Thank you. Two very simple, but extremely important words. These words are so important, in fact, that they are often one of the first phrases we teach our children to say. We understand that expressing gratitude is a powerful and necessary way of communicating appreciation for others and to others for their efforts, actions, and attitudes that positively impact our lives. In that way, saying thank you is not just good manners, or polite behavior, but giving thanks also builds and maintains healthy relationships.
Perhaps that’s why thanksgiving is so significant to God. The Apostle Paul wrote “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:18). Our expressions of gratitude to God for His many blessings draws us nearer to Him, acknowledging our dependence on Him, and reaffirming our relationship to Him.
But what does it mean to give thanks? It certainly includes our words, but Scripture suggests the practice of thanksgiving should not be limited only to verbal expression. Action should accompany our words because what we do validates what we say. In this season of Thanksgiving, it is important to reflect on tangible ways we can let the Lord know we are thankful. I offer three.
Obedience to God is an important way of showing our gratitude to God. One of the clearest demonstrations that we appreciate God’s presence and activity in our life is to seek a deeper connection to Him and to grow in our discipleship of Jesus. Paul wrote, “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving” (Col. 2:6-7).
The gospel—the good news of God’s kingdom and the new relationship to Him and each other available through it—guides us throughout our lives. Paul suggests there is something about growing in Christ and our commitment to Christian truth that allows us to overflow with thankfulness. In other words, Paul says if we are obedient, we will also be thankful and, likewise, if we are truly thankful, we will also be obedient. As we seek to give thanks to God during this Thanksgiving season, let’s consider ways to (re)commit ourselves to Christian faith, following the model and example of Christ more completely.
Obedience is better than sacrifice, but sacrifice is still important. Indeed, like obedience, sacrifice is often evidence of our thankfulness. Sacrifice and thanksgiving are so connected in Scripture that God’s children are often commanded to bring a “sacrifice of thanksgiving.” Psalm 107 encourages us to “give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare His works with rejoicing” (Ps. 107:21-22).
We don’t always enjoy sacrificing. Sacrifice can be painful. It is, by definition, costly. Sacrifice requires thought and attention. For all these reasons, making a sacrifice to God is one of the clearest indications that we truly appreciate Him. After all, isn’t that how you feel loved and appreciated? Whenever someone shares their limited time, talent, or treasure with you, it communicates what is in their heart. This Thanksgiving is a great opportunity to consider a sacrifice you can make as a demonstration of your gratitude to God. Perhaps you can offer a special contribution to your church. Charities are always looking for people willing to donate their skill and talent (and sometimes their muscle). You may not have “extra” time, energy, or money right now, but that’s exactly what makes it a sacrifice.
Sometimes the best way to give thanks to God is to serve others. The writer of Hebrews challenges us, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Heb. 13:15-16). Thanksgiving, we are told, is at least two things: what we say and what we do. We offer thanks with our mouths, but we must not forget to demonstrate our gratitude by using our hands and feet in service. We must do good and share.
Service is the model of Christ who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Moreover, our gratitude to Christ for His many blessings should compel us to replicate those blessings in the lives of those around us. Jesus said, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). One of the great ways we give thanks for what God has done for us is to serve others.
Thanksgiving 2020 provides a unique opportunity to serve others. In this virtual climate of social distancing and reduced interpersonal interaction, many people are feeling disconnected and separated from neighbors and communities. Thanksgiving, which is typically a season marked by handholding, hugs, and intimate conversation, will feel different for many this November. Among the many service opportunities available to the church this year is the ministry of presence, just making sure people do not feel isolated and alone.
Every day is one of thanksgiving for the believer. Still, November 26 provides an opportunity for us to be particularly sensitive about giving appropriate thanks for all the Lord has done. We must verbalize our thanks, telling God how much we appreciate Him. At the same time, acts of obedience, sacrifice, and service allow us to demonstrate tangibly the gratitude we hold in our hearts.
Essentino A. Lewis, Jr. is the pastor of Clifton Park Baptist Church (Silver Spring, MD), a congregation representing over 30 nations and 19 native languages. In addition to his leadership in the church, he is committed to community and civic service. He was a practicing attorney for over a decade before his call to full-time ministry. He holds a Doctor of Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter @pastoressentino