When I was a boy, my Sunday school teachers often gave pop quizzes, which frequently took the form of needing to recite a bible verse of our choice from memory. Smarty pants that I was, I liked to go early in the line so I could recite John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” When someone else went first and took “Jesus wept”, I kind of wept myself.
“Jesus wept,” I was told, was the shortest verse in the bible. What’s better, when you’re 8 years old, than a two-word verse!
No one informed me back then that there are other two-word verses, which I would have loved to know about! Here are two more:
I Thessalonians 5:16: “Rejoice always.” Believe me, I could have pulled off memorizing that one!
I Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray continually.” Adding this to my boyhood repertoire would have been a cakewalk!
And while the very next verse is longer, I could have benefited from it, too. I Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
I say I could have benefited from this last one, and I mean that in more ways than ease of memorization. Give thanks in all circumstances! Few instructions for life are more powerful than this instruction. Learn to give thanks through the ups and the downs! It’s all a gift!
We’re all gearing up for Thanksgiving, but I observe that Thanksgiving as a national holiday has been denuded somewhat from its aim, namely the thanking of the One to whom we owe thanks. A generalized “Thanks!” – with nothing in particular intended as the recipient of that thanks – guts the power of thanksgiving. More on that in a moment.
Whether it is the Pilgrims, Samuel Adams, George Washington, or Abraham Lincoln who deserves the greatest credit for establishing the holiday of Thanksgiving – and they all get credit from the historians for this holiday – it is clear from their writings that they shared a common purpose. I’ll let the U.S. Congress of 1782 speak for all of them here:
[The United States in Congress Assembled] “Do hereby recommend it to the inhabitants of these States in general, to observe and request the several states to interpose their authority, in appointing and commanding the observation of THURSDAY the TWENTY-EIGHTH DAY OF NOVEMBER next as a day of SOLEMN THANKSGIVING to GOD for all His mercies; and they do further recommend to all ranks to testify their gratitude to God for His goodness by a cheerful obedience to His laws and by promoting, each in his station, and by his influence, the practice of true and undefiled religion, which is the great foundation of public prosperity and national happiness.”
We can try to hang onto a “thanksgiving” tradition that is denuded of its subject – God – by encouraging each other to remember to be thankful, cause, well, it’s just a good idea to give thanks. But thanksgiving without a duty to give thanks to the One to whom we owe our thanks is certain to quickly devolve into, (a.) trying to remember from time to time that there are things to be thankful for, and worse, (b.) learning that the fundamental point of being thankful is that something has occurred that we are glad about.
At first blush, that doesn’t sound too bad, does it?
Here’s what we lose, when we reduce “THANKSGIVING TO GOD” to mere “THANKSGIVING.”
When we reduce “THANKSGIVING TO GOD” to “THANKSGIVING,” we lose the realization that we are not the center of the universe. There is Someone to whom we owe thanks, and that Someone is not us.
When we reduce “THANKSGIVING TO GOD” to “THANKSGIVING,” we lose the discipline of living thankfully. Without Someone to thank, thanksgiving is just something we do when we have something to be thankful for.
Ironically, when we reduce “THANKSGIVING TO GOD” to “THANKSGIVING,” we slowly lose the capacity to be thankful at all. If thanksgiving is just something we do when we have something to be thankful for, our ability to appreciate anything that is good diminishes. Nothing’s a gift, after all, if there is no giver. When we only have Self to consult, fewer and fewer “gifts” even seem like gifts. Doesn’t life actually owe us better than this? Is this all there is?
And, when we reduce “THANKSGIVING TO GOD” to “THANKSGIVING,” we lose the capacity to see the gift that comes to us in circumstances and incidences that we DO NOT want. Thanksgiving, which we less and less feel inclined to celebrate, is reserved for events that we are actually glad about. And every other good thing that comes our way, often in the guise of pain and loss and set-back and suffering, gets totally squandered.
I’ve never met a fantastic, gifted, wise, generous, life-giving human being – a difference-maker and a world-changer – who doesn’t give thanks for everything! The best human beings on earth look back on their failures and sorrows with thanksgiving! They gave God thanks “in all circumstances,” and gained the growth and the benefit that lay hidden, like a secret pearl of immense worth, inside the grit of their many great hardships.