Have you ever wondered what Thanksgiving Day is like for the unbeliever? For many, the day is spent much as we spend ours…at first glance. They have the day off from work or school, as we do. They eat a large meal with turkey and stuffing and enjoy gathering with friends and family, as we do. Furthermore, like us, they have much for which to be thankful. But then, whom do they thank, I wonder? In fact, Thanksgiving Day for the unbeliever is precisely, but no more than, what’s just been described: a day off for getting together with friends and family and eating a lot. “Thanksgiving Day” might actually be a better description of the unbeliever’s holiday. Whereas he might BE thankful, he does not recognize the One to whom his thanks must be GIVEN. Seems rather dull to me.
For you and me it is much more. Certainly we are to BE thankful, but we must go beyond the state of being to give expression of our thankfulness. On a particularly hot day this past summer I took my children for a ride in our air-conditioned minivan to a local ice-cream parlor. If they had said nothing about it, I still would have known that they enjoyed the outing and were thankful for it. But my heart soared when they wrapped their arms around me and said, “Thank. you, daddy.” It was good to receive the expression of their thanks. Likewise, Thanksgiving Day is a day of giving thanks to our God. It is not merely a day for passive feelings of gratefulness, but one to give active expression of it. It is not simply being, it is giving. Rightly understood, it is an appropriate day for God’s people to gather and worship Him. As our corporate worship each Sunday ought to include the giving of our thanks and gratitude to God, so our Thanksgiving Day ought to be one of corporate worship to God.
For what ought we give thanks? We must recall that the day is a national holiday and give thanks for the blessings of living in our country. George Washington, the first President of the United States, reminded all the citizens of this in the first Thanksgiving Day Proclamation in 1789:
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly implore His protection, aid and favor…Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these states to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the Beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country, and for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
The Psalmist, however provides us with the most important reasons of all to give thanks to our God:
Psalm 100:1–5 – “A psalm of praise.” 1. Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. 2. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before his presence with singing. 3_ Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that has made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. 5. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting: and his truth endureth to all generations.
The Psalmist says we are to “be thankful” (v. 4). This is the prerequisite of our thanksgiving. Notice the active verbs: “make,” “serve,” “come,” “know,” “enter” and “bless.” Our thanksgiving must be expressed in our worship, and indeed in all of life.
After extending the call to worship, the Psalmist gives the reasons for our worship and gratitude: because the sovereign God has created us and called us to be His own (v.3). Not only are we blessed with being, but also with belonging. We must thank God that we are His sheep, and that He is our Shepherd. Jesus so beautifully continues this metaphor when, speaking to the Pharisees about His sheep, he says, “…I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” (John 10:10b,11).
This is our greatest reason for thanksgiving. Jesus did not fail in His purpose, or the means of achieving that purpose. He has indeed given us life by giving ofHis own. This is truth, and this is mercy, and it is because of these that the believer’s Thanksgiving Day far surpasses the dull thanksbeing day of the unbeliever. There will never be a moment when we, the sheep of God, will have nothing for which to give thanks, “for the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.” Praise God with thanksgiving!
Rev. Vander Meulen is pastor of the Eastmanville Reformed Bible Church.