By Pastor Stephen Hess –
As Thanksgiving approaches I find myself thinking about how Christians should celebrate this holiday. Christians have very distinct ways of celebrating Christmas and Easter, but what about Thanksgiving? Do we use this autumn holiday to worship our Lord or is it just another excuse to over-indulge and eat too much food?
Psalm 136 is a wonderful hymn of thanksgiving that gives us some insight into how we can give thanks as Christians. This hymn calls on the worshipping community to give thanks to the Lord, who has shown his steadfast love throughout the history of God’s people. It begins with the words “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” The refrain, “His steadfast love endures forever,” is repeated in all twenty-six verses of the hymn. This beautiful song reminds us about the “Who,” the “Why,” and the “How” of giving thanks.
Who: This psalm reminds us to give thanks to the Lord. As Christians we should know that every blessing we have is given by God from above (James 1:17). We need to remember that every gift we have is from God, not from ourselves. When we recognize this we will see that God should always be the object of our thanksgiving. We give thanks to him because we understand that he is our provider and protector. When we don’t give thanks to God or our thanksgiving is not directed towards him we rob him of the glory that belongs to him alone. Do you regularly give God thanks for the blessings in your life? Is your thanksgiving directed toward God?
Why: This psalm also reminds us why we give thanks to the Lord: because he is good. So often we forget to recognize how good God has been to us. We do this because it’s easier to focus on the negative things that are going on in our lives. However, when we step back we will recognize that God’s mercies never come to an end and they are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23). Even in difficult times we have been given the promise that “God works all things together for good for those who love him” (Rom. 8:28). God’s goodness is so deep that he even gave his Son so that we could have eternal life, and this is reason for great thanksgiving! In your own prayer time, do you regularly give thanks for God’s goodness?
How: The repeated phrase throughout this Psalm, “His steadfast love endures forever,” reminds us that our thanksgiving should be continual. Just as the Israelites repeatedly gave thanks for the ways God worked throughout their history, we should remember to repeatedly give thanks for the way God has worked in our lives. The holiday of Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity to remember and thank God for what he has done for us in the past, and what he is continuing to do for us in the present. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, it is the will of God that we “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18).
As you prepare to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, I challenge you to ask yourself these questions: To whom are you giving thanks? Why are you giving thanks? How are you giving thanks? Will you use this holiday to glorify God for what he has done or will it just be another year of food and football? Thanksgiving gives us a wonderful opportunity not only to thank God, but to bear witness to him by putting him at the center of our celebration. Putting Christ at the center of our celebration presents a unique chance to share our faith with family and friends who are gathered. Maybe you can read Psalm 136 aloud during your celebration. Maybe you can take time this year for people to share about what God has been doing in your life. Whatever you do, I challenge you to put Christ at the center of your Thanksgiving.