Thanksgiving isn’t just a holiday, it is an expression of gratitude. It’s not just something we do, it’s who we are to be. It is a word that shapes character, reveals the heart and colors our every word and action. In all our conduct, we either display a spirit of joyful thanksgiving or discontented grumbling.
In fact, Scripture goes so far as to say that we can know the will of God for us in this: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:18). No wonder we are exhorted to do everything without grumbling or complaining. To grumble and complain is to actually be outside of the will of God (ouch!). It’s an all-or-nothing, one-or-the-other kind of reality. But it is impossible on our own. The grace of God must infuse every moment. Apart from Christ we can do nothing, let alone have a heart of gratitude!
And yet I think we need to be honest about the fact that it’s not always easy to give thanks. On many days, and in many circumstances, having a heart of thanksgiving feels exactly like what Psalms 50:23 calls it: a sacrifice.
“He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; And to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God.”
I looked up the word sacrifice in the dictionary, and here was the first definition: to forfeit; the act of losing or surrendering something.
If we are going to “give thanks in all circumstances”, then it will require sacrifice. It will require us to “forfeit” the way that we think it should go, the plans that we have made in our own heads and hearts. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). It will mean surrendering our will to the will of the One who knows best.
A sacrifice of thanksgiving is what pleases God and what we were created to give and to live. But it means laying down all that we are so that we can be all that God created us to be. It can be painful. It can hurt. It can turn our world upside down when our plans prove to be the opposite of what God has planned, and we are told to rejoice and give thanks when our flesh wants to cry out, “Unfair! This is too hard! I don’t deserve this! I thought I already ‘learned’ that lesson! God, are you really doing what is best for me? How can anything good hurt this much? When is this just going to end?!”
But if we stop fighting, stop questioning and stop arguing, we can hear God through His Word saying, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Because when we know God as He has revealed Himself through the pages of Scripture, we can say as Jesus said, “Not my will but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). The will of the One who spoke every molecule into being and continues to order them all to accomplish His perfect plans. The will of the One who “did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). How could we not submit to the will of the One who shelters, sustains, satisfies and even sings over us. When we see our God for who He truly is, our hearts echo the multitude in heaven that proclaims:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen.” Revelation 7:10,12
The more we know Him, the more we love Him and the more we rest in His will and ways. This leads our hearts to endless praise, in the big and the small. And, if you are anything like me…sometimes it’s the small things, the little things that I struggle most to give thanks for. It’s in the “eating and drinking”, the every day events of life, that I often have to fight for joy and sacrifice to give thanks. But I am learning that those little things keep me dependent on a BIG God. Those little things keep me humble and very much aware of my own sin and need for Jesus’s saving grace. And those little things prepare me and “tune my heart to sing His praise” in the big things of life.
So, as we take November to celebrate this holiday called Thanksgiving, may it remind our hearts that we are called to more than a day of thanksgiving. We are called to a life of praise. We are called to live all of our days offering all that we are and all that we have as a living sacrifice of thanksgiving to Jesus. He alone is the One who sacrificed the glories of heaven for a manger of hay, His royalty for servanthood and His perfect life for our wretched ones that we might be able to exalt His name not only here on earth but for all of eternity!
“Through Him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name.” Hebrews 13:15