The Purpose of Thanksgiving

purpose-of-thanksgiving

“For the Christian, every day is Thanksgiving Day.” — Billy Graham

Consider the word “Thanksgiving”, and invariably images of family gatherings come to mind. Such gatherings with turkey dinners, pumpkin pies, fall decorations, football, and tryptophan grogginess are all too common in American homes. This may be what Thanksgiving has become but it is not the purpose of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving the holiday was designated by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. He sat aside the fourth Thursday of November, and described the purpose of Thanksgiving as a national day of “Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

America’s vision of Thanksgiving mimics our idea of the meal, which occurred between the Wampanoag tribe on Native Americans, and the Pilgrims. Following a difficult winter and a shortage of food, Squanto, who was residing with the Wampanoag, taught the Pilgrims how to farm more effectively in the new world. The purpose of their Thanksgiving was to dedicate themselves to God. It was a day of prayer and humility, giving thanks for God’s Providence. Giving thanks to God was a regular focus of the Pilgrims, as well as the Wampanoag people.

The Call To A Life of Thanksgiving

Giving thanks to God has taken place since the creation.  There is a unique repetitive term that runs through much of the Old Testament:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; His love endures forever.

Repeating such a phrase can bring joy to followers of God, through any circumstance. This quote came from 1 Chronicles 16:34 (NIV), but the exact phrase is repeated in 2 Chronicles 16:41, Psalm 106:1, Psalm 107:1, Psalm 118:1, and Psalm 136:1. Giving thanks for God’s goodness and his enduring love was a theme that the Old Testament writers wanted the children of Israel to remember.

A second notable repeated phrase occurs five times in Psalm 107:

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love; And his wonderful deeds for mankind.

The phrase is found in verse 1, 8, 15, 21, and 31 in the NIV. The Voice translation helps to bring the phrase an even more basic expression: “Erupt with thanks to the Eternal, for He is good and His loyal love lasts forever.” But why does this phrase repeat throughout the Psalm?

There are several universal themes found in Psalm 107. A selection of themes is presented, and the call to action is the repeated phrase. The Psalm calls to those who drift through the deserts of life, the homeless and hungry, the weak, and the weary. It calls to prisoners who are captive behind bars for years on end. It speaks to the laborers, and those who find they have stumbled under the heavy burdens of life. It offers hope to those who have been blind to the ways of God, and become lost in sin through selfishness and rebellion. Psalm 107 challenges those who are distressed and burdened with illness. It reaches out to the travelers at sea, who discover first hand the power that God built into the winds and the waves. To those who are living in foreign lands, it calls for a new approach to life. No matter the circumstance we find ourselves in, God is able to save us, and turn the desert we are living in to a lush garden of life.

This promise causes us to sing his praises once again:

Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
And his wonderful deeds for mankind.

When people are dying through persecution, suffering and feeling broken-hearted, God brings forth his judgment on the persecutors, raising up the outcast and multiplying their blessings. How does this happen? For whom were the promises meant? They were meant for all who understand and keep the purpose of Thanksgiving fresh in their mind.

Life has a way of constantly coming at us. Days, hours, and moments are filled with urgent demands requiring our immediate attention. When the demands of life leave us rushing from place to place with scarcely a moment to spare, we may fail to pause and thank our Creator for His gifts. But, whenever we neglect to give proper thanks to the Father, we suffer because of our misplaced priorities.–Crisswell Freeman in Hope For Everyday Living

Bible Verses About The Purpose of Thanksgiving

I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness
I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High.
Psalm 7:17 (NIV)

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
Psalm 100:4 (NIV)

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. — Colossians 2:6-7 (NKJV)

God is ready to overwhelm you with more blessings than you could ever imagine so that you’ll always be taken care of in every way and you’ll have more than enough to share. Remember what is written about the One who trusts in the Lord: He scattered abroad; He gave freely to the poor;
 His righteousness endures throughout the ages. The same One who has put seed into the hands of the sower and brought bread to fill our stomachs will provide and multiply the resources you invest and produce an abundant harvest from your righteous actions. You will be made rich in everything so that your generosity will spill over in every direction. Through us your generosity is at work inspiring praise and thanksgiving to God. —  2 Corinthians 9:8-11 (The Voice)

God is ready to overwhelm you with more blessings than you could ever imagine. What a powerful promise! If we look more closely at this 2 Corinthians passage, we recognize that we serve a God who has promised he will never let us down.

His love, generosity, and his mighty works “inspire praise and thanksgiving to God” because our God keeps his promises.

It’s so easy to limit God . . . to look at the circumstances of our lives and think, This is impossible. Or, This will never work. We cannot even imagine how our problems might be solved, how our angst could be abated or our fears calmed. So we worry. Yet God tells us to trust him to take care of the future we cannot see. I love the apostle Paul’s encouraging words in Philippians. –Franklin Graham, Infinite Grace: The Devotional

There is no way to minimize, overlook or ignore the purpose of Thanksgiving. From the beginning of time and through the Old Testament praising God was the purpose of thanksgiving. Through the time of Christ, and the rest of recorded history our God has shown his power.

Early American residents desired to praise him. Not even the Civil War could interrupt our desire to praise God. He deserves our thanks for all he has done for us, and all he has yet to do for us. Those who know Christ as the Lord, and Savior of their souls, know that the glory yet to come makes the troubles of this life disappear. In that place we will fully understand the purpose of Thanksgiving, and what it means to give thanks.

The Apostle John recorded this view of heaven in the book of Revelation:

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
 to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
 and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
 be praise and honor and glory and power,
 for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped. —  Revelation 5:11-14

Your Turn

How Do You View the Purpose of Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving is good but thanks-living is better. – Matthew Henry

Share your ideas about the Purpose of Thanksgiving. How does you family give thanks to God? How do you keep the focus of praise in your holiday tradition? Respond to this post and share your strategies so that others may expand their thanksgiving traditions.

Fred Bittner

Fred has a passion for small group Bible studies. His experience includes 20 years in ministry and 16 years in public education. He started and led a singles ministry that included several hundred believers, and helped establish a small group ministry in a growing church. He has seven books in print. His latest book, The Art of Worship is a great primer for new believers. Visit his website at www.2t2ministries.org

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