We are not the rightful arbiter of our circumstances. Under every good and happy thing and every bitter and sour thing is the smiling face of God, whose providence allows for nothing but our good (Romans 8:28). “Oh, give thanks!” That is why we do not direct our thankfulness toward people, places, and particular situations because they are too cheap and far too flimsy to stand under the weight of praise. People will let you down. Your body will decay. Life will sucker punch you in the teeth when you are not looking. So, dear friends, do not give your thanks to those things! Instead, give it to Almighty God, as the psalmist proclaims.
As the meat sweats, socially acceptable gluttony, and mild diabetic comas begin to subside, the question believers must continue to wrestle with, throughout the entire year is, “what is a life of thankfulness”? Who is responsible for the good in our life? And what is the telos of our thankfulness?
For the pagan man, the words “I am thankful for ____” must end at his own self. He is thankful for the things he likes. He is grateful for whatever pleases him and aligns with his value structure. But, what that man cannot be is thankful in any holistic way because innumerable things exist that are still displeasing to him.
An ounce of lucidity and self-reflection confirms it. Life is served up hot and ready with more examples of pain than there are pleasures. A man’s work is filled with futility; his family is struggling or even falling apart; inflation feels like a noose around his neck, and the holiday called Thanksgiving is just another opportunity to spread a little faux gratitude over the black hole of his existence. Without God, the love of Christ, and the ministry of the Holy Ghost, that annual November food fest reduces down to a “chasing after the wind” with a side of honey-baked ham and yams. All the world can do is participate in the farce of fatalism; they may eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow, they surely will die. That is their lot.
Yet, for the Christian, thanksgiving is much more than a day of excess eating and football. Thanksgiving takes over all of life. It invades every darkened corner of the mind, heart, will, and soul and becomes the ongoing ritual of our earthly existence.
The reason for this is simple. Giving thanks is not limited to a day or conditioned by our preferences, opinions, or circumstances. It did not originate with pilgrims and Indians. The Christian approach to Thanksgiving can and must be different. We may give thanks in all of life, in both the good times and bad, because our gratitude is rooted in the very nature and character of God, and He is the one who will fill our mouths with laughter (Psalm 126:1-3).
Notice how the psalmist describes Thanksgiving in Psalm 107:
“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” – Psalm 107:1
Let us examine this more closely so that we may understand Thanksgiving.
The psalmist begins with an unconditional statement, “Oh, give thanks,” which invites neither limitation, duration, nor qualification to our thankfulness. Instead, he welcomes us into the ongoing warmth and beauty of ubiquitous gratitude that pervades every facet of our lives. He summons us into the kind of joy that sings in a storm, dances in the rain, diligently inventories, and blankets myriad aspects of reality with hearty hopeful praises. The entire plane of existence for the believer becomes the playground of current and future joy.
Think about it from the positive side of things. We have souls filled by the Spirit of God, redeemed by the King of kings, cleansed of iniquity and stain, and commissioned both temporally and eternally by our God. “Oh, give thanks!” We have eyes to see the beauty of God’s world. We have ears to hear perfect pitch and infant giggles. We possess mouths to taste a panoply of exquisite flavors, hands to touch, and arms to wrap up the ones we love in a long embrace.