A brief historical background and the empowerment ‘thanksgiving’ provides in people’s lives.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
We are getting ready for the national thanksgiving day of this year in the USA on November 25, 2021.
The national holiday for Thanksgiving in the United States falls on the fourth Thursday of the month of November. It is called American Thanksgiving to distinguish it from the Cananaidan Thanksgiving occurring in October. The main event is the thanksgiving dinner, which in the USA includes turkey meat, potatoes (or other forms), stuffing, green beans, corn, cranberries, pumpkin pie. The American Thanksgiving event was first celebrated by the pilgrims (English settlers who came to North America on the Mayflower and established the Plymouth Colony (today’s Plymouth and Massachusetts). It happened after the first harvest in their newly found world in 1621. The first celebration lasted for three days and was attended by 90 Native Americans and 53 Pilgrims. It was considered a day of prayer and thanksgiving to God for all the blessings received. It has eventually been declared as a paid national holiday in 1870 by president Ulysses S. Grant.
The pilgrims who came to the USA were mainly Puritan Calvinist Christians who followed the Judeo Christian value system in the Scripture pages called the Bible. Therefore the spiritual roots of the concept of Thanksgiving go back to the Old Testament section of the Bible. God being the creator, provider, and sustainer of all-the Word of God called the Bible- set the expectation that people must be thankful to the creator God for all the benefits we enjoy from Him daily. Thanksgiving day in the USA historically was seen as a day to praise and thank God for the provisions, blessings, and healings we enjoy.
In the dawn of human history, people recognized Thanksgiving as one of God’s expectations. Bible says Abel, a son of Adam, brought thanksgiving offer from his flocks’ firstborn. He gave the best from his flocks. The Bible says God respected and regarded his thanksgiving offer. (Genesis 3). Hebrews 11:4 it was by his faith in God that he brought a better offering than his brother Cain did. He was commended as righteous, and God spoke well of Him, and His thanksgiving offer still speaks to people, even though He was dead a long time ago. A thankful heart and actions would speak for themselves. I remember my parents conducting thanksgiving prayers and meals in my home where I grew up. One of the good memories of my earlier life and the reasons I admire my parents is their thankful hearts to the Lord God for His blessings. After the great flood of forty days and nights, Noah built an altar to the Lord to give thanksgiving offers when floodwater receded. When God smelled the soothing aroma of his offering, it says there He made a covenant with Noah, expressing His compassion and care for all the people on the earth (Genesis 8:20-22).
Abraham often offered Thanksgiving by building altars to praise and thank God, who called him out of Mesopotamia’s idol worship system and asked to go to a land that He would show him. On his journey of faith in the Word of God, he built several altars to thank God. Issac was a passive man compared to Abraham, but he also made an altar to call and honor the Lord after He appeared to him. (Genesis, 26:25). Jacob, whose name was later changed by the Lord to “Israel’ (Genesis 32:28), apparently lived to serve his own plans and desires in his early years. When God appeared to him on his way to Paddan Aram, he came to know the holy presence in the place where he laid down. He made a vow to the Lord God about the erection of a future house for the Lord. He promised to pay a tenth of his blessings to him. Although Thanksgiving, praise, and worship were God’s expectations, His people from then onward began a downward spiral with an ingratitude attitude. Ingratitude toward God always results in judgments. Israel’s children became slaves in Egypt when a new Pharoah who did not know Joseph came to the throne to rule Egypt.
It is noteworthy to ponder why God delivered Isreal’s children from slavery in Egypt. Exodus 2:23-25 says, “their cry for help because of their bondage in Egypt rose up to God. God heard their groaning; God remembers His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.” You see, prayer is cardinal in the deliverances of God. Notice it says God heard their cry in heaven, God remembered, He saw them, and took notice of them. Amazing is the power of prayer.
The Lord God said to Moses, “I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.” Exodus 3:10. Moses was given the task to deliver and bring Lord’s people from their slavery in Egypt. When Pharoah asks why he should let the children of Israel go, this was the answer Moses was supposed to tell him. Listen:
Then say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness. But until now, you have not listened (Exodus 7:6)
Exodus 8:1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.
Exodus 9:1 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me.”
You see, thanksgiving, praise, and worship is what God expects from His people. Nothing less than praises resulting from thanksgiving.
Later in the book of Leviticus, the Lord God gave commands of a sacrificial system to His people. This included the prescription of grain/meal offering and Peace/fellowship offering. Both emphasize Thanksgiving to God based on His blessings on them –material blessings like fruits and crops Lord gave to them and the peace of God they enjoy with God. They were asked to call two or more people and give thank offerings to the Lord God for His goodness.
When we come to Deuteronomy’s book, chapter 26 gives an example of Thanksgiving the Lord expects from his people. Listen to what it says, “When you go into the land the Lord your God is giving you as your own, to take it over and live in it, you must take some of the first harvests of crops that grow from the land the Lord your God is giving you.
Put the food in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God, will choose to be worshiped. Say to the priest on duty at that time, “Today I declare before the Lord your God that I have come into the land the Lord promised our ancestors that he would give us.” The priest will take your basket and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God.
Then you shall announce before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean. He went down to Egypt with only a few people, but they became a great, powerful, and large nation there. But the Egyptians were cruel to us, making us suffer and work very hard. So we prayed to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and he heard us. When he saw our trouble, hard work, and suffering, the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his great power and strength, using great terrors, signs, and miracles. Then he brought us to this place and gave us this fertile land. Now I bring part of the first harvest from this land that you, Lord, have given me.”
Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. Then you and the Levites and foreigners among you should rejoice because the Lord your God has given good things to you and your family.”
You see, God says when He blesses them in the promised land where they were traveling, they would possess the land with the help of Him, and the first harvest crops would be taken in a basket to the place of worship as a thanksgiving offering to Him. Then he will say a testimony honoring and thanking the Lord for the blessings. In the testimony, he recollects the past incidents, explaining how God delivered them with His strong, powerful, and mighty hands. Then he and his friends and foreigners in the land would rejoice because the Lord God has done good things to him and his family.
Job gives an example of how to praise and thank the Lord in the midst of severe sufferings. Due to spiritual warfare, which he could not understand with his heart and see with his eyes, he lost all things –wealth, children, and health-one after another in a brief period without any advanced notice. However, he decided to thank and praise the Lord with these famous words. It says in Job 1:21-22, “he fell to the ground and worshiped, and said, naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there, The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, Blessed be the name of the LORD.”
The book of Psalms consists of many incidents of thanksgiving amid sufferings and lamentations. Psalms 42:11 says this, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation, and my God.” Even in the midst of deep agony and despair, Psalmist is placing his hope in God, followed by praise expecting salvation from the almighty God. We can see thanksgiving and praises rising out of sorrow and lamentation in the pages of the book of Psalms. Grief and pain without praise and thanksgiving to God is a path to the pit of darkness. Alternatively, praise and thanksgiving amid sorrows and cries fly you high on wings to the very presence of God to get divine deliverances.
The book of lamentation records abrupt thanksgiving to the Lord God amid untold calamities Judah faced because of their rebelliousness and sins. They considered the affliction, wandering, bitterness, and gall. Their spirits were downcast within them in sadness and hopelessness. However, it ends with giving high worth to the Lord and thanksgiving, as recorded below.
“I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness, and the gall. I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:19-24
The New Testament Epistles often highlight thanksgiving amid sufferings and perils. Apostle Paul usually erupts into thanksgiving and praise even at the time of dangers and turmoils. In 1 Corinthians 2:34, Pauls says, “But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ.” The word ‘but’ addresses the afflictions, sufferings, excessive burden, sentence of death, sorrow, satan’s taking advantage of the situation, and even loneliness he explained in the previous chapters. He abrupts into praise and thanksgiving to God because he knew God always leads him in triumph because of Jesus Christ.
After elaborating on the surpassing grace, compassion, forgiveness, and salvation of God, he received through the Lord Jesus Christ, Apostle Paul wrote the below statements in 1 Timothy 1:15-17. His words attributed very high worth and praise to the living God. He worshiped Him by confessing God as the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor, glory forever and ever.”
Listen what Pauls’s own words-” Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Be thankful in all circumstances
You see, long before the first thanksgiving day in Plymouth in the USA, the required attitude of thanksgiving is widely recognized in the pages of the Bible. It is the right thing to do for all the goodness of the Lord God toward His creation. Thanksgiving ought not to be just one day out of a year or once in a while as feel to do. God wants thanksgiving as part of our lives daily, as often as possible, and in all circumstances of our lives.
The Bible says 1 Thessalonians 5:18, ‘always be thankful” or “gives thanks in all circumstances.” It says from verses 16-18 three things we should always do. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Do you want to know God’s will for your life? It says right here three announced wills of God-rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all things. You can say you did the will of God in your life when you develop these three things.
You see, none of us would ever arrive in a place of always rejoicing, always prayerful, and always thankful naturally. Naturally, we complain, grumble, and sorrow. Only with the presence of the Holy Spirit of God inside us and the instruction and obedience to God’s word, we would arrive at such a place of blessings.
Psalm 22:3 says, “God is enthroned upon the praised of His people,” or it also says in another translation, “God inhabits the praises of His people.” It is a fantastic verse to ponder on. Praise and thanksgiving to God is the primary way He inhabits our hearts and minds. We give thanks and praise to God. We turn our full attention to God taking our eyes off our issues and problems. As Job did, we acknowledge and ascribe true worth to God. We enthrone God, and He inhabits his presence powerfully in our lives when we take time to give thanks and praise to Him. Our passage in 1 Thessalonian teaches us to give thanks to God always in all circumstances of our lives-good or bad.
When 1st Thessalonians was written and sent to them in the first century, the new believers in Christ there in that city were in the midst of severe persecutions. Their faith cost them much. Most of the new believers came from the slave background, and their masters persecuted them harshly due to their professed faith in Jesus Christ. Chapter 1:6 says they welcome the message of Christ in the midst of severe suffering with the joy of the Holy Spirit. It is an exciting statement. Did you notice ‘in the midst of server suffering,” they heard the word of God with the joy of the Holy Spirit? Suffering, persecution, the word of God, and the joy of the Holy Spirit. The word of God and the joy provided by the Holy Spirit by listening to it are the secrets of their rejoicing and thanksgiving.
In short, amid severe persecutions, and suffering, Paul asks the Thessalonian believers in Christ to be joyful, prayerful, and thankful. As I alluded to before in the previous paragraph, it is not natural. It is possible only by the instruction of God’s word and the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit. However, this is the will of God- always rejoice, pray always, and thank the Lord always.
Big Picture in mind.
When we know the big picture God has in mind for us, we can be thankful always. I like Romans, chapter 5. It says we have been justified through faith, and we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. The chapter gives us many heightened views. While we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. God demonstrated His love toward us because when we were sinners, Christ died for us. The blood of Christ justifies the believer in Christ, and we will be saved from the future wrath of God through Christ Jesus. By the death of Christ, we are reconciled to God. We have peace with God. We are not afraid of God because, through Christ, God makes us his children. We celebrate in God because of Jesus Christ because we received reconciliation with God. However, in the midst of all these wonderful and beautiful views that prompt us to offer thanksgiving and praise to God, there is another verse, and that is vers 3. Listen, it says, “We also celebrate (glory) in our tribulations.” Why do we celebrate our tribulations or difficulties? It says there, “knowing that tribulations bring perseverance, and perseverance brings proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. In the midst of various trials, how is it possible to thank God? I don’t have money. I don’t have health. I am afraid. I am alone, and nobody is with me. I prayed and prayed. But it seems like evil wins. My prayers are not answered.
Listen! The knowledge Romas 5:3 gives is important for you to celebrate or glory in your sufferings. Three-fold heavenly benefits come out of our sufferings. What are they? It brings in patience or perseverance. Patience means I can carry on the load without it breaking me. I can wait even if no sign of deliverances are seen now. I can stick with the Lord and his promises because the one who promised is faithful, and he will bring it to pass. Secondly, perseverance brings in proven character. You see, the character always develops out of patience and perseverance.
I heard Tom Landry, Dallas Cow Boys Coach said this about his players, “I want them to do what they do not want so that they can become who they always wanted to be.” Without patience and perseverance in the summer heart coaching season, the foot players can not achieve what they always wanted to achieve-superball trophy and winning awards. Tom Landry pushes them in the coaching seasons. They do not want such pushes and hard training. However, they want to get what it all finally results in. Same with you and me. Patience and perseverance bring in proven character. Finally, the proven character brings in hope. The hope as a result of patience and proven character would never disappoint. Why? Because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who was given to us. Because we have the Holy Spirit living inside us as a result of our professed faith and trust in Christ as our savior and Lord, God’s love is filled in our hearts with the presence of the Holy Spirit inside us. God with His Spirit would not disappoint our hope in him. Your hope would not be disappointed, period!
This is the source and secret of thanksgiving in all circumstances. This year’s thanksgiving is different for most of us. Life now is different from the advent of COVID-19. The after COVID-19 economy would be different from the pre-COVID-19 years. Many people lost their dear ones. Many are in ICU in hospitals. Many are experiencing the hardships and pains of lockdowns. Loss of jobs and uncertainty about the future knocks on many people. To many people, no light at the end of the tunnel is visible. The Bible says even this year, with all its fearful and confusing backgrounds, we can celebrate thanksgiving by being genuinely being thankful to God. Our celebration out of gloomy environments is due to our knowledge that tribulation brings in perseverance, and perseverance, proven character, and proven character, hope that would never disappoint us because God’s love is poured out within our hearts by His Holy Spirit who indwells in a Christ believer.
Dangers of ingratitude.
The absence of thanksgiving in our hearts toward God is the most destructive and dangerous matter. The Bible says in Romans 1:21-31 the path of an ingratitude heart. People who do not honor God or give thanks to Him become futile in their own thinkings and reasonings. They claim to be wise. However, they become fools. You see, although they claim they are wise in their talks, they become idiots. The USA was a nation that truly honored God and gave thanks to Him in the past many, many years. Nowadays, they put God out of the schools, government, and public places. They began dishonoring God by disregarding the Bible values and principles. As a result, they become fools, although they talk like wise men. A nation that can not even distinguish between men and women. A country that is confused about whether a child is a boy or girl. A nation, due to lust in their hearts, exchanged the eternal truth of God for falsehood. A country that dishonored even their own bodies to dishonor God by exchanging natural human relations for that which is contrary to nature. Verse 27 says due to ingratitude and dishonoring God; God gave them over to degrading passions as we see in our nation today. The men abandoned natural relations with women and burned in their desire toward one another, males with males committing shameful acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. People in a nation that lost even the value or sense of animals in this regard. Animals in their lust know better than the people. The root cause of all these? Romans 1 shows such idiocracy or foolishness began by dishonoring God and His eternal word and by the absence of gratitude to the creator God.
It is wise to know that the final result would be much more dangerous if no true repentance and returning to God’s eternal truth happens in people’s lives. Verse 28 says as they do not acknowledge God, He gave them up to a depraved mind, to do those things that are not proper. Not only do they practice such un-proper things, but also approve of those who practice them. Is this not the current stage the United States finds itself in today?
May this thanksgiving day of 2021 be a day of repentance and remorse for the people to get back to the values of God recorded in the pages of the Bible. May God’s people stand in the gap interceding for the nations, their leaders, and their peoples. May all the countries and people worship the living Lord God with heartfelt gratitude and at most reverence.