SBC Life Articles

The Art of Thanksgiving

Someone once remarked that the worst of all possible moments for an atheist is to feel truly thankful and have no one there to thank. Most Americans are not actual atheists, but they may be practical atheists. An actual atheist has no God to thank. A practical atheist has a God to thank, but never thinks of doing it.

In the Broadway musical Annie, the stock-market-rich have been reduced to poverty by the crash of '29 and the resulting depression. These souls loiter around the streets lamenting their poverty and blaming Herbert Hoover for the depression. They sing their political blasphemy, "We'd like to thank you Herbert Hoover . . . you made us what we are today!" Whether or not Hoover can be blamed for the depression is questionable. But the song points to an interesting truth: We are never most thankful when we are surfeiting in the good times. We usually get serious about thanking God when we have very little. The destitute are typically better at saying grace than the wealthy. So maybe if times are a little harder this Thanksgiving we ought to thank the Lord.

1998 has been a bad year for international economics. But Thanksgiving is a good time to remember Ephesians 5:20, that we are "… always to be giving thanks to God for everything," – yes, even the hard years. When we learn to thank Him for the hard times, then Thanksgiving may once again focus on God. Until then we will likely only enjoy His bounty and never acknowledge the source of it.

Thanksgiving became a national holiday at a time in American history when Americans were prone to see their rich country – and their good fortune to be born in it – as a direct gift from God. They spoke of the heritage of the Pilgrims who gathered after the first harvest to thank God for the bounty that was theirs. According to tradition, their good friends the Indians brought turkeys and venison and together they enjoyed a great feast in primitive Massachusetts.

Turkeys by the millions now die in November and pudgy Americans (at least 76 percent of us are overweight) will snore with the television remote control rocking on their stomachs, having fallen asleep watching the gridiron gods wrangle out their contests in noisy bowls of Astroturf. But who received thanks for the good life?

America is proof that the blessings of God can wean us from remembering the necessity of God. When God blesses a nation with abundance, the people are not prone to love Him, but to love only His abundance. When He dumps on loads of material things, they don't typically become believers or thankers, but mere materialists.

So Americans come once more to Thanksgiving without giving thanks. The world around us is in agony this Thanksgiving. Collapsing economies have struck the impoverished world with hunger and privation. America remains a lone island of prosperity in a world of dying nations. Will the death and privation beyond the ocean moats eventually force us to taste the pain? Will our nation, which has had too much, come at last to need the God it never saw above the mounds of His abundance?

Maybe this Thanksgiving our nation ought not hear the 100th Psalm. Maybe we ought to read the fourth chapter of Amos and ponder "could it happen here?"

I gave you empty stomachs in every city
and lack of bread in every town,
Yet you have not returned to me,
declares the Lord.
(Amos 4:6)

Could it happen in America?

Well, it happened to Israel. Once rich and powerful, she became a conquered and starving nation. Only when all her resources were depleted did she learn to say, "Thank you, God!"

But His children also are too often thankless. One can only suppose that God must feel betrayed as the Father who gave everything to His children, only to have His children turn from worshipping Him to worshipping the things He gave them. Little wonder that Shakespeare's King Lear laments, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth to have a thankless child."

Consider the deprivation of our Christian brothers and sisters in vast human fields of Asia or Africa. In these lands where material things are less abundant, Christians seem more possessed of joy and more prone to real thanksgiving. Then ask yourself, "Is it abundance or need which teaches us the grace of gratitude?" When we see His gifts in the little things, we will be more likely to think of Him in our times of continual abundance.

The art of Thanksgiving is not a matter of how much or little God gives us. This art is learned only at the threshold of our need for Him and His gifts. Let Habakkuk be our counselor this Thanksgiving:

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pens
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

    About the Author

  • Calvin Miller