Katie and I enjoy the weekly TV drama Blue Bloods, which depicts the lives of the NYC police commissioner and his extended family. Each episode ends with the family coming together for a meal and discussing all of the things that are going on in their lives. Before they eat they bow their heads and ask God’s blessings on their family and their meal. Saying grace before a meal as a family was once a common practice for a majority of Americans. Unfortunately, this practice has diminished in the rush of 21st Century life and many families can’t find a time when they are all together for a meal. Bowing together for prayer in a public restaurant is looked upon by many with disdain and bewilderment, but at least on this program it is portrayed in a favorable light.
The Thanksgiving celebration in America was founded as a day to pause and thank God for His blessings, both individually and as a nation, around a meal with family and friends. As we advance further into the 21st Century the giving of thanks continues, but the acknowledgment that God as the author of our blessings has diminished. But for us as Christians, the deepest roots of our thanksgiving go much further back than the Pilgrim’s feast and the American holiday we know as Thanksgiving. David Mathis, an editor for the blog Desiring God (@davidmathis) said that, “The true story of thanksgiving for us as believers is centered around our gratitude to God for everything He has done for us.” He describes true thanksgiving as four distinct stages. The following are excerpts from his post The True Story of Thanksgiving which was published last year at Thanksgiving.
Mathis says that, “the first stage of thanksgiving acknowledges that God created humanity for gratitude. We literally exist to appreciate God. He created us to honor him by giving him thanks. Appreciating who God is, and his actions for us in creating us and sustaining our lives, is fundamental to proper human life in God’s created world.” In Romans 1:21-23, the apostle Paul explains what has gone wrong with the world. “ Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools.” “Secondly, It is quite natural for human beings to appreciate God, but because when man chooses not to give Him thanks, the result is the darkness and confusion we see in our world today.” Mathis says that, “we all have failed miserably in appreciating God as we should. In general, mankind is not satisfied with God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other, but in our sin, we fail again and again to get it right. Only with divine redemption can we be thankful for all of God’s gifts, especially his eternal gifts, and especially the value of knowing his Son.” Philippians 3:8, “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” “Third, God himself, in the person of his Son, Jesus, entered into our thankless world, lived in flawless appreciation of his Father, and died on our behalf for our chronic ingratitude. It is Jesus, the God-man, who has manifested the perfect life of thankfulness.” Mark 14:23, “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” “Finally, by faith in Jesus, we are redeemed from ingratitude, and our just eternal penalty in hell, and freed to enjoy the pleasure of being doubly thankful for God’s favor toward us, not only as his creatures, but also as his redeemed. It is fitting for a creature to be in a continuous posture of gratitude toward his creator. And it is even more fitting for a redeemed rebel to be in an ongoing posture of gratitude toward his redeemer. The kind of life that flows from such amazing grace is the life of continual thankfulness. This is the kind of life in which the born-again Christian is being continually renewed, and progressively being made more like Jesus. And so the apostle Paul encourages Christians to have lives characterized by thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6–7: “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
Yes, we will all celebrate the Thanksgiving season with family and friends, and we will give God our praise and appreciation for all of the blessings he has given to us. But shouldn’t a spirit of thanksgiving be part of our daily lives as the redeemed of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, even in something as insignificant as saying grace before a meal? Not only is it a great family tradition, it is a great testimony to others of our gratitude to God that naturally flows from the hearts of those of us, who have experienced his amazing grace.