“But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (Jonah 2:9).
Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away and in the midst of your preparations for turkey and all the trimming; for bringing together family and friends; and of course the all important Thanksgiving football schedule, I’d like to ask you to take just a moment to stop and think about what it actually means to give thanks. I mean when you think about it, our celebration of this annual day of Thanksgiving to God is a little strange. We thank you God for all of the blessings you have bestowed upon us this year, and so we will stuff ourselves full of food and lay around the TV and fight off catatonia while we watch the game. I have a hard time thinking of this as a day of Thanksgiving to God. For that matter, how is it possible to truly give thanks to God at all? Do we think that just saying “thank you” is giving thanks — as if our words of thanksgiving float up to God and He takes them and adds them to His collection? So just what does it means to GIVE thanks?
In the Old Testament it was quite clear. God did good for you and you owed Him a debt in response. You offered sacrifices of thanksgiving in payment of that debt to God for what He has first done for you. Those who are greatly blessed would be expected to give a great sacrifice of thanksgiving in response to how God had blessed them. While there was no expectation of equivalence between the blessing and the thanksgiving, there was the expectation of proportionality. In our Sunday worship we acknowledge the same need for response when we pray that God might accept our offerings and gifts in thanksgiving for what He has first given us. So there is such a thing as GIVING thanks, but for it to be thanksgiving, it must contain two key elements: it must be a response to the blessing God has given to us, and it must be a tangible, proportional (although not equivalent) response to that blessing.
So if we are called to give thanks in response to God’s blessing and that giving of thanks should be proportional to the blessing given, how can we as Christians truly give thanks for the blessing (grace) He has given us through faith in Jesus Christ? We have been blessed with the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life with Him. What could possibly be a proportionate giving of thanks to that? There is nothing we could ever give to God that could ever be seen as a proportionate response to this ultimate blessing of everlasting life paid through the ultimate price of suffering and death. And even if there was, God doesn’t need it! So, we who have been ultimately blessed, how can we begin to truly give thanks? Well it can’t be done just one day each year (although that’s a start). No. The only proportionate response to this ultimate blessings of life everlasting, is a life devoted to that giving of thanks as an unending overflowing of love in response to His unending gift of love. And just how do we give thanks to God – who does not now nor ever need anything from us? How can we give Him thanks? Jesus answered that question for us when He spoke the following words to Peter after His resurrection. Happy Thanksgiving!
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).