Why and How We Can Give Thanks in 2020


The pandemic we are experiencing will most likely affect some traditional Thanksgiving celebrations and perhaps even cloud our ability to be thankful because of what we have lost and/or are missing.  However, we need to remember that while Thanksgiving is a national holiday celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November and has various customs and traditions that we love (including large gatherings), the practice of giving thanks is not just an American custom. Giving thanks does not (and should not) happen only once a year and is not primarily about food or family (or football – Go Lions!) – the practice of giving thanks is a key practice of the Christian life and is to be done in all situations. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 Paul tells the church in Thessalonica to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In light of this, I want to reflect a bit on why and how we can give thanks even in these circumstances. 

Why Give Thanks?

When things go well for us, we  usually give thanks to God for these blessings, but it might be wise to remember that giving thanks often arises out of difficulties. The Thanksgiving holiday is often associated with the pilgrims as they celebrated their harvest – but this was after a tough winter in which many suffered. It is important to give thanks to God for His protection after He has brought us through trials, but what about when we are in the midst of a trial? He promises to be with us in all times and to end suffering and death, disease and injustice. May the day of Thanksgiving be one to rejoice that we are already made right with God but do not yet fully experience that; Jesus Christ has come and brought redemption, but we do not yet see it in its fullness. We can give thanks to God in the present because we know he will act in the future! As the song Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing reminds us: “Hitherto Thy love has blessed me, Thou hast brought me to this place, And I know Thy hand will bring me, Safely home by Thy good grace.” We may be going through trials right now, but we can still give thanks that God is with us and has promised to make all things right. We can give thanks today because we know we will praise Him for eternity and that He has a plan at all times.

How to Give Thanks

We often use words to say thank you – either in person, through a text or email, or with a card. Sometimes we may even throw in a gift.. The Heidelberg Catechism reminds us that the Christian life should be a life of gratitude; our acts of obedience to God’s Word should be viewed as ways of thanking God for His salvation. We do not earn our salvation by doing good works, as that is through faith in Christ, but this faith leads to a life of obedient gratitude. The Catechism directs us to this life of gratitude, with particular reference to the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. Since I highlighted the Catechism’s discussion of the Ten Commandments in last year’s Thanksgiving post on “10 Ways to Say Thank You,” I won’t go into detail here. However, I do want to highlight how the Catechism notes that we show gratitude through repentance and faith by being “genuinely sorry for sin” and seeking “more and more to hate and run away from it” (Q and A 89) and then “lov[ing] and delight[ing] to live according to the will of God by doing every kind of good work” (Q and A 90). When we do this, we bring praise to God, are assured of our faith, and lead to others being “won over to Jesus Christ” to experience the comfort in life and death that Jesus offers by His grace through faith in Him (see Q and A 87). While we can and should do this more than one day a year, may this Thanksgiving be a day to reflect on God’s blessings and promises and examine our hearts to identify and turn from sin. As we give thanks to God by obeying His Word (which is for our good and His glory), may we be cognizant of the needs of our neighbors, community, and the world. 

Giving Thanks Today, Tomorrow, and the Next Day

As we give thanks this year for our many blessings, let us also reflect on how  God has brought us through some difficult times. He promises to deliver us from sin and calls us to obey His Word more fully.  May these promises remind us to give thanks not just on Thanksgiving Day, but every day.

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