November 22 is Thanksgiving here in the United States. The first Thanksgiving was celebrated in 1621 by 53 European colonists and 90 Native Americans in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The festival was held as an occasion to thank God for his providence in the establishment of one of the first English settlements in the New World. (For more on the first Thanksgiving, check out these articles.)
A few days ago, I had the opportunity to speak on the importance of thankfulness at a dinner for international students hosted by a local church. After the event, a young Chinese woman approached me. “I’ve never thought of this theology of thanksgiving before," she said. "I have very much to think about.”
Thankfulness is one of those rare traits that is almost universally considered positive, regardless of culture, religion or worldview. Furthermore, God commands us to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). But why is thanksgiving so important to God and for us? Here are just a few reasons:
- Thanksgiving makes us look up – The Bible tells us that we are fallen people who, in and of ourselves, are only capable of sin and wrongness. We often think of this condition as it affects our relationships with others (which it certainly does), but we also recognize that it affects us internally. Left to our own devices, we always eventually end up weighed down with sorrow and hopelessness. Thanksgiving is a gift from God to rescue us from this fate. As we “count our blessings,” as the classic saying goes, we look up to the one who blesses us. We can rejoice in the Lord’s goodness even when the various trials of life grieve us (1 Pet. 1:6).
- Thanksgiving points us to Christ – Consider this important truth: Were it not for Jesus Christ, humans could never hope to experience anything but condemnation, wrath and death. For those who are in Christ Jesus, every good gift that we receive flows to us through the cross. Jesus is the “Yes!” to all the promises of God extended to us (2 Cor. 1:20), and as such any good thing we experience is a manifestation of the grace that is sourced in his perfect life, atoning death and victorious resurrection. For those who do not yet know Jesus, every good gift is a message from God pointing to the cross as the only hope for salvation. According to his mercy and patience, he is lovingly and continually drawing lost souls to himself, but that opportunity will not exist forever. Come to him while the door is still open!
- Thanksgiving empowers us unto holiness – Many Christian thinkers have stated that pride is the root of all sin. It was the evil that caused Lucifer to fall and humanity to follow. But we might say that a lack of thanksgiving is also a major cause. Satan was an incredibly beautiful angel, but instead of being thankful, he wanted more. Adam and Eve had fullness of life in perfect relationship with God, each other and creation, but instead of being thankful, they wanted more. And every time you and I sin, the holy alternative likely would have included giving thanks for what we already have. Thankfulness and humility are intimately connected because giving thanks forces us to acknowledge that we are needy people who are continually having our needs met by our loving Father. And thankfulness and humility are essential to our pursuit of holiness.
- Thanksgiving centers us on the greatest gift – When we give thanks for the innumerable blessings God has bestowed on us, we must ultimately arrive at the greatest gift: God himself. We follow the ray to the sun, the scent to the flower, so to speak. The highest, sweetest, best blessing of the gospel is the fact that we get to enjoy perfect relationship with God. He is infinitely powerful, wise, just, joyous, peaceful, pure, loving and glorious, he is fullness of life itself, and we have unlimited access to him forever. What an amazing gift! If we lose sight of this, we lose sight of everything. All these secondary blessings are meant to point us to the primary. Thank God that we get to be with God through Christ!
What is your theology of thanksgiving? Have you thought about it before? If it’s been a while, or you’ve never considered it at all, now is the perfect time to start thanking God for who he is, what he’s done and all that he’s given to us in Christ.
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(Trip Smith is the web and social media strategist for TWR. From time to time, he’ll blog his reflections on current events and how they connect to biblical truth. Check back soon for more posts like this one.)