Probably the majority of Americans think of Thanksgiving Day as a custom which began with the Pilgrims in 1621. To them the day did not mean a day of turkey and dressing, candied yams, green-bean casserole, cranberry salad and pumpkin pie followed by Alka-Seltzer and a couple football games. To them it was a time centered on the Lord in gratitude for His bounty.
America’s annual observance of Thanksgiving began in 1863 with a proclamation by Abraham Lincoln. But, the plan for a regular season of thanksgiving actually originated about 3500 years ago with the Old Testament Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths), a week-long Jewish festival established by the Lord (See Dt. 16:13-17). In the autumn, when the crops were gathered in, God planned that His people would stop and give thanks to Him for the material blessings. They also gave thanks for God’s provisions during their wilderness wanderings when they lived in tents (booths). The Feast of Tabernacles was the last great feast of the Jewish year and the last of three feasts requiring every Jewish man to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (along with Passover and Pentecost). It was a time of celebration, and the mood of the event was festive. As they made their way to Jerusalem, they sang the “Songs of Ascent” (Psalms 120-134), which describe the progress of the pilgrims as they traveled from a distant land (Psa. 120) to within sight of the Holy City (Psa. 121) and finally arrived amid great joy (Psa. 123-134).
Real thanksgiving comes from the heart. It is to be more than lip service. It is to be the heartfelt gratitude for benefits bestowed by our Heavenly Father. We see that attitude expressed by David in Psa. 103:1-5: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits…who satisfies your years with good things…” The Lord pours out His blessings of sunshine, rain, health, provision (not to mention all the spiritual blessings…Eph. 1:3) but knew we would tend to “forget His benefits” so gives us many reminders in Scripture to be thankful (Eph. 5:20; Col. 3:15; I Thes. 5:18). God must teach us to be thankful just as parents must teach their children to say “thank you.” To be thankful starts with being “thinkful”! As we “think” about the blessings of God, then out of our heart will come expressions of thanksgiving. If we pause to think, we’ll have cause to thank. “The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Mt. 12:34 cf Lk. 6:45). The greatest blessing/benefit of all, of course, is salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who as “The Lamb of God” (Jn. 1:29), gave Himself for us to pay the penalty of our sins (II Cor. 5:21). “For God so loved the world (you and me) that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life“
(Jn. 3:16). “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift” (II Cor. 9:15).
God’s plan for us is “thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving is the only sensible response to the character of God and the blessings He bestows. “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow” (Jas. 1:17). “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (I Tim. 6:17). “True worship flows from a grateful heart” (R.C. Sproul). We don’t need more to be thankful for, we just need to be more thankful! ” Gratitude should be our natural response to God’s grace. Gratitude should be a continuous attitude, not an occasional incident. Ever wonder what an atheist must think when he feels grateful but has no one to thank?!
“Nothing so takes the heart out of a person as ingratitude. Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others” (Cicero). The road to spiritual apostasy is paved with the boulders of ingratitude (cf Ro. 1:21). When you have truly thanked your God for every blessing sent, what little time will then remain to murmur or lament!
As my brother-in-law, Ray Kutz, once said, “I’m always thankful when the roof doesn’t leak, the toilets flush and the lights come on!” Amen! Don’t forget to pause often to thank God for His many benefits, and even in the midst of trials, “give thanks,” for God is good (all the time!) and only allows those difficulties in our life for our good and His glory. Be thankful that you don’t already have everything your desire. If you did, what would there be to look forward to? Be thankful when you don’t know something, for it gives you the opportunity to learn. Be thankful for the difficult times. During those times you grow. Be thankful for your limitations, because they give you special opportunities to see what God can do. Be thankful for each new challenge because it will build your strength and character (Ro. 5:3-5). Be thankful for your mistakes. They will teach you valuable lessons. Be thankful when you are tired and weary because it means you’ve made a difference. It is easy to be thankful for the good things (and we should be!), but a life of rich fulfillment comes to those who are also thankful for the setbacks. Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive. Find a way to be thankful for your troubles, and they can become your blessings. “In everything give thanks, for this God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thes. 5:18). That’s “God’s Plan for Thanksgiving.”