|Gratitude is an ongoing mandate for God’s people, but a special day for a national focus is also a good thing. Our gratitude is of a different quality, though. It is not as limited as what we see in the lives of our neighbors. Thanksgiving is not a concept that stands alone. We must be thankful for something and to someone for the word to have any meaning. Consider some of the ways a believer’s celebration of this holiday will differ from that of our neighbors.Believers are grateful for different things. Understandably, the non-spiritual mindset is focused on what we have, how we feel, and what we need or want. There is a note of fear in the thanksgiving expressions of those who think God might be there but don’t know him. “Youth, health, and prosperity can’t last forever. If God is there, he is the one who knows or controls my days. I wonder what his blessing or cursing of my life is based on,” the thought might be.
In contrast, believers have an eternal relationship with our creator. Redemption, revelation, hope, joy, fulfillment, strength, and a host of other gifts flow from that relationship. So long as we trust God for the things we need we can escape the superstitious desperation that creeps into expressions of gratitude offered by those outside of Christ. Because we know our God, we value most highly the things that are as certain and eternal as he is.
Believers express gratitude in a different way. The world has little to offer except vague, ritualistic prayers at mealtime. The thought that God might be involved more personally in their lives is not always a comforting one to those who don’t know him. Apart from this revelation people have not much improved on the superstition of idol worship. Even cults today that venerate a god who is spirit rather than wood or stone say “I hope so,” or “Maybe,” or even, “I wish I knew,” when asked about their relationship with their gods. Thanksgiving for them is a little like the prophets of Baal seeking the right combination of praise, repetition, and self flagellation to convince their capricious deity to bless them.
A better thanksgiving is born out of a sure relationship. What our God has revealed of his character is in perfect harmony with our experience of him. He is beyond our understanding but has also gone to extraordinary lengths to show us all of himself that we can grasp, and a little more for our imaginations. He has certainly shown us enough so that we can trust his love for us. Based on the promises of Scripture, we can also be confident of our relationship with him through Christ. We can rejoice without mixed motives because he has shown where we stand with him. It’s a blessing we should not take for granted.
It is often noted that the up and down cycle of Israel’s relationship with God is recognizable to Christians as we wrestle with our old man. Notice, though, that many of Israel’s worst days were born out of ingratitude. God’s provision for the nation recorded in Exodus is a good example. The people were in bondage, so God delivered them with great and unmistakable power. The were pressed by their enemies and cried out in fear that God had delivered them to be killed by Pharaoh’s army before the Red Sea; again God delivered them in a way that pointed to his unique power. In chapter 16, they seemed convinced that God was going to let them starve and again returned to the mantra of, “We’re better off in Egypt.”
God gave them food so that they did not need to cultivate or do anything except gather and eat. After that, they seemed convinced God was going to kill them with thirst. The miracle of God’s provision here was always presumed and rarely appreciated. Many of us get a good chuckle from the whiny way that Israel followed God, but mostly our laughter is at ourselves. We are those guys. We must diet because we’re overfed and then worry the world will end because our second or third car is acting up. We should remember our sure relationship with God and if, like Job, we are stripped down to having only that, God’s blessing is still sure and evident.
The extent of our thanksgiving should also be different. If limited to the things I own and the health of my loved ones, I never completely shake the thought that I am somewhat responsible. If things are great, I give myself some of the credit for being so careful and talented. When things go badly, I can always think of things I might have done better. My instincts are false here. Yes, there are consequences to wise and foolish acts but our fortune is in the hands of God, in detail. Apart from Christ, we are left to thank somebody we suspect might not exist for things we mostly believe we did for ourselves. And our gratitude is occasional at best for even these things.
Again, it is different for believers. The most certain thing in our lives is also the most precious, eternal, and inarguably of divine origin. I do not suspect for a moment that my salvation is the fruit of my own labor or goodness. Starting here, I know that all the more temporal blessings of this life must also answer to their creator, regardless of what I sometimes feel. It is therefore natural to express specific thanks to my God daily and several times each day. I do not operate in a closed system. God constantly intervenes in ways I see and in ways I don’t. Although Thanksgiving is a precious and warm holiday for many of us, it is not the full extent of our expressing gratitude to God for his blessings.