Why Celebrate Thanksgiving?
Like most Americans, I always look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving. I love spending time with family and friends, catching up with each other and seeing what has been going on in their lives. I enjoy the traditional feast of turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato casserole and cranberry sauce, as well as pumpkin and pecan pies. I also like playing games together, whether board games or card games or party games (sorry, but I am not athletic and don’t go out in the cold to play outside!). But in the midst of celebrating Thanksgiving, it can become easy to lose sight of the reason behind thanksgiving and to whom we should be giving thanks. So as we prepare to celebrate this year, let’s reflect for a moment on why we celebrate Thanksgiving.
We Should Give God Thanks in Everything: 1 Thessalonians 5:18
What do we have that has not been given to us from the hand of God? Of course, to ask the question is to answer it. Everything we have has been given to us from God! From the food that we eat and the clothes that we wear to the air that we breathe and the life that we have, from our homes and possessions to our work and relationships, these all—and so much more!—come from Him.
Recognizing this truth should lead us to gratitude and thanking God for all that we have. We should also give thanks to God in the midst of all circumstances that we are in, knowing that nothing is outside of His control. Our lives should be filled with thanks to God because of how abundantly He has blessed us.
We are Not Thankful in Our Unrighteousness: Romans 1:21
However, I am often not thankful to God. I complain about what I do not have and take for granted what I do have. I even begin to think that I have earned what I have, as if I am the one responsible for my achievements and possessions. Of course, God does allow me to receive the fruit of my labor, and when I live responsibly in this world, the results of wise living tend to be success and prosperity. But in the selfishness of sin, I take God out of the equation and pat myself on the back for all that I have done rather than thank God for all that He has provided for me.
While God created me to glorify Him and give Him thanks, in my unrighteousness I suppress the truth of who He is and pretend as if I can live without Him. My rebellious heart against God is under His condemnation, rightly deserving His judgment for my sin through the pouring out of His wrath. How easy it is for me to try to minimize my sin or to rationalize my sin. But it expresses itself whenever I don’t give thanks to God for the great many blessings that He has given to me.
We Can Thank God the Father through Christ: Colossians 3:17
At the same time, God does not leave us without hope! In love, the Father gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. God the Son became man in the person of Jesus Christ to save us from His wrath by receiving God’s punishment in our place. He substituted Himself for us by living the righteous life of obedience that we refused to live and then suffering the condemnation of death that we deserved on the cross. Three days later, He triumphed and overcame death itself by being raised from the dead in resurrection life. So when we believe in Christ by turning from our sin in repentance and turning to Him in faith, we are no longer under the curse of death and are given His life eternally. We are united to Christ in God’s great exchange, and even though our bodies may return to the ground we will remain in fellowship with God forever.
What a glorious hope we have in Christ! In Him, we become brothers and sisters in God’s family of faith and are adopted as His children, so God is no longer a judge who condemns us but a Father who loves us. In Him, we can come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. In Him, we humbly recognize the love that He has given us and continues to give us through Christ, and this gives us more and more of a grateful heart filled with thanksgiving for His many blessings.
We are Called to Give Thanks in Our Prayers: 1 Tim. 2:1
How do we give thanks to God? In prayer. We speak to God having been washed clean by the blood of Christ, thanking him for all He has done. As a result, a proper celebration of Thanksgiving should include a time of prayer for God’s people. Yet, how rarely do we spend time thanking God for His blessings to us as we gather together with family and friends on Thanksgiving? Our focus should not be on the food that we will eat or the fun that we may have, but on the Giver who is worthy of our thanks.
This is why Paul begins writing to his ministry apprentice Timothy about the need for Christ’s churches to pray. You see, Thanksgiving in not fundamentally a once-a-year holiday but a lifestyle of God’s people coming together to worship the One who saved us. In a sense, we should be celebrating Thanksgiving every time the church gathers together in a prayer meeting. Maybe we won’t have a meal, and I hope that we won’t be watching a football game on TV together, but we will be giving thanks to God for all that He has done. And this is definitely worth celebrating!