sacrifice of 15 small candy bars or the toy I might have bought!
Years later I learned that flowers or a handkerchief or something more personal and less suggestive of kitchen drudgery might have been more appropriate. Yet my mother had been totally appreciative. She had been thrilled to have a son who wanted to do something nice for her on her birthday.
I believe the heart of the Almighty is truly touched by our small tokens of love. He could create mountains of gold for His treasuries, but the widow’s mite means more to Him than those mountains of gold because it comes from a person who, in the midst of her need, says, “I love you, Lord. I trust you to take care of me. So, here…take this.”
I think that’s what Thanksgiving is all about. It involves acknowledging God’s goodness and care by taking the occasion to say, “Father, I love you, I trust you. Here, take all that I have, and again—thanks!”
Sacrifice is a tangible gift, work or deed that springs from a thankful heart. Sacrifice brings us into fellowship with the Almighty. It realigns our hearts, it reassigns our priorities, it helps us realize a deeper plane of existence. Sacrifice gives us a sense of the reality of God.
When we sacrifice something, it isn’t the size of what we give that matters—it’s how much we deny ourselves and what we want. For some, $100,000.00 is no sacrifice because they deprive themselves of nothing. They can still have and enjoy whatever they desire. For others, to give $100.00 would cause them to miss meals, and the missing of meals is the sacrifice.
When I was executive director I sometimes felt bad to see people depriving themselves of things I felt were essential—things my family and I had not given up—in order to give sacrificially to Jews for Jesus.
Once I was so touched, I felt compelled to send back a sizable donation from a pensioner because I feared that he was doing without food and heat to give it. In a letter I told him that we were far from desperate, and that he needed the money more than we did.
I received back a correctly indignant letter reminding me that the gift was not to Jews for Jesus but to God. The fact that I was in comfort was irrelevant to this man. He told me that he had given such sacrifices to God on many occasions throughout his life, and suggested that if I was uncomfortable with that, maybe I should examine what I could sacrifice.
That man taught me something: One must look to God and ask Him what He would allow us to sacrifice. God does not receive great sacrifices from just anyone. He prepares the hearts of those He loves and who love Him to give big and deny themselves.
The important thing is: whatever we sacrifice must be entirely in agreement with God and His provision for our lives. Otherwise, we might give beyond our means and then be tempted to try manipulating God into intervening on our behalf. He does not like us trying to force Him into doing miracles.
But what a sweet, stirring thanksgiving event is possible when you approach God with your all, your everything, your life—and with a smile, say: “What will you allow me to present to you as my token of appreciation and love?” And the Almighty smiles back and says, “If you really mean it, this (and He indicates something to you) would be nice.”
TRY IT; YOU’LL LIKE IT!