27 November 2020
This week the United States celebrated Thanksgiving. Many countries have a similar annual celebration. It was in October 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln fixed Thanksgiving on the same day for all the states, saying that “It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged” and describing it as “a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.”
In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul encourages them to present their requests to God “with thanksgiving.” In writing to the Christians in Thessalonica, he goes even further. He tells them to “ give thanks in all circumstances.” Not for all circumstances – because not all circumstances are good – but in all circumstances.
So how can we learn to do that, to give thanks in all circumstances? (And I’m grateful to David Powlison for the thoughts that follow). The truth is that it can be hard to be thankful, because of the hard things around us and the hard things inside us. We need help.
Our greatest help will come from the words of Scripture, where God shows us how good he is and reminds us of the good things he has given us. For example, John chapter 1, Romans chapter 8, Philippians chapter 2. But he also gives us help in hymns and prayers. One of those prayers is called A General Thanksgiving in The Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer, from the 16th century. It begins like this:
“Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all men; We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory…”
This prayer raises two questions for us. First, are we giving thanks to God at all? If not, this prayer will help us make a start, as we list the things we can give thanks for. Second, are we giving thanks like this? What are we giving thanks for? Are they all in the category of “the blessings of this life,” which will all one day pass away? Or are they also to do with “the redemption of the world,” blessings which will never pass away, and will only grow more precious?
Father, we thank you for the blessings of this life, and of the world to come, and ask you to give us thankful hearts. Amen.