Thanksgiving Day is approaching. Since this is a national holiday in the United States, everyone is familiar with Thanksgiving. We associate it with family, food, and for some: football!
Christians are especially acquainted with thanksgiving. The Psalms are full of references to thanksgiving for the people of Israel (e.g. Pss. 9:1; 30:4; 100:4 etc.). Thanksgiving is also part of New Testament faith (1 Cor. 15:57; 1 Thess. 5:18; Heb. 12:28), both now and in the future (Rev. 11:17). We give thanks in worship and in our daily life in ways both heard and unheard.
When Thanksgiving Day comes this year, let’s reflect on our Christian thanksgiving, why we give thanks to God, and our attitudes as we express our thanksgiving.
A helper along this way is Bishop George Downame (c. 1566-1634). Downame wrote important books. He was a strong Reformed theologian with Puritan interests. He became Bishop of Derry, Ireland in 1616 where he served until his death. His The Doctrine of Practicall Praying (London, 1656; page references below are to this book) provides insights about thanksgiving in prayer and about thanksgiving itself.
Thankfulness. Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God” (Col. 3:16). We are to have gratitude (Gr. charis= thankfulness) or “grace in our hearts.” This grace is both what God gives us, the “benefit,” and also the “thanks” which is our response to God’s grace (206). Downame said this is like the expression “A good turn begetteth [gives birth to] thanks” (Gratia gratiam parit). When someone does good to us, we experience the goodness and are thankful for it. So, also with God. This is the sense, says Downame, of what we do when we give thanks or express thanksgiving at meals. Our response to the grace given to us is to be thankful. This affects us fully. As Downame wrote: “Outward thanksgiving without inward thankfulnesse is counterfeit and hypocriticall. There is no doubt but that…we must have thankfulnesse when we give thanks” (206). Prayer is the expression of our desire, so when we give thanks at meals, “thanksgiving is the testifying of our thankfulnesse” (206).
Remember God’s Benefits. In thanksgiving, we remember God’s benefits. We bring them to mind and, as the Psalmist said: “Do not forget all his benefits” (Ps. 103:2; 119:16). Do not be unthankful. Remembering God’s benefits moves us to be thankful in heart, word, and deed (Ps. 78:7; Deut. 8:11).
Gratefully Acknowledge and Value God’s Benefits. We know that all we are and all we have comes from God. God is the One who blesses us and we must acknowledge God as the source of our blessings (James 1:17). Someone said atheists have a problem because atheists have no one to thank for the blessings that come to them! Christians thank God! We gratefully acknowledge God’s benefits. We value them and recognize God’s “good providence,” said Downame, and that God “causeth all things to work for our good” (Rom. 8:28; cf. Ps. 16:6; 209).
Recognize our Dependence on God. As Downame put it, “as we are thankfully to acknowledge Gods goodnesse towards us, so also we are humbly to acknowledge our own beholdingnesse” (209). We are “beholden,”—obligated to God. We recognize we are unworthy before God. For “what do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7) and “by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). Our unworthiness is because of our sin. Downame wrote that “instead of heaping his judgements upon us which we have deserved, [God] multip[lies] his blessings which we have not deserved in the least degree” (210). For God “does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10). We acknowledge and confess our unworthiness, our dependence on God who forgives us.
Humility. All this leads us to thanksgiving in deep humility. Said Downame: “True humility is the mother of thankfulnesse” (210). The “proud” ascribe all goodness to “their own worthinesse, wisdom or strength” (Deut. 8:17)…which is to make themselves Gods (Ezek. 28:4-6; Dan. 4:30)” (210). But we acknowledge all blessings come from God…in deep humility.
Joy and Rejoicing. Our dependence on God and thankfulness means we are “gratefully affected with the sense of Gods goodnesse and bounty towards us, causing us to love God and rejoice in him,” (211). A result of this, Downame went on to say was that we are ready to serve God and that we have “chearfulnesse.” We remember Paul told the Corinthians that “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Downame said: “For as the Lord loveth a chearfull giver, so a chearfull thanksgiver” (211). Be a “chearfull thanksgiver”! As we are “constantly praying with joy” (Phil. 1:4), we are to sing “songs of praise” (James 5:13). For, said George Downame: “It is the duty of the faithfull, who have tasted how good and gracious the Lord is, to rejoice in the Lord (Ps. 104:34 and 149:5 and 32:11 and 33:1. Phil. 4:4), especially when we praise him and give him thanks” (211).
This Thanksgiving Day—and every day—let us be thankful. Remember, acknowledge, and value God’s benefits; and let us recognize our dependence on God with all humility. In our Thanksgiving, let us be filled with joy and rejoicing. Be a “Chearfull Thanksgiver”!
Dr. Donald K. McKim currently lives in Germantown, TN and is an Honorably Retired minister of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Some of his publications include: (with Jim West), Heinrich Bullinger: An Introduction to His Life and Theology (Wipf & Stock, 2022); Everyday Prayer with the Puritans (P&R, 2021); Everyday Prayer with the Reformers (P&R, 2020); Living into Lent, new edition (Westminster John Knox Press, 2020); Everyday Prayer with John Calvin (P&R, 2019). Several of his other articles can also be found at The Presbyterian Outlook https://pres-outlook.org/