It’s wonderful to have a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise” (Lincoln) each November. Unfortunately, though, the traditions that have grown up around the Thanksgiving Holiday in our nation sometimes hinder us from the very thing it is intended to remind us of. Travel and traffic, expectations and preparations, Black Friday sales and spending, and family conflict and poor performance on the football field can all work against our an attitude of thanksgiving.
Still, thanksgiving really matters. Scripture tells us that the long, dark road to destruction (Romans 1:22-32) begins with the pivotal choice not to glorify God as God or give thanks to him (v. 21). This choice is indeed fateful—that is, “having far reaching consequences, often disastrous” (if we choose badly). So, we are called to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18; note “in” all circumstances, not “for” all circumstances). Today’s reminder to choose gratitude is for us all, but especially for those of us who may have gotten distracted by some of the things associated with the holiday and those of us who may be facing special difficulties right now that make it hard to give thanks.
Of the many statements about giving thanks in the Bible, I want to underscore one that is mentioned at least ten times:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;1 Chronicles 16:34 (see also 2 Chronicles 5:13; 7:3; Ezra 3:11; Psalm 106:1; 107:1; 118:1, 29; 136:1; Jeremiah 33:11)
his love endures forever.
“Give thanks” is the call to us. It urges us to have the internal attitude of gratitude, because all God’s instructions are to be obeyed from the heart, and also to actually express thanksgiving.
The little word “for” in passage tips us off that some reasons for giving thanks are coming next.
The first of those reasons is that the Lord is “good.” Since “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17), you can probably identity numerous reasons why the Lord is good. The new birth that James mentions in the next verse is a great example, but there are countless others. Actually listing and thanking God for as many of his good gifts as we can think of is a great exercise that increases our gratitude as well as obeying the exhortation to give thanks.
I also want to highlight another truth about the Lord’s goodness that has helped me, namely, that he is good even when I might be tempted to say things are going bad. I learned this from the Psalms.
Psalm 73 begins with the assertion that “God is good to Israel.” But when you read the Psalm you learn that the writer had been through a very difficult ordeal that included him being afflicted and punished, pained by the perks wicked people enjoy, and experiencing grief and bitterness. But for all of that, he still believed “God is good.”
Similarly, Psalm 13, the classic Psalm of lament, four times cries out in anguish to God asking “how long?” How long would God forget him and hide his face from him, would he have to wrestle with his thoughts and sorrow, and would his enemy triumph over him. He asks for deliverance, yet with no mention of any answer, he also pledges to sing the Lord’s praise “for he has been good to me” (v. 6).
What I learn from these Psalms frees me from my “diva-like” expectation that everything ought to go just the way I want it to go, namely, in the way that obviously benefits me personally. Clearly, though, things are not always going to go the way we want them to. In this world we will have trouble. Sometimes we may see a benefit from some of the troubles we have to endure, but even when we can’t, it doesn’t change the fact that the Lord is good. This gives us a solid reason for giving thanks.
In addition to the Lord being good, we also have good reason to give thanks to him because “his love endures forever.” The word for love here is hesed. It has the theological significance in the Old Testament that agape has in the New. Hesed is used to describe God’s love, God’s kindness, God’s specific acts of kindness (in the plural form), God’s mercy, and the long-lasting nature of God’s love. You can read back through that list of meanings and think of multiple examples of each, and this gives us yet more reasons for thanking him.
To ensure that the need for thanksgiving and the purpose of Thanksgiving aren’t lost on us, may I suggest we all take a few minutes right now to give heartfelt thanks to God for his goodness and love. It’s a choice that has far-reaching consequences in our relationship with him.