This is the Thanksgiving season in America; “Thanksgiving Day” is a unique national holiday. However, I am confident the spirit of thanksgiving is universal. Furthermore, giving thanks is not unique to any one religion, for most religions teach that all people should be grateful. Many nonreligious people are thankful — even if their thankfulness is not God-directed.
This season has me re-examining the question: Who or what is the object of my faith? The value of our faith is determined by the object of our faith.
Believers give thanks to God for personal blessings received, for the gift of family life, for the blessing of friends who have been a blessing, for work that is satisfying and fulfilling, but most of all for God’s redeeming and sustaining grace. They have experienced something nonbelievers have not, “the joy of his salvation” (Psalm 51:12), which is the greatest blessing of all (Hebrews 2:3 and 15). Although nonbelievers may be grateful for good things that have happened in their lives, they do not necessarily see those good experiences as “blessings,” just “good fortune,” or perhaps the result of “hard work.” Scripture teaches us that God not only blesses the “just,” but even the “unjust,” which is a mystery that cannot be explained apart from the amazing grace of God. This is the faith we sing, “Amazing grace — that saved a wretch like me.” Perhaps the Apostle Paul put it best in his Letter to the Romans: “For while we were still weak (without power to save ourselves) at the right time Christ died for the ungodly — indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person another good person might actually be willing to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners (nonbelievers, without saving faith, unjust and unrighteous — sometimes even translated “enemies” of God), Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8). Most of us who are Christians enjoy singing the “doxology” in worship services (a word derived from the Greek New Testament word “doxa”, which means glory) — actually giving to God the glory that belongs to his holy name, the praise God alone deserves as the Giver of all good gifts — the true Blesser, the One “from whom all blessings flow.”
Sadly, many people seek glory for themselves and hunger for the praise of others, which Jesus warns us not to do (read Matthew 6:1-8). He says those who “seek the praise of others will have their reward” (the applause of other people), but that is all! There will be no reward beyond that, no approval from God (see also Luke 18:10-14). Religious people who crave the praise of others, who do good things to gain approval and applause, are guilty of what is called “false piety.” Others who do that, such as politicians who are “self-centered,” and seek glory for themselves, are labeled “narcissistic,” and will do almost anything to gain the attention and applause of others. Some elected officials whose character and conduct reflects this mindset have even “co-opted” Jesus in their campaigns for election (or reelection). Some parade their piety in the hope of gaining the support of religious leaders, especially those who serve large churches or are the heads of well-known Christian organizations. Of course, you don’t have to be a religious leader or politician to be the kind of person who thrives on acclaim and approval from others. This kind of identification fits anyone who thirsts for power and praise, whose self-esteem depends on awards and honors received, and who enjoys being seen in the presence of famous people and loves to be “in the spotlight.” We see it in the world of entertainment, in sports, in business, and even in Christ’s Church.
We even see it in clergy-centered churches, where pastors insist on having the last word, who demand their own way, who promote their own agendas who seek recognition and reputation, who promote and exalt themselves. Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:1). Suffice it to say, this is not a favorite text for a lot of pastors and evangelists. However, all who bear the name of Christ (“Christians”) are supposed to be followers of One who “made himself of no reputation” (or more literally, as that verse is also translated, who “emptied himself” – see Philippians 2:7). That’s what happened in the incarnation, which we will soon be celebrating during the Advent season, following Thanksgiving, when all Christians around the world celebrate the “Christ event”, that surprising and supernatural historical happening, when the Old Testament messianic prophecies were fulfilled with the birth of the “Christ-child” — who was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin, born in a stable, cradled in a manger, nurtured in flight, raised in obscurity, loved by his followers, hated by his enemies, falsely accused of crimes he never committed, unjustly tried and condemned to death, crucified on a cross, raised from the dead, lifted up into heaven, and given the title Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus.
As the historical Jesus, he did not seek glory for himself until the very end of his time on earth during his public ministry (before his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension into heaven) when he knew he was returning to the “glory” he had “before the worlds were made.” That is when he prayed, “Father, the hour has come, glorify your Son so that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1) — “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed” (John 1:1-3). When his work on earth was completed, when Jesus cried out from the cross, “It is finished,” when God’s redeeming work was done (John 19:30), Jesus knew he would soon be “lifted up” (Acts 1:6-8), back to where he had always been as the eternal “Word of God”, before his incarnation, the One who had spoken all things into being (“ex nihilo,” “out of nothing”) (John 1:1-3) see also (Colossians 1:15-17). But after his ascension into heaven, he would be seated on the throne as the “Lamb of God” who was slain, but raised from the dead as the victor over suffering, sin, and death, and the object of heaven’s worship (Revelation 5:9-14).
As followers of Jesus today, this is what we should be most thankful for, blessing God (praising God continuously, day by day, for the assurance of our salvation, joining all the redeemed of heaven in joyful adoration and thanksgiving for sending his “only-begotten Son” (John 3:16) into the world to suffer death upon the cross as our sin-bearer, to “take away” our sins (John 1:29). This is the primary reason our thanksgiving as followers of Jesus — not just an annual “Thanksgiving Day,” as it is for so many people, or a “once-a-week” practice on the “The Lord’s Day” (Sunday, the Christian Sabbath).
Blessing God should be our way of life, an essential part of our daily worship, knowing that every day with Jesus is “sweeter than the day before,” and giving thanks for who he is and for what he has done, and for what he is doing right now as our Savior, Lord, and High Priest in heaven. Furthermore, making every day an opportunity to not only praise God for our salvation, but also for blessing God, is a necessary “means of grace” — one of the essential disciplines of Christian discipleship.
Personally, I like to think of true thanksgiving as a way of life (thanks-living) for all those whose lives are God-centered rather than self-centered. It is just as natural as breathing, for it is the “vital breath of the spiritual life” — it is something that comes naturally for those who truly believe God is the One “from whom all blessings flow.” It is a state of mind, or as the psalmist believed, a “state of soul” (something we do with our whole being, with all our mind, with all our heart, and with all our strength). Read Psalm 103 and meditate on verses 1-2: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, all my utmost being, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits”. Then, as you read on in that psalm of praise, you will discover that the psalmist himself had been meditating on those “benefits” that were uppermost in his own mind, the personal blessings bestowed on him (and on all who are God-centered in their thought life and prayer life).
In preparation for our family’s celebration of Thanksgiving Day, I have been having a little talk with my soul, and I encourage you to do the same, following the example of the psalmist. I have been asking myself what I am most thankful for, and is my thanksgiving really a matter of blessing God? Am I really giving thanks with my whole being, with the kind of fervent faith that actually “pleases God” (Hebrews 11:6)? Have you ever asked yourself that question? I doubt any of us have this kind of conversation with our soul very often. Perhaps we should strive to do so at least once a day, and most certainly as we prepare for Thanksgiving Day; with the understanding that focusing on God’s faithfulness, remembering his rewards, and crying out with our whole being, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name”, is actually the purpose for which we were created, our reason for being.
So during this thanksgiving season I encourage you to join me in resolving to do this more often, to bless and thank the Lord our God with all our soul, with our whole being — to “set” our mind on “heavenly things”, rather than the things of this world. This means making God the focal point of our minds, looking to Jesus who is seated on the throne in heaven as our risen and reigning Lord — and allowing “the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts” and “the word of God to dwell in us richly” — and in and through all the circumstances of our lives “being thankful” (Colossians 3:1-15; Ephesians 5:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). If you take time to read these scriptures you will discover that even though they are hard sayings, we are being instructed to be thankful at all times, to give thanks even in the most difficult and painful experiences of life.
From our house to yours, this Thanksgiving season (and in whatever season of life you are experiencing) I give thanks for you, readers of this blog — and my prayer is that the word of God will dwell in you and the peace of Christ will rule in your heart. Meditate on this during this Thanksgiving and beyond!