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Thanksgiving is a State of Mind

Category Articles
Date November 25, 2008

Even in the midst of temporal troubles, there is always something to be thankful for.

Thanks-giving isn’t easy. Two things make it difficult.

(1) Our sinful natures act like a ship’s anchor let down at sea. When we try to stir ourselves to give thanks, we find our souls are ‘dragging anchor.’ In the Bible, lack of gratitude is a characteristic of the unbelieving heart. Even Christians have to struggle against this ‘tendency to ingratitude’ that remains with us. As Bishop Ryle once observed in his quaint way, we are prone to hide our blessings under a bushel and to set our troubles on a hill.

(2) That brings us to the second hindrance to thanks-giving, which is the troubles we all experience in our lives. It seems that every time we get the wind of thanksgiving in our sails, a front of reality moves through our lives, and our souls are becalmed.

This Thanksgiving many of us will be struggling with such things as ill health, job uncertainties, inadequate finances, family tensions, spiritual depression, disappointed hopes, fresh grief, and lonely isolation.

It’s not easy for your soul to feel gratitude or to give thanks when it struggles against the drag of natural ingratitude and the becalming effects of reality. But let me give you one fundamental reason to be thankful: you’re supposed to be! One verse among scores is sufficient. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus’ (1 Thess. 5:19).

Maybe you were expecting me to say something different, but don’t discount the value of knowing it’s a Christian duty to give thanks. Sometimes I ask my wife if she loves me. Usually she answers, ‘Yes.’ Then I ask, ‘Why?’ and her usual answer is, ‘Because I’m supposed to.’

I might prefer to hear that she’s compelled to love me by irresistible passion, or that I’m so wonderful that she can’t help but love me. But I’ve learned to take comfort and to feel security in her commitment to love me because it’s her duty as a wife and a Christian. (If some of you are thinking, ‘Knowing him, he is just lucky she loves him,’ I’ll be the first to agree.)

Bruce Hunt, a missionary to Korea, was jailed by the Japanese during World War II and placed in solitary confinement. Listen to his story:

The tension of that first day of solitary confinement was very exhausting, and I was beginning to feel quite down hearted. As my spirits hit their lowest ebb, I jumped up saying, ‘This is no way for a Christian to feel!’ And I began to pace the cell, back and forth, three steps and wheel, three steps and wheel. As I paced and tried to conquer my mood, I caught myself whistling something to pace by, under my breath. It was nothing special, no tune in particular – or did it have the suggestion of some college song we used to sing? I could not tell, but soon began to sing softly and with a martial air, ‘Give thanks! Give thanks unto Jehovah!’

Gradually I found myself making up more words and consciously developing a tune. Soon the first verse was completed:

Give thanks! Give thanks unto Jehovah!
For He of kings is King.
Let every nation, race, each tongue and tribe,
Unto Him praises bring.
He rules the earth with power and righteousness;
The waves obey His will.
Give thanks! Give thanks unto Jehovah!
Your work of praise with joy fulfill.

The Lord had given me a song in the night! Making up the words had taken my thoughts off myself and my circumstances. ‘Give thanks!’ I fairly shouted as I charged back and forth in the tiny cell.

The Pilgrims who celebrated the first Thanksgiving in America were similar in their outlook. They arrived in December 1620 as a band of 102 men, women, and children. By April 1621 only 50 remained. But they planted crops, hunted, and fished, and when the fall arrived they decided they had much to be thankful for. So in October, a community of Christians, who had lost half their population the previous winter, who had no more than a toehold on their new homeland, did their duty and set aside a day as a feast of thanksgiving.

Giving thanks because you’re supposed to is not an impossible task. If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit has planted a seed of gratitude in your heart. As you look at life through the eyes of faith, you’ll see many expressions of your heavenly Father’s goodness. And as you face with faith the sometimes harsh realities of life, you’ll see that the really important things can’t be taken away. The Father’s love, the forgiveness of sins, the promise of the resurrection are blessings you can’t lose. The seed of gratitude, watered with faith, can produce a great harvest of thanksgiving in your life.

Let’s give thanks. It’s our duty!

William H Smith is Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church (PCA), Louisville, Mississippi.

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