Thanksgiving is often overlooked.
Jumping straight from Halloween to Christmas, stores clear out their ghoulish paraphernalia only to fill the space with snowmen and penguins to mark the coming festivities of December. There may be a shelf or two devoted to wooden pilgrims or turkey-shaped gravy boats, but sadly, holidays are often little more than merchandizing opportunities. Thanksgiving does not provide sizable monetary benefit, so the cultural eye largely passes over it.
As Christians, however, there are few holidays that point more directly to the abiding attitude of a follower of Christ than Thanksgiving. In fact, giving thanks is one of the clearest commands in Scripture and a direct statement of God’s will. We often search for God’s will in our lives. Where should I live? What career path should I take? Whom should I marry? Most pastors have probably fielded the question “What is God’s will for my life?” more than any other inquiry.
Though we should seek the Lord’s guidance in all things, we should not be overly worried about peeking into the secret will of God when he has given us clear direction in his revealed will. One such command is found in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Joy and thanksgiving are two of the three statements made by Paul in this verse as being “the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In other words, when we ask, “What is God’s will for my life?” we may say, with all certainty, that it includes being joyful and giving thanks.
As we gather with our families and friends this Thanksgiving, we have the perfect opportunity to exhibit to those around us the depth and breadth of joy and thanksgiving we have in Christ Jesus. We live, in many ways, in times of discouragement, but we serve a God of encouragement. Christians ought never to be known as dejected and downcast people, and the Thanksgiving holiday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of that truth.
Just as Scripture is clear that joyfulness and giving thanks are God’s will for his people, it is equally clear that joy and thanksgiving are to be a global practice. While Thanksgiving is a holiday rooted in American heritage, the actions of joy and thanksgiving are intended for all nations.
Psalm 67:4-5 could not be more clear on this point:
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
The psalmist is calling the nations to “be glad and sing for joy.” While Thanksgiving is often a time when we gather with those closest to us, we should pay particular attention this year to the missional nature of giving thanks. We have so much for which to give thanks—above all, God’s provision for our salvation, which is the message of hope we take to the nations. Christ died for all nations, tribes, and languages in order that every single individual who makes up the elect from those nations, tribes, and languages may turn in joy and worship to him as the risen, ascended, and reigning Savior.
Not only does this psalm command the action, but it provides the basis for the action. God “judge[s] the peoples with equity and guide[s] the nations upon the earth.” Our joy is firmly rooted in the sovereignty of God. The nations are raging, no doubt (Psalm 2:1), and yet those same raging nations are being judged and guided by the King on his throne. We have the greatest message of hope for the nations embroiled in the conflict and sufferings of a sin-depraved world. We do not look to kings to replace the fear and anxiety of our hearts with rejoicing and thanksgiving but to the One in whose hand “the king’s heart is a stream of water” (Proverbs 21:1).
As we labor to bring the gospel to the nations, remember that a vital part of that labor is the fulfillment of Psalm 67:4-5. The gospel turns the raging of the nations against God into the rejoicing of the nations for God. As the spiritual work of regeneration turns the heart of stone into a heart of flesh, so too does it turn the anger of the unregenerate man into the joy of a true worshipper of God. This truth should motivate our evangelistic efforts. As we labor in the field of lost souls, the Lord is at work gathering to himself multitudes in order that the nations may “be glad and sing for joy.”
Thanksgiving is absolutely a time to give thanks for all that God has given and for his abundant provision, but it is also a time to spur us on to bring the gospel to the nations in order that the nations may join in the throng of God’s joyful and thankful covenant people.