Thanksgiving – a lifestyle, not a day!
1Th 5:16-18 “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
The giving of thanks, especially to God, is the spontaneous response of a soul overwhelmed with a consciousness of having become the recipient of unmerited grace and favor. To be able to give thanks “in everything” is a mark of spiritual maturity and an evidence of having come to know God and His way of working in and through the ways of a fallen world. In events which appear to be most contrary to blessing, He works to bring into being amazing evidences of His grace. In fact, the very root for the word “thanks” or “thanksgiving” in the New Testament is the word “grace” (charis). The verb “thanksgiving” is a compound which literally means “I give grace (thanks) well”. To do so in reality demands an act of will. It is a choice we must make to look by faith beyond the visible and see the invisible workings of a faithful God. Thus, in the midst of suffering, we give thanks, knowing that “by grace through faith” God will bring good out of the evil.
A good example of this is found in Psalm 30. A reading of the entire Psalm reveals a life-context of divine discipline through great afflictions. David speaks of illness almost unto death, a time of weeping, perplexity and confusion – all leading to a cry for God’s mercy. Looking back, David declares, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing”, (Psa 30:11). He therefore calls on fellow believers to give thanks for God’s faithfulness (Psa 30:4), and ends by saying, “O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” (Psa 30:12). The greatest display of faith in giving thanks is when, in the very fires of affliction, we can thank God for the deliverance we know will come. This quality is found in so many of David’s Psalms.
Thanksgiving Day was first proclaimed by President George Washington in 1789, in recognition of the victories of the War of Independence and the blessings that followed. However, in 1863, in the very midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln again proclaimed a “Day of Thanksgiving” in a time of great national suffering. His words display the essence of spiritual insight needed for giving thanks in affliction.
“To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed
that we are prone to forget the Source from which they come,
others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature,
that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart
which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God…
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand
worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts
of the Most High God, Who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins,
hath nevertheless remembered mercy…”
The capacity to see God’s overruling mercy in the midst of severe affliction is the key to giving thanks in all things.
It is worth noting that when the Apostle Paul gave thanks, it usually involved a response to what God had done for him through other people. For example, in Phi 1:3-8, he expresses thanks to God for a loyal congregation which supported him in all his missionary endeavors. Because of the Philippians’ “fellowship in the gospel” by their prayers and support of the Apostle Paul, they had become “partakers with me (Paul) of grace.” In other words, Paul recognized the vital part they played in his missionary labors and saw this as evidence of God’s grace at work in their lives. They were as much a part of the mission as he was himself.
Again, in 1Th 1:2-8, we read Paul’s thanksgiving for another congregation, the Thessalonians. He speaks of their “work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope” (v 3), and acknowledges that out of God’s mighty work in them “the word of the Lord has sounded forth….in every place….so that we do not need to say anything.” (v 8). So effective was Paul’s ministry to these believers that they became a lighthouse of Gospel truth in their region, essentially taking over the work from the Apostle himself.
The amazing truth in these two examples of early churches is that it was the prayer and financial support of the Philippians that made possible the ministry to the Thessalonians! In Phi 4:14-20 Paul concludes his expression of gratitude to the Philippians for their loyalty in support. He says, “For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities.” (v 16) And the ultimate reason Paul is so greatly encouraged by this is not because of the benefit he received. In verse 17 he gives the reason, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account.” Paul is looking to eternity, and knows that they will share with him in the eternal reward of all that they participated in through their prayers and gifts. And it is to those who are so faithfully and sacrificially giving for the sake of the Gospel that Paul gives the assurance, "And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (v 19)
Therefore, on this Thanksgiving Day of 2006, Nan and I would like to thank each and every one of you who lift us up before the Throne of Grace. Apart from the willing and gracious participation of so many, we could not do what we do. We are amazed by the grace of God that allows us to play our part in His great plan. And we thank Him for raising up others in “the fellowship of the Gospel” to work with us. May we all learn to “give thanks in all things”. And by God’s grace, may we develop the faith and maturity needed to see His mighty hand at work, even through our afflictions, so as to be thankful before the blessings appear.
Finally, we ask you to remember us in your prayers, as we will leave with a team the day after Thanksgiving for a week of ministry in Peru. How conscious we are of our need to be equipped, strengthened, and sustained in our work by the faithful prayers of believers at home. We ask that you will join us, as we have opportunity to minister to over one hundred pastors and leaders of churches in Peru. We give thanks in advance for those our God will raise up to serve together with us for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
With thankful hearts,
Gene and Nan