From the Pastor’s Pen . . .
Thanksgiving: Cornucopia of Blessings
“With thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God….”
When we hear the word “thanksgiving” this time of year, our minds usually turn to the holiday bearing that name, and rightly so. The incredible tapestry of fall colors draping the hillsides and the refreshing chill in the air replacing the lazy mugginess of summer awaken within us a sense of deep gratitude and anticipation of a long weekend to share, perhaps, with family or friends. For many of us, Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday of the year.
Like many good things, however, there exists the potential for unintended consequences associated with our enjoyment of the Thanksgiving holiday. One such consequence is that we so closely associate “thanksgiving” with Thanksgiving that we forget that thanksgiving is something that is not only appropriate, but imperative throughout the year. Another potential consequence is that it may take on a perfunctory shallowness that misses out on the many blessings of the spiritual discipline we call thanksgiving, i.e., the regular, thoughtful, giving of thanks to God. For the believer, the practice of thanksgiving truly is a cornucopia of blessing! Allow me to share just a few of the blessings of thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving builds faith. The laws of physics and nature are great blessings from God. Their relative immutability makes life-as-we-know-it possible. We have some sense of what to expect as we take a step or drink our coffee because the law of gravity is not fickle. In simplistic terms, we can trust that a chair will support us because it has supported us many times before. We can function in the present moment because of our experience of the past. Just as there are laws in the physical realm, there are equally immutable spiritual laws that govern in our relationship with God. We have faith that God will be true to His word tomorrow because He has always been true to His word in the past. We trust that God will be faithful in His dealings with us in the future because He has always been faithful in His dealings with us in the past. When we give thanks to God, we remind ourselves of that we can trust Him. The more specific we are in giving thanks, the more solid will be our trust (faith) in Him for tomorrow.
Thanksgiving emboldens prayer. The passage from Philippians referenced in the header, above, makes an indissoluble connection between thanksgiving and prayer: “In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Thanksgiving, here, is both backward- and forward-looking. It looks backward, not only to the faithfulness of God, but also to prayers that God has answered in the past. What God has done before, He can do again. This giving of thanks also looks forward to the answers to prayer that we know are forthcoming. God always answers the prayers of His children. Sometimes the answer is “yes.” Sometimes He answers, “No.” Sometimes He answers, “Not now.” In every case and without fail, His answer the best. We can give thanks to Him even when the answer is “no” because His answer is always an expression of His love, for our good, and for His glory.
Thanksgiving relieves anxiety. Recently, a friend related a statistic shared by a well-known Christian psychologist and professor of Christian counseling. He said that fully one-third of Americans today would qualify as having an anxiety disorder according to the guidelines set forth in the DSM-5-TR (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Text Revision, American Psychiatric Association, 2013). In other words, if you are dealing with anxiety, you are not alone. The ubiquity of anxiety notwithstanding, the Philippians passage we just discussed is introduced by the words, “Be anxious for nothing,” or better, “Stop being anxious about things.” Rather, the inspired writer instructs, us “in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” The promised result is that “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Now, not all “anxiety” is bad. Certain kinds of anxiety, for example, will keep us from doing foolish, dangerous things. The anxiety of which Scripture speaks in this context is the kind of anxiety that arises from disobedience or unbelief, the anxiety that is the opposite of the peace given by God. Thanksgiving not only honors God, it reinforces the truth that we can cast all our care upon Him, because He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). It is amazing how a few minutes of specific, heartfelt thanksgiving can wash away years of worry. Give it a try!
Thanksgiving fights depression and nurtures joy. Immediately following Paul’s admonition to pray with thanksgiving, he instructs the believers at Philippi: “Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” We cannot truly meditate on these things without having our hearts moved to give thanks to God, the giver of every truly good gift. By giving thanks to God we fertilize the seeds of positivity, faith, and peace that have the power grow and choke out the roots of depression and anxiety that rob us of the birthright of joy.
Thanksgiving helps us experience the presence of God. The Psalmist instructs us that the way God’s children are to approach God is with thanksgiving and praise (Ps. 100:4). Thanksgiving ascribes glory to God for what He does. Praise ascribes glory to Him for Who He is. When we begin to give thanks to God, our hearts naturally fill with praise to Him. Still, the only way we, being sinful mortals, can approach the holy, eternal God is having the blood of Jesus applied to our hearts through faith (trust) in Him. But even when we have experienced the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood, and are truly children of God, if our eyes are focused upon ourselves, if we regard the iniquity of our own hearts, we will not experience the holy presence of God. Is this because He refuses to look upon us? No, it is because our sins hide His face from us (Isa. 59:2). The grime on the window is on the inside, and we cannot see out. For the blood-bought child of God, thanksgiving and praise, with repentance, serve to take the focus of our heart off ourselves, and bring us to a place where we can encounter in our hearts the presence of Almighty God.
In a year in which inflation rages, evil rampages, and immorality runs amok, it may seem that giving thanks to God is out of place. In truth, our thanksgiving and praise to God is as appropriate as ever—and perhaps even more needed. God has blessed us in so very many tangible ways as individuals, as families, and as a church. But far exceeding any temporal blessings this earthly life might bring, our Lord has forgiven our sins, called us by His name, placed the Holy Spirit within us, and given us everlasting life. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Cor. 9:15)