The giving of thanks is a biblical concept going all the way back to Noah and his family in the book of Genesis. As soon as the earth was dry after the flood, Noah and his family were finally able to leave the ark. Noah’s first act was to build an altar and give thanks and worship to God.
The act of thanksgiving is a way of recognizing the faithfulness of God in our lives – it is a way to consciously take time to humble ourselves before God and each other. And Scripture says those who humble themselves will one day be lifted up by God.
Because many of our founding mothers and fathers were Bible-believing Christians, days of thanksgiving have been observed through the generations, beginning with the Pilgrims and continuing through the founding of the United States.
Carrying from Europe the tradition of a day of thanksgiving after a successful harvest, the Pilgrims gave thanks to God for the bounty of the harvest after a year of sickness and hunger. The native Wampanoag tribe also had a tradition of giving thanks to the Creator for a successful harvest, and so they joined with the Pilgrims in a joyful outpouring of gratitude mixed with merriment and feasting.
After the Revolution, the first official presidential proclamation issued in America was George Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving message to the people of the United States. He recommended to the people:
…that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country…
Later, when the constitution was severely tested in the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln also issued another thanksgiving proclamation:
I do therefore invite my fellow citizens … to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to … fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it … to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.
Thanksgiving is an important part of the Christian life. It is the capstone to a life of prayer. The apostle Paul instructed the church in Philippi regarding prayer:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6, NASB).
Our requests and intercession are to include thanksgiving as a sign of our faith. We thank the Lord in advance that He hears our prayers, and that He is about a good work, bringing His will to pass in our lives. The Scriptures are filled with prayers of thanksgiving:
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds (Ps. 9:1, ESV).
To you, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of you… (Dan. 2:23, ESV).
…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father… (Eph. 5:19, ESV).
Thanksgiving is also a clear way we can show love and devotion to Almighty God. One day Jesus witnessed this kind of a grateful heart when He healed a group of ten lepers. Luke writes:
And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks (Luke 17:14-16, ESV).
Jesus made note of his humility in thanksgiving, but also of the lack of thanks on the part of the others:
Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:17-19, ESV).
May we be like this one leper who was healed and then came back to give thanks. As we celebrate with our family and friends, let us do so with a heart of thanksgiving for all that God has done in our lives over this past year.
Today we once again face monumental challenges in America and around the world. But as our Forefathers did in the midst of their trials, let us also take time to seek wisdom and guidance from our Heavenly Father and to worship Him for His blessings.
In faith, thank God in advance for all He is going to do in the year to come – because there is tremendous power in Thanksgiving!
Dr. Craig von Buseck is Digital Editor of Inspiration.org.
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