What are your strongest associations with the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday—turkey and stuffing, family and football, a longer weekend to relax and plenty of leftovers? Most associate Thanksgiving with all of the above and, of course, with the story of the Pilgrims and the feast they shared with the Native Americans back at Plymouth Rock. Yet America’s very first national day of thanksgiving had nothing to do with feasting.
On December 4, 1619, 38 English settlers arrived at Berkeley Plantation, on the James River near what is now Charles City, Virginia. The group memorialized their arrival with a day of thanksgiving to God. Even the pilgrims’ first official proclamation of a Day of Thanksgiving” was a follow-up to the day of fasting and prayer for rain, instituted by then governor William Bradford. Finally, in 1863 President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.” Clearly, what most Americans now consider a secular holiday was rooted in the spiritual exercise of giving thanks to God.
Perhaps a subtle materialism has crept into our own thinking and Thanksgiving observance, even as believers. While most of us give thanks to “our beneficent Father” at this season, for what do we offer our thanks and praise? How much of our focus is on the physical blessings that so many of us enjoy in abundance? Our focus on the material, temporal blessings sometimes overshadows the far more significant spiritual, eternal blessings God has bestowed on us.
I am not saying that we should ignore the physical blessings God provides, not at all! But these benefits wax and wane, while the best reasons to thank and praise God never fail but only grow in strength and number. Here are just a few:
“Praise be to the Go d and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ”
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness”
2 Peter 1:3
“It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption”
1 Corinthians 1:30
What more do we need than “every spiritual blessing,” “everything we need for life,” “righteousness, holiness and redemption”? And these are just three verses of the many precious promises to us in God’s Word.
Of the nearly 150 mentions of “thanks” or “thanksgiving” in the Bible, only a few are tied to physical or material benefits. The majority extol the character of God Himself, the love He has shown us and the spiritual benefits He has extended.
I must admit that I need this reminder for myself these days. Many of you are aware that we have had to cut back in staff, salaries and spending here at Jews for Jesus due to increased expenses, in large part connected with Operation Behold Your God. How easy it would be to focus on the cuts, the concerns, the difficult questions these circumstances have caused us to face.
Many of you are also facing financial struggles, economic uncertainties and a host of other physical concerns. How do we deal with these changing circumstances? We can always remember how much we have in comparison to those less fortunate in this world. That always provides needed perspective.
Still, if our thankfulness were tied only to material things we might be tempted to be less thankful this year than last. But that would be wrong! It would be wrong not only because God promises to provide for all our needs, but because in Christ He has already given “everything we need for life and godliness.” Hallelujah!
I have resolved in my heart to try to make this Thanksgiving the most spiritually focused, thanks-filled celebration yet. May I encourage you to make a similar choice, if you have not already? Let’s do this together by first meditating on God’s promises to all believers. As we dwell on all the spiritual blessings God has given, the sufficiency of the Messiah Jesus will produce an overflow of thanksgiving to God.
Second, we can list the spiritual blessings that God has personally given to us as individuals. It’s good to be specific, thinking through all that has happened over the past year that has led to spiritual growth and blessing in our lives. Some of God’s blessings are very private. But I’d like to share part of my list with you. By November 22, I expect it will be quite a bit longer:
Thank You Lord, for saving me and forgiving me of all my sins.
Thank You for filling me with Your Holy Spirit and giving me grace to walk in fellowship with You each day.
Thank You for the assurance of answered prayer and for the hope of heaven.
Thank You for the family of God, for all the love and prayers of brothers and sisters who uphold me in my service for You.
Thank You that You challenge me to grow and draw closer to You in the painful times, and that You are always there to show Your faithfulness.
Thank You for Jews for Jesus and for all the wonderful staff and volunteers who so faithfully serve You in preaching the gospel.
Thank You for the many souls saved and hearts and lives challenged through our efforts to share Jesus around the world, especially as a result of Operation Behold Your God.
Thank You for our faithful friends and supporters who pray and give to enable Jews for Jesus to do this ministry.
One more suggestion. Make an effort to share your thankfulness with others. No matter what your plans are for November 22, won’t you take time to help those you spend it with be thankful, too? Some people find holidays stressful because family members so often complain and criticize one another. That kind of talk is contagious and causes resentment. But gratitude and thanksgiving are also contagious, and tend to stir up joy. So share some of your own reasons to extol and thank God.
God enjoys our thanks, and He inhabits the praises of His people. Words of heartfelt gratitude will invite His delicious presence—and that’s what will make it the best Thanksgiving ever!