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REFLECTIONS IN THE WORD by Dr. Bruce Peters, Director of Communications
TEXT: 1 Thessalonians 5:18a, “In everything give thanks….”
On the fourth Thursday of November Americans observe a favorite holiday: THANKSGIVING DAY! Rooted in religious and cultural history, the American holiday is traced to Pilgrim ancestors and a 1621 celebration in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Various proclamations from assorted governors and presidents – including George Washington – perpetuated the observance. Washington’s 1789 declaration described Thanksgiving “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God.” Abraham Lincoln, a few generations later, perpetuated the holiday, hoping to foster American unity after the divisive years of the Civil War. In 1941 Franklin D. Roosevelt finalized the fourth Thursday as the set date to observe Thanksgiving.
Like a favorite pair of jeans frayed and faded by too many washings, the Thanksgiving holiday has not fared so well, diluted by modern day secularism and materialism as well as the break-down of the very concept of family and tradition. For too many, the holiday means nothing more than a parade, a food-fest, and football. The late American humorist, Erma Bombeck, poked at skewed priorities: “Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not a coincidence.” 🙂
In the last chapter of the Apostle Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians, he concludes with a challenge to the church, almost in “grocery-list fashion,” as he hits on the essential qualities that identify a healthy church, a growing believer. Smack in the middle of the list is a call to thanksgiving – most pointedly, thanksgiving in every situation (v. 18a). It is interesting to note where this “attitude of gratitude” ranks in Paul’s list: right after “Pray without ceasing” (v. 17) and just before “Do not quench the Spirit” (v. 19). Maybe this is the formula for nurturing a thankful spirit.
GRATITUDE or thanksgiving, for the Christian, is not only important
but expected. It is a mark of maturity, and it is the means to maturity.
One wise observer of life wrote that what is important in life is “not what we say about our blessings but how we use them.” The same message is sung in the Praise Psalm 104: “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name” (v. 4). The Psalmist’s call to worship is actually a call to transformed living – a transformation effected by recognition of God’s goodness and mercy (v. 5).My wife glowed as a mother raising young children. Our son and daughter delighted in her love and care, and likewise respected her boundaries and disciplines. This included how she monitored their intake of sweets and sugar. On special days, for special snacks, Nancy would pull out a box of Vanilla Wafers.
As a side note, I must confess my disdain for that kind of so-called cookie! To me a Vanilla Wafer is something that almost became a cookie – it left the bakery too soon without a slathering of icing and sprinkles or at least a jab of jam. Vanilla Wafers were made for one thing – banana puddings! Even so, for Joel and Meredith these cookies were a favorite treat, and when Nancy pulled out a box, their eyes brightened and their hands opened. One day as I watched the treats being dispersed, Meredith (then a kindergartener) quickly popped the treats into her mouth till she had chipmunk cheeks. Joel, on the other hand, held his cookies in his hands and just looked at them, savoring the moment. He prized those little wafers as if they were coins of gold. And when he did begin to eat, he moved slowly, munching on one cookie at a time. Why the difference? It’s not that my little girl was not grateful, but her big brother – a bit older and ‘wiser’ – knew that this was not a common event. The moment was special. The treat was not routine. His understanding and love gave him a grateful heart. Too many of us gobble down our blessings, jolting from half-time’s quick ending to get back to the next quarter in the game of life.
Paul wants to change that. His command (and it is an apostolic command!) arrests our attention and re-routes our mind-set: “IN EVERYTHING GIVE THANKS.” What he has in mind is bigger than one nation’s holiday. He is describing the character of Christ and God’s soul-standard for all believers. Indeed, a thankful heart is a Christian standard. It is a character quality that proves grace and enriches grace in life and society. In the opening of the Book of Romans, the downward spiral of renegade scoffers is attributed in part to their thankless hearts: “because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful” (Romans 1:21a).
For Christians, the heart’s attitude is just the opposite – or should be. Jesus said that His followers would be known for their love, and surely if the seed of love is faith, then the fruit of love is thankfulness. As one Christian writer put it, “Thanksgiving precedes the miracle.” But “thanksgiving” is not happenstance.
It is a choice, not a random occurrence. Noted author Churck Swindoll brings his own testimonial.
“I believe the single most significant decision I can make on a day-to-day basis is my
choice of attitude. It is more important than my past, my education, my bankroll, my
successes or failures, fame or pain, what other people think of me or say about me,
my circumstances, or my position. Attitude is that ‘single string’ that keeps me going
or cripples my progress. It alone fuels my fire or assaults my hope. When my
attitutdes are right, there’s no barrier too high, no valley too deep, no dream too
extreme, no challenge too great for me” (Chuck Swindoll, Strengthening Your Grip).
Canada celebrated Thanksgiving last month, and Americans will this month. But believers can celebrate every day, every where, in everything! Happy Thanks-giving!
~ BRUCE PETERS