Thanksgiving Day and The Christian Attitude
Christmas time is a holiday celebrated throughout the world as many Christians reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ and what this birth has meant for the world at large. However, there is another important holiday that may have a tendency to be overlooked by many and this is the holiday of Thanksgiving.
The history of Thanksgiving is not just a uniquely American holiday but in terms of the Christian faith is extremely significant. The previous concept of a day of Thanksgiving comes from George Washington, the first president of the United States, who had issued a proclamation for a day of “Thanksgiving and prayer” for all fellowships and denominations on January 1, 1795, in light of the victory of the American Revolution. A portion of George Washington’s proclamation is stated in the following paragraph:
…I, George Washington, President of the United States, do recommend to all religious societies and denominations, and to all persons whomsoever, within the United States to set apart and observe Thursday, the 19th day of February next, as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, and on that day to meet together and render their sincere and hearty thanks to the Great Ruler of Nations for the manifold and signal mercies which distinguish our lot as a nation.George Washington. Proclamation 6—Day of Public Thanksgiving. Retrived from: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=65500.
George Washington’s motive for this proclamation was to seek the Lord, thank Him for all of the blessings that He provided, and to keep the citizens from a proud heart, as noted below:
I, George Washington, President of the United States, do recommend to all religious societies and denominations, and to all persons whomsoever, within the United States to set apart and observe Thursday, the 19th day of February next, as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer…for the prosperous course of our affairs, public and private; and at the same time humbly and fervently to beseech the kind Author of these blessings graciously to prolong them to us; to imprint on our hearts a deep and solemn sense of our obligations to Him for them; to teach us rightly to estimate their immense value; to preserve us from the arrogance of prosperity, and from hazarding the advantages we enjoy by delusive pursuits; to dispose us to merit the continuance of His favors by not abusing them; by our gratitude for them, and by a correspondent conduct as citizens and men…George Washington. Proclamation 6—Day of Public Thanksgiving. Retrived from: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=65500.
A day of Thanksgiving, for George Washington had in mind a day set aside for the saints to pray, reflect, and ponder the goodness of God and His benefits to the citizens of a young nation. The same idea was echoed by James Madison, the fourth president of the United States when he writes:
It is for blessings such as these, and more especially for the restoration of the blessing of peace, that I now recommend that the second Thursday in April next be set apart as a day on which the people of every religious denomination may in their solemn assemblies unite their hearts and their voices in a freewill offering to their Heavenly Benefactor of their homage of thanksgiving and of their songs of praise.James Madison. Proclamation 20-Recommending a Public Day of Thanksgiving For Peace. Retrieved from: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=65984.
The proclamations of both George Washington and James Madison (and even Abraham Lincoln in his proclamation set aside the last day in November as officially Thanksgiving Day) highlights a very important characteristic of the saint, and this is the attitude of thanksgiving.
There are many verses in the Scriptures that discuss the saints and their thanksgiving to the Lord. If the Israelites wanted to offer a “sacrifice of thanksgiving” to the Lord they would do so by a peace offering (Lev. 7:11-14). This specific offering was to honor God and how He was the source of their provision and sustenance. There were those in Israel who were charged with singing songs of thanksgiving to the Lord (Lev. 22:29; Neh. 12:7). A person who played a musical instrument was to offer thanksgiving to the Lord (Ps. 33:2). Additionally, the Psalms are replete with the psalmist offering praises of thanksgiving to God for His works (c.f., Ps. 6:5; 9:1; 18:49; 26:7; 30:4, 12; 42:4; 50:14; 69:30; 95:2; 107:1, 22; 116:27; 136:1-26; 147:27).
In the New Testament, there are many verses that speak to the attitude of thanksgiving in light of the Christian’s attitude. Paul often addressed the saints by personally giving thanks to God in his letters (c. f., Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:4; Phil. 1:3; 1 Thess 1:2;). Paul also instructed the saints to be thankful to God and His works (Col. 3:5, 3:17; Eph. 5:4, 5:17-20). A believer can give thanksgiving, not just by praying but singing to the Lord (Col. 3:16-17). It is observed for the Christian to be thankful in every circumstance, good and bad, is also within the will of God (1 Thess. 5:17-18). The author of Hebrews mentions when a believer gives God thanksgiving they are giving a sacrifice of praise to Him, expressing their gratitude to God and His benefits (Heb. 13:5). In other words, thankfulness for the Christian is not just reserved for one day out of the year, but it is to be an essential quality of the believer’s life.
By contrast, the unbeliever refuses to honor the Lord as God and does not give thanks to Him and the things He has done. As Paul addressing the believers in Rome stated below:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.Rom. 1:18-22 NASB emphasis mine
This is the reason both George Washington and James Madison proclaimed a day of thanksgiving to churches in the establishment of this nation: to remember the Lord and all of His benefits. They understood that without the providence and goodness of God, this nation would have not been successful and would not endure. They also understood that it would keep the hearts of those who sought Him humble, knowing that all things that are given to men are given because of the hand of God. The modern history of why Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday is far divorced from the origins of the proclamations of Washington, Madison, and Lincoln. However, the eternal word of God still to this day instructs every believer to give thanks to Him, irrespective of the events and the day. For the believer in Christ, every day is literally “Thanksgiving Day.”
As believers in Christ who are looking forward to Thanksgiving Day let us reflect and give thanks to the Lord for all of the things that He has done and has given to us, not just for the turkey and stuffing with all of the side dishes on the table. In addition, let us continue to give thanks to Him beyond this particular day. For by doing this we are completing the very will of God for us and giving honor and glory to Him.
Until next time…
Soli Deo Gloria!