Thanksgiving: at a Loss or at the Cross?

by Justin Lonas

With each passing year, it seems as though Thanksgiving Day becomes less and less a major holiday. What was once the defining event of every autumn and the day we came together to rejoice for all we've been given is now just another day off, lost in the stretch of commercialism between Halloween and Christmas.

Perhaps, however, the disappearance of this great celebration into the generic "holiday season" is part of a larger cultural shift from gratitude to entitlement. It makes little sense to us to celebrate and give thanks for all we've been blessed with when we feel as though it was all owed to us in the first place. We'd rather just jump from one "gimme" festival to another.

With our prosperity has come a loss of purpose. Plenty is so ingrained within us that we no longer treat our possessions as though they belong to God. Materialism doesn't seem as much of a sin as it once did when churches often spend more on buildings, technology, and marketing than they give to the poor and to missions. We've broken the old rule of how to handle blessings: "Increase your standard of giving, not your standard of living."

In the Scriptures, we see repeatedly that stewardship, not ownership, is the plan God has for our possessions (Matt. 19:20-26, et.al.). The hallmark of ownership is worry, and the hallmark of stewardship is thanksgiving. Cultivating an attitude toward God that focuses on His being rather than His blessings is the key to a right relationship with Him.

To God, unadulterated gratitude for His grace is perhaps the purest form of worship. In thanksgiving, we acknowledge God's sovereignty over our lives and are ready to be vessels for His purpose. According to Strong's KJV Concordance, the Book of Psalms, ancient Israel's hymnal, contains 31 occurrences of the word "thanks" and its derivatives, "thankful" and "thanksgiving"-often in the form of a call to worship, as in Psalm 136:1, "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting."

The New Testament is equally emphatic on the centrality of gratitude. Among the 50 occurrences of "thanks" and related words in the New Testament we find Paul's injunction to be "always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the father" (Eph. 5:20). Worship is completely entwined with thanksgiving; in fact, both the Hebrew (twdh) and Greek (ucharista) words most often translated as "thanksgiving" also have the connotation of worship!

True worship is the attitude of making God's name great, and expressing our gratitude to Him (i.e., praising "Him from whom all blessings flow.") is an important aspect of confessing His sovereignty. He wants us to live our lives overflowing with the awareness of His mercy, grace, and blessing in spite of our depravity.

Accepting Christ's sacrifice and receiving baptism into the Spirit require a heart of thanksgiving. All our desires and demands have to melt away at the foot of the cross, when we look up into the face of a Savior who gives the gift we dare not refuse. There is no entitlement at Calvary, only those who know they have nothing to give bowing in thanks to Him who offers us everything. That's an attitude that will change our world, and it's certainly something worth celebrating!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Justin Lonas is publisher of Pulpit Helps.

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