“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:20)
Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday in both Canada and the United States. Canada celebrates the holiday in October as the crops are coming out of the field; the United States celebrates in November after the crops have been harvested. Both nations are exhorted to give thanks to God for the many blessings and mercies shown to us by the Almighty God. As nations, we have been very prosperous, and year after year we have reason to give thanks. Even though we squander our blessings and show ourselves to be unworthy, still God continues to grant us His favor.
Isn’t it interesting that we need to be exhorted to give thanks? By our very nature we are ungrateful to God. We would consider it an insult if a friend would be ungrateful for favors we have shown to him. Newspaper advice columns constantly print letters of people who are upset because someone forgot to sent them a “Thank You” card for some gift they gave at a shower, wedding, or the like. It is almost as if the reason for giving the gift was so that the giver could be recognized in some way. Yet, we forget the numberless benefits and continuous blessings that we receive from God.
We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit if we truly want to know how to give thanks to God. That is what Paul teaches in Ephesians 5. He exhorts us not to get drunk on wine but to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Being filled with the Holy Spirit reveals itself through the singing of Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs and giving thanks always. The Revised Standard Version of the Scriptures translated the Greek: “by making a melody in your heart to the Lord.” What a wonderful phrase that is! Our hearts ought to sing in joy for the glad assurance we have that every good and perfect gift comes from the hand of our heavenly Father. Such gratitude can only be taught by the Holy Spirit and is evidence of the Spirit within us. Our giving thanks is the soul’s expression of thankfulness to God for favors received. It is the heart’s echo of what God has accomplished for us.
The Working of the Spirit
In order to give thanks properly, a person must realize that he has been blessed by God. Many people do not recognize the works of God. They see only the laws of science and nature. They are unable to recognize that all we receive in this life is a gift from God. Those who are blind to the material gifts from God certainly will not see the spiritual gifts He has provided. They cannot see the love of God.
It should be different for those who acknowledge the existence of the Triune God. They should readily acknowledge the physical and spiritual gifts received from God. Even so, many Christians take for granted many of the blessings that come to us from the Fatherly hand of the almighty Creator of heaven and earth. It becomes necessary for the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to a whole new way of understanding. Only through Him can we realize what God has done for us. The Holy Spirit must teach us that every good gift comes to us from God.
It is not enough for us to realize that we are blessed. If we are truly thankful, we must see the blessings as gifts from God’s grace. In order to give thanks in the right way, we must recognize how unworthy we are to receive any blessing from God. Because of our sin, we have given up every right to any gift that God would give us.
A person who works hard and receives wages for his labor does not need to give thanks to his boss for those wages. He has a right to them. He has worked for them and he has earned them. However, when someone gives you something upon which you have no claim—something to which you have given up your right by your own misdeeds and foolish-ness—and it is out of grace that you receive this gift, for this you must be thankful! That requires a humble heart. We need to be able to ask “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me?” (Psalm 116:12).
The Holy Spirit must lead us to a realization of our unworthiness and how we have been blessed in spite of our unworthiness. He then teaches us how to be thankful as we fully commit ourselves to God.
True Gratitude Always
In the United States, the president traditionally exhorts the nation to set aside the fourth Thursday of November as a day of giving thanks publicly to God. Citizens are encouraged to attend the “church, synagogue, or mosque of their choice” to make such expression.
True gratitude, however, is not just giving thanksgiving because we have been exhorted to do so one day out of the year. True gratitude, according to Paul, is giving thanks always. Our whole lives must reflect a thankful heart. God demands of us a life devoted to Him in which we are always thankful to Him for His benefits to us.
It really can not be any other way. We always have a reason to be thankful. As a child of God there is never a moment in your life that there is not something for which to be thankful. Certainly, life can be cruel and unfair. Each one of us has trials and temptations. We go through sicknesses and heartaches. Yet, we have the glad assurance that our God will never desert us.
If you have placed your trust in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, where His blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins, then God says, “Be anxious in nothing, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6). Because of Christ, neither life nor death, angels nor demons, the present nor the future can separate you from the love of God. No matter what you are experiencing in this life, you have that promise from God. You have His love because of Christ. That certainly is something for which you can be thankful!
In the Name of Jesus
At the close of this life, when we come to heaven’s door, the Christian will have opportunity to thank God for all of His dealings with him. We will see that we have not suffered one pang too many; nor have we been required to perform one duty too many. All our affliction was nothing compared to the mercy God has shown us. Every hurt was nothing compared to the love that Jesus Christ has shown to those who believe in Him, who, because of His love, faced more suffering than we could ever begin to imagine. In fact, He suffered more than we could ever have endured as He faced the wrath of God for our sin.
Too often in exhortations that we receive to give thanks, the name of Jesus is missing. While it may be politically correct to encourage people to express their thanksgiving at their church, synagogue, or mosque, it is only those who know Jesus Christ that can give true thanks to God. Through Him we are drawn into the presence of the most high, sovereign, all powerful God. Through Jesus we may call this great majestic God, our Father.
Surely, God will not accept the thanksgiving of any who come to Him through any means other than His Son.
Regardless of what month you celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving, let there be a real day of thanksgiving in your heart. Make it a day in which you give thanks to your Father in heaven in the name of Jesus Christ. Give praise to Him for the benefits and blessings He has provided for you day after day. And more, give thanks to Him for the precious gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, who poured Himself out for our salvation.
Rev. Wybren H. Oord is the pastor of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He is also the editor of The Outlook.