Category: What should be the focus of Christians on Thanksgiving?


Be ThankfulA Prayer of Thanksgiving for All Things – Both the Good and the Bad

“I Thank Thee” is a beautiful Thanksgiving prayer. This Christian poem was originally written by Jane Crewdson (1860) as a prayer of thankfulness to God for all things in life, both the good and the bad, the bitter and the sweet. The poem has also been put to song in a hymn. Alternate titles for this work are “O Thou, Whose Bounty,” and “At All Times.”

I Thank Thee

O Thou whose bounty fills my cup,
With every blessing meet!
I give Thee thanks for every drop—
The bitter and the sweet.

I praise Thee for the desert road,

And for the riverside;
For all Thy goodness hath bestowed,
And all Thy grace denied.

I thank Thee for both smile and frown,
And for the gain and loss;
I praise Thee for the future crown
And for the present cross.

I thank Thee for both wings of love
Which stirred my worldly nest;
And for the stormy clouds which drove
Me, trembling, to Thy breast.

I bless Thee for the glad increase,
And for the waning joy;
And for this strange, this settled peace
Which nothing can destroy.

–Jane Crewdson (1860)

The Bible is filled with commands to give thanks to God (Psalm 106:1; 107:1; 118:1; 1 Chronicles 16:34; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). Most verses go on to list reasons why we should thank Him, such as “His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:3), “He is good” (Psalm 118:29), and “His mercy is everlasting” (Psalm 100:5). Thanksgiving and praise always go together. We cannot adequately praise and worship God without also being thankful.

Feeling and expressing appreciation is good for us. Like any wise father, God wants us to learn to be thankful for all the gifts He has given us (James 1:17). It is in our best interest to be reminded that everything we have is a gift from Him. Without gratefulness, we become arrogant and self-centered. We begin to believe that we have achieved everything on our own. Thankfulness keeps our hearts in right relationship to the Giver of all good gifts.

Giving thanks also reminds us of how much we do have. Human beings are prone to covetousness. We tend to focus on what we don’t have. By giving thanks continually we are reminded of how much we do have. When we focus on blessings rather than wants, we are happier. When we start thanking God for the things we usually take for granted, our perspective changes. We realize that we could not even exist without the merciful blessings of God.

First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” We are to be thankful not only for the things we like, but for the circumstances we don’t like. When we purpose to thank God for everything that He allows to come into our lives, we keep bitterness at bay. We cannot be both thankful and bitter at the same time. We do not thank Him for evil, but that He is sustaining us through it (James 1:12). We don’t thank Him for harm He did not cause, but we thank Him when He gives us the strength to endure it (2 Corinthians 12:9). We thank Him for His promise that “all things will work together for the good, to those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

We can have thankful hearts toward God even when we do not feel thankful for the circumstance. We can grieve and still be thankful. We can hurt and still be thankful. We can be angry at sin and still be thankful toward God. That is what the Bible calls a “sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15). Giving thanks to God keeps our hearts in right relationship with Him and saves us from a host of harmful emotions and attitudes that will rob us of the peace God wants us to experience (Philippians 4:6–7).

Shouldn’t all our prayers include expressions of thankfulness?”

It does seem odd, given the apostle Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 to “pray without ceasing” and to “give thanks in all circumstances,” that the Lord’s Prayer does not include instructions for thanksgiving. It seems especially odd since Jesus models thanksgiving in prayer elsewhere in the Gospels.

Jesus thanks God for the meals that He provides, including the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 (Matthew 14:16-21) and the 4,000 (Matthew 15:35-38). He gave thanks for the cup and the bread at the Last Supper (Acts 27:35). He thanked God for hearing His request to raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:41). He even thanked the Father from keeping the secrets of the kingdom from the wise and revealing them to the poor, the ignorant and the obscure (Matthew 11:25). Yet He leaves thanksgiving out of the Lord’s Prayer.

If we examine the passage containing the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13), we first note why Jesus was teaching the disciples to pray a certain way. Jesus was critiquing the way the Pharisees prayed. They prayed out in the open where all could see and hear. This was a way to show the public how holy and pious they were. Jesus condemns this way of praying: “They have their reward,” the reward of being seen by men. Jesus is not condemning public prayer, only the practice of praying with the goal of being “seen by men.” We also see Jesus critiquing the way the Gentiles prayed by constantly praying the same thing over and over again as if to make sure their god heard them, such as the priests of Baal on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18.

Jesus’ corrective against these modes of prayer was to give His disciples a model prayer. Now, we don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer by simply reciting it, as do the Roman Catholics. This does not mean that corporate recital of the Lord’s Prayer is wrong. Jesus is referring to private prayer here, not corporate prayer.

It’s best to think of the Lord’s Prayer as a general guideline for prayer—a means to shape our prayer life. The prayer contains six petitions. The first three relate to God, and the last three relate to us. After addressing God as “our Father in heaven,” we first pray that God’s name be honored and glorified. Next, we pray that God’s kingdom will come. There is a sense in which God’s kingdom is already present since the advent of Christ, but we pray for the kingdom to come in its fullness. Third, we pray for God’s will – His moral, or revealed, will – to be done here on earth, starting with us. After these three petitions, which address God’s glory and majesty, we continue with the petitions that pertain to us—our daily provision, our forgiveness from sin and our deliverance from evil.

As for why we don’t find thanksgiving in the Lord’s Prayer, the best answer is that thanksgiving is the attitude in which we pray to God. For those who are children of God, thanksgiving will fill our hearts and pour forth from our lips to God because we know, among other things, our sins are forgiven and we have eternal life through Jesus Christ. The more we contemplate what God has done for us, the more thankful we will be. Thanksgiving becomes natural in our relationship with God at all times, under all conditions and in all circumstances. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

The original thanksgiving celebration was held by the Pilgrim settlers in Massachusetts during their second winter in America in December, 1621. The first winter had killed 44 of the original 102 colonists. At one point their daily food ration was down to five kernels of corn apiece, but then an unexpected trading vessel arrived, swapping them beaver pelts for corn, providing for their severe need. The next summer’s crop brought hope, and Governor William Bradford decreed that December 13, 1621, be set aside as a day of feasting and prayer to show the gratitude of the colonists that they were still alive.

These Pilgrims, seeking religious freedom and opportunity in America, gave thanks to God for His provision for them in helping them find 20 acres of cleared land, for the fact that there were no hostile Indians in that area, for their newfound religious freedom, and for God’s provision of an interpreter to the Indians in Squanto. Along with the feasting and games involving the colonists and more than 80 friendly Indians (who added to the feast by bringing wild turkeys and venison), prayers, sermons, and songs of praise were important in the celebration. Three days were spent in feasting and prayer.

From that time forward, Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a day to give thanks to God for His gracious and sufficient provision. President Abraham Lincoln officially set aside the last Thursday of November, in 1863, “as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.” In 1941, Congress ruled that after 1941, the fourth Thursday of November be observed as Thanksgiving Day and be a legal holiday.

Scripturally, we find things related to the issue of thanksgiving nearly from cover to cover. Individuals offered up sacrifices out of gratitude in the book of Genesis. The Israelites sang a song of thanksgiving as they were delivered from Pharaoh’s army after the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 15). Later, the Mosaic Law set aside three times each year when the Israelites were to gather together. All three of these times [Unleavened Bread (also called the Feast of the Passover) (Exodus 12:15-20), Harvest or Pentecost (Leviticus 23:15-21), and the Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-36)] involved remembering God’s provision and grace. Harvest and Tabernacles took place specifically in relation to God’s provision in the harvest of various fruit trees and crops. The book of Psalms is packed full of songs of thanksgiving, both for God’s grace to the Israelite people as a whole through His mighty deeds, as well as for His individual graces to each of us.

In the New Testament, there are repeated admonitions to give thanks to God. Thanksgiving is to always be a part of our prayers. Some of the most remembered passages on the giving of thanks are the following:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men” (1 Timothy 2:1).

Of all of God’s gifts, the greatest one He has given is the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ. On the cross of Calvary, Jesus paid our sin debt, so a holy and just Judge could forgive us our sins and give us eternal life as a free gift. This gift is available to those who will call on Christ to save them from their sin in simple but sincere faith (John 3:16; Romans 3:19-26; Romans 6:23; Romans 10:13; Ephesians 2:8-10). For this gift of His Son, the gift which meets our greatest need, the Apostle Paul says, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).

We, like the Pilgrims, have a choice. In life there will always be those things that we can complain about (the Pilgrims had lost many loved ones), but there will also be much to be thankful for. As our society becomes increasingly secular, the actual “giving of thanks to God” during our annual Thanksgiving holiday is being overlooked, leaving only the feasting. May God grant that He may find us grateful every day for all of His gifts, spiritual and material. God is good, and every good gift comes from Him (James 1:17). For those who know Christ, God also works everything together for good, even events we would not necessarily consider good (Romans 8:28-30). May He find us to be His grateful children.

May the God of Abraham,  Isaac and Jacob continue to bless you and yours – may His Grace and Love forever cause you to Rejoice and give thanks to Him who provides so much.

Yours in Christ;

Michael