"In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." - I Thessalonians 5:18
"Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;" - Ephesians 5:20
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. When I was a kid, we had a tradition, and thanksgiving was all about family, food, football and deer hunting. I looked to this day as the biggest day of the year. We would always start in the woods before dawn with a hope to kill a nice buck. Then we would assemble at our home, and lots of family would come over; there were cousins that I only got to see once a year. Then my Mom would prepare a giant Thanksgiving Feast, and we would eat until we could eat no more. Then we all played football, the annual family Thanksgiving game. And about three hours before dark, we would head for the woods again in pursuit of a trophy whitetail deer.
As I became an adult I became keenly aware that this holiday was a time to reflect upon the Goodness of God and to show Him gratitude. We don’t exchange gifts as there is little commercialism involved in the holiday, and our entire Country seemed to stop everything for a day just to say thanks to our Creator. The holiday became more special to me after I became a true “Born Again” Christian, as I thought it was awesome that our Country would still take a day off to say thanks. George Washington’s “Thanksgiving Proclamation" shows there was an amazing spiritual foundation of gratitude laid by our founding fathers here in the United States of America.
Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789
Then, 74 years later in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation of his own. Below is the majority of the text of his proclamation given on October 3, 1863.
Issued by President Abraham Lincoln on October 3, 1863
Reading and understanding how perhaps the two greatest Presidents in the history of our Country thought and felt toward giving God thanks makes me realize that we live in a very different country than what it once was. I wonder what Washington and Lincoln would say today about what America has become. We were once a nation under God, founded by God and established for the purpose of God; now our nation has drifted almost totally away from God. But this shouldn’t surprise us as the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that it would be this way in the last days.
"This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away." - II Timothy 3:1-5
But even living in the midst of an unthankful, idolatrous country, amongst unthankful, idolatrous people, we as believers need to properly focus our attention on Giving God the thanks, the glory, the honor, and the obedience that He so richly deserves. Just because most Americans are no longer thankful is no excuse for us to become unthankful. Giving thanks seems to be a little thing to us selfish humans, but in reality it is one of the most powerful things we can do. We should take this Thanksgiving season as a reminder of one of the most important aspects of our Christian lives, and that is to properly give God thanks for everything and in everything.
The power of gratitude is amazing, once realized and put into practice. One can change a negative, depressed, or angry outlook on life just with some simple thoughts of thanksgiving to our LORD. Life can go from a pit of misery to a paradise of happiness with grateful and thankful thoughts and words to God. One can begin in the depths of despair and then ascend to the high places of praise, by simply stopping everything and starting to think on the goodness and the blessings of God and to begin to give Him Thanks.
There is an old hymn that says, “Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your blessings, see what God has done. Count your blessings, name them one by one. Count your many blessings, see what God has done.” This is not a bad place to start the process, by just thanking God for all of the blessings in our life. Even if we have to start at the bottom and work our way upward, this is a good thing. We can actually build a mental ladder by starting right where we are at this moment, and working our way up in Praise to God.
Let us begin by thanking Him for our natural blessings. We all have many natural things for which to give thanks, like air to breath, water to drink, food to eat, shelter, a bed, clothes and shoes. No matter what our health condition is, if we are still breathing, we have something for which to be thankful. It’s like climbing a set of stairs. Now let's advance upward and thank Him for family and friends, for our mate, for a church full of people who love us. With every word of praise and every word of thanks to God we climb higher and higher. Keep thinking of all of the blessings that God has granted to us.
Now let’s advance to giving thanks for spiritual things. Thank You, Jesus, for a desire to know You. Thanks for saving my soul from hell. Thanks for forgiving me of my sins. Thanks for filling me with the Holy Ghost. Thanks for a Bible. Thanks for all the prophets, apostles and martyrs who have gone before me. Now as we progress upward, let’s focus on Jesus and start thanking Him just for Him. Think about His Name and thank Him for His Goodness and Grace and Mercy. Once we hit this level, then the sky is the limit as we begin to think upon God’s Name and all of His favor that He bestows upon us. You can pray: "Dear Jesus, You are so fair, so just, so holy, so pure, so merciful, so gracious, so full of unconditional love, so forgiving, so longsuffering." And as you do this, you are really climbing the staircase of praise and gratitude that will lead to happiness and peace of mind.
Praise Him for your natural blessings; then praise Him for your spiritual blessings. Then praise Jesus for just being Jesus. Now you are ready for the hard part, and that is to praise Him for the pain and the sufferings of life. Don’t stop with just the natural blessings or the spiritual blessings because it is praising Him for the pain that is so liberating and transforming for the soul.
Once a believer understands the purpose behind God allowing us to suffer pain and we hold fast to our beliefs that God loves us unconditionally and that God is a sovereign Lord and Master of our lives, then we actually can begin to give God thanks for the pain, the sufferings and the sorrows of our life. The Bible says that we should give thanks in everything (I Thess 5:18) and for all things (Eph 5:20).
Once we realize that God does indeed have a purpose for our sufferings, and the suffering actually helps build our faith and purifies us like a refining fire purifies gold, then we more readily give God thanks for the pain and suffering.
There is nothing like pain and suffering to get our attention. One writer said, “Suffering can drive us like a nail deep into the love and grace of God, and into more stability and strength and spiritual power than you can imagine.” Upon some prayerful reflection, we can begin to see that our suffering is because God loves us too much to leave us in the condition that we are presently in.
So practice thanking God for the afflictions, the physical sufferings, the relational sufferings, the financial sufferings. Then progress to thanking Him for your own spiritual shortcomings, faults, and failures. Yes, thank Him for your bad habits, your sins that you see and the ones that you don’t see but everyone else sees. Thank God for everything negative in your life. It is not that we are rejoicing because we have faults. Instead, we are rejoicing that we are in the process of allowing Jesus to remove all of our faults.
Jesus was the Man of Sorrows, the Suffering Servant. And the Bible says that it pleased the LORD to bruise Him. Jesus understands suffering more than us all. Jesus gave thanks at Passover, and in the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed, “...Not my will, but thine be done” (Luke 22:42). And on the Cross, He cried out, “...Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do...” (Luke 23:34). In the midst of the greatest account of suffering possible, Jesus—God in Flesh, suffering for us, on our behalf, to fix us— remained grateful and thankful to His Father.
When we are suffering pain and sorrow, we need to look at the Cross and to step into the Grace of God. When I am connected to Jesus through faith, into His Grace, then whatever I am going through becomes a joy and a pleasure, even to suffer for His Name sake, or to fellowship His sufferings.
"But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you." - I Peter 5:10
I love the above verse as God promises to make us perfect, establish us, strengthen us and settle us, but not until we have suffered a while. A short while or a long while, I’m not sure, but I am sure that we all must go through the refining fires of suffering to get transformed into the Bride of Jesus Christ.
Think about climbing “the stairway of Thanks” during this Thanksgiving season. Don’t stop with just the natural or even spiritual blessings, but climb on up to where you are thanking Him for the most painful things in your life. If you do, I promise you that you will be glad you did as this will cause God to open the windows of heaven and release power and blessings into your life beyond your greatest imaginations. Happy Thanksgiving!