Leaves surrounding the words "give thanks"

Is it time to rethink Thanksgiving?

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Like many inherently beautiful concepts, saying thank you has become so much a matter of habit that it can express a wide range of feelings, from sarcasm to indifference, from polite insincerity to deeply felt gratitude. It’s something we all tend to do without really thinking about it:

“Thanks for nuthin’, pal!”

“Thank you for your application. Don’t call us; we’ll call you.”

“Thanks, I’ll think about it. Talk to you later.”

“Thank you, dear, but I really wanted blue!”

“Yes, you must write a thank you letter to Aunt Sally, like it or not.”

“Dear Lord, thank you for this food. Amen. Mom, you know I can’t stand broccoli!”

“Wow, thanks—a whole quarter! You sure you can afford this?”

“Darling, it’s beautiful! Thank you!”

“Thanks, I really appreciate this. When I need more, I’ll let you know.”

“Thank God, you’re safe!”

Even Thanksgiving has become a knee-jerk reaction for some, a celebration of food and football, with a prayer of thanks at the table, where “Amen” is an invitation to dig in.

It wasn’t always this way.

To the ancient Hebrews, the Feast of Tabernacles (Deut. 16:9-15), also known as the Feast of Ingathering, was a period of joyous celebration of their deliverance from Egypt, the 40 years of wandering in the desert, and of being brought into the Promised Land. It was a time of praising God for his salvation and for his bountiful provision for his people.

Many believe that the pilgrims who first celebrated thanksgiving in the new world found their inspiration in the biblical Feast of Ingathering.

Without doubt, the first presidential proclamation of a National Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving originated in the deeply held religious convictions of the nation and its president. The country was engaged in one of the most tragic periods of our history, a period of bitter and deadly civil war that split the nation, tore apart families, pitted brother against brother and turned lifelong friends into enemies.

From early in the conflict, the Confederacy had issued national calls to prayer and thanksgiving for its early successes. As the situation became more desperate, and it began to look like the war might be lost, that call changed to a call for days of prayer and supplication.

As the resources of the South began to fail, the United States began to experience hope. Out of President Lincoln’s conviction that victory was possible only because God himself supported the Union’s cause, that presidential proclamation for thanksgiving was issued. And a national tradition was established.

Is it time to rethink Thanksgiving Day as a tradition celebrating food and football, and re-establish it as a day of prayer and thanksgiving? Is it even possible, given the fact that a Thanksgiving without food and football seems unthinkable? Come to think of it, I doubt it. How about a less drastic approach?

What if every Christian family in America determined this year to dedicate a tithe, a tenth of their day, to a time of praise and thanksgiving to God? Perhaps they might plan a sort of family chapel time when worship and sharing of the good things the Lord is doing are the focus of the agenda. The closing prayer of honest, sincere thanksgiving (not focused on the food) could set the tenor for the rest of the day, and the family could look forward to a day given new meaning by a time of shared spiritual refreshment.

Or how about 20 minutes of quiet time with the Lord, followed by a time of family worship and prayer? Or a family discussion of what God has meant to your family this past year? Or a time of song and Scripture reading, punctuated by prayers of praise and thanksgiving?

God commanded the Israelites to set aside seven days each year as a time to remember all that he had done for them. They removed their families from their comfortable homes and dwelled in makeshift temporary dwellings in remembrance of his loving kindness in delivering and preserving them.

What if we dedicate to him a few hours of family time this Thanksgiving recalling his loving provision for us?

This year, let’s truly think about how we say “thanks” to God. Perhaps this will help:

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;

come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he who made us, and we are his;

we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

and his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

his faithfulness continues through all generations.

(Psalm 100:1-5 NIV)

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