The Reality of Thanksgiving

Walter Olsen

Introduction

Perhaps for most people, thanksgiving is a wonderful time of the year. Thanksgiving Day itself is often filled with good food, fellowship, and family gatherings. I have many happy memories of Thanksgiving Day and I cherish such memories as they are a reminder of God’s goodness.
Thanksgiving for Christians, though, is different from those who have not come to faith in Christ. For the unbeliever, Thanksgiving is often just a day to get off work, have a nice feast, and enjoy the pleasures of the moment. Indeed, such times can be very enjoyable.

Still, for the believer, the idea of thanksgiving carries a far deeper meaning. It carries a significance that can only be comprehended as one has come to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Let me suggest a few ways in which thanksgiving is worked out in the life of the believer.
His thanksgiving is genuine. That is, there is no pretense or show regarding his thanksgiving. It is genuine, it is true in every sense of the word. Such thanksgiving is based on the fulfilling of a very special need. That need is the need for the forgiveness of his sins. He knows from the Bible and by the conviction of the Holy Spirit that, without Christ, he is a lost sinner and without hope in the wold. He knows that:
“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way. They are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no not one” (Rom. 3:10-12).
He knows further that he can do nothing to save himself or in any way make himself approved unto God. He has come to understand Paul’s message, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). 

Consider, though, many people know this in their mind but they have never submitted to it in their own heart. They know the facts of salvation but not the reality of it. If one truly understands his need for salvation and the message of salvation as presented in the Bible, he will no longer be satisfied with anything other than faith in Christ for the forgiveness of his sins.

 Salvation is not faith plus something else, but faith in Jesus Christ alone. That is why the ministry of the Holy Spirit is so essential in convicting us of our sins. Jesus, in speaking of the Holy Spirit said, “And when He is come, He will reprove, [convict] the world of sin…(Jn. 16:8). If the gospel is presented apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit, any decision made is simply a decision of the human mind! The point is, one can agree with the proclamation of the gospel without personally accepting the Person of the gospel.
Where there is no accepting of the Person of the Lord Jesus as the sacrifice for our sins, there really is no genuine thanksgiving. One is genuinely thankful when he comprehends his lost condition and comes to Christ for the forgiveness of all of his sins! Then, there is something to be genuinely thankful for!

His thanksgiving is spontaneous. That is, he doesn’t have to search for or be reminded of a reason to be thankful. Being thankful for one’s salvation is a permanent condition of the heart. Granted, one may fail in his daily devotion to God and thus his heart may become somewhat cold and indifferent to the blessings of God in his life. However, if he maintains his fellowship with God, his thankfulness will be readily apparent. It will not be a thankfulness of pretense, but of reality.

 Further, he doesn’t have to be reminded by some kind of a religious observance to be thankful, though it is good to express our thankfulness to God publically and corporately. In reality, his thankfulness will be a ready expression of his heart! Such expression may be exhibited publically or privately, but it will be a ready presence in his heart. Remember the words of Jesus who said, “…if any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink. He that believeth on Me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this He spake of the Holy Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive…”) (Jn. 7:37-39). Physically, what is more refreshing than a spring of clear, bubbling water? Likewise, nothing is more spiritually refreshing than the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life. A major part of that refreshment is a spirit of genuine thanksgiving! 

Thanksgiving is illuminating. People who have a genuinely thankful spirit are not self-contained in their thankfulness. A thankful spirit is usually plainly evident to others. There is an internal as well as a public manifestation of thankfulness. Do you remember the salvation and baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch in the book of Acts? The Biblical record is, “And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39). Indeed, when one comes to Christ for the forgiveness of his or her sins, there is great rejoicing! To know that one’s sins are forever forgiven is the greatest of reasons for rejoicing. Such rejoicing in one’s salvation reveals to others something of the grace and goodness of God.

Here is something to consider, though. If one trusts anything or anyone other than Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, there is no such rejoicing! True rejoicing is an evidence of the work of God in one’s life. I suppose a sense of rejoicing can be feigned for a time, but, because it is not really of God, it cannot last.

The Christian’s sense of rejoicing in his salvation will endure all trials and for all time. What is of God cannot be destroyed or diminished! Because God cannot be destroyed or diminished, neither can His gifts.

Thanksgiving in the midst of trials also illuminates the goodness and grace of God. It may be very hard to be joyful in the midst of suffering such as health problems or the loss of a loved one. Still, there will be the joy of knowing that one’s life and the circumstances of his life are in the hands of God. The Apostle Paul expressed it so well when he said, “…but we glory in tribulations also; knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:3-5). 

Without the presence of God in our lives, our problems would overwhelm us. We could see no way out of the dilemma. For the believer, however, Christ is always the Way out! If we do not receive the answer we desire here, we know that Jesus will see us through our difficulty and finally receive us unto Himself! Could there be a greater assurance than the presence and promise of God?!

His thanksgiving is contagious. There is something about a joyful, thankful spirit that is contagious. People are attracted to one who evidences a thankful spirit. The opposite is true also. People are repelled by pessimism and a complaining spirit. The Apostle Paul could give thanks for the believers of the Colossian church because they evidenced a spirit of genuine faith and love to all the saints. They were not self-centered, but ministered to one another with a spirit of thanksgiving and rejoicing.

When Stephen preached that great sermon in Acts seven, the response was, “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth, But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:54-55). Stephen was put to death shortly, but his response was one of thanksgiving and rejoicing in who God is and all of His promises for all who believe. His testimony has blessed multitudes. Even in the face of persecution and death he was faithful to the One he loved and the One who loved him. 

His thanksgiving is hopeful. What I mean is, his thanksgiving is accompanied with a hopeful spirit. Thanksgiving looks not only to the past and present, but to the future as well. How could one be truly thankful if he had no hope for the future? Paul, in speaking of the characteristics of believers said they should be, “Rejoicing in hope…” (Rom. 12:12). Again, Paul reminds us, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (I Cor. 15:19).

One of the great blessings of being a Christian is to know and believe that, no matter what this world holds for us, we have an eternal hope in Jesus Christ Who Himself is our hope! Paul, in speaking to the Gentiles before their conversion said, “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, ands strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). [Emphasis mine].

The following verse is so comforting, “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13).

Another great verse for all believers is the following, “To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). [Emphasis mine] 

His thanksgiving is characterized by excellence. Whatever the believer does in response to the directive of God in His Word is pleasing to God. When we obey God’s Word by the enablement of the Holy Spirit, God is honored and pleased. Please note that this removes man’s own efforts in seeking to please God. That which pleases God is that which is of God. When we seek to please God on our own terms, our best efforts are meaningless to Him. 

It is thus that King David said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise…Then Thou shalt be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings: then shall they offer bullocks upon the altar” (Psa. 51:17, 19).

The prior condition, then, to the excellence of our thanksgiving is a heart right with God. It is a heart cleansed of sin and thus yielded to God for His will to be accomplished. 

Conclusion

Perhaps some of these concepts seem difficult; yet I believe they are the essence of our walk with God. If we would grow in our relationship and walk with God, we must give careful attention to His Word and will, to that which indeed is pleasing to Him. 
So often we are taught that doing is more important than being. If we just learn to do good things, God will be pleased with us! However, God is first concerned with our heart and then with our doing. 

As to the excellence of thanksgiving, this is not a work of man, but is the result of the believer’s relationship with God as noted above. It is God alone who consistently does excellent things. When the Lord establishes His kingdom, the people shall say, “Sing unto the Lord; for He hath done excellent things: this is known in all the earth” (Isa. 12:5). 

The point is, what is of God is excellent! It is that which pleases Him in every detail. Granted, the life we live is often far from excellent. Still, as we seek His way and will we can do things that are indeed pleasing to Him! 

Paul prays for the Philippians, “That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:10-11). We see here how there is a relationship between approving things that are excellent and being filled with the fruits of righteousness. 

************************************
There is so much confusion in the world today! It seems like we are living in the days of the judges where every man did that which was right in his own eyes. As believers, though, we do not need to be so confused even though we live in a dark and unsettled world. That which keeps believers from being confused is the presence of God in their lives and the revelation of God and His word to them. Jesus said, “He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love Him, and will manifest Myself to him…If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (Jn 14:21, 23).

That is such a wonderful truth, but so little treasured by so many today. One thing is for sure, man cannot make his own way in the world because, spiritually, the world is filled with darkness. The only real light for believers is the Lord Jesus Himself and the revelation of His word. Jesus said, “…I am the light of the world: he that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn. 8:12).
When one walks in the light of Jesus, the spiritual darkness is dispelled. The believer knows where he came from, why he is here, and where he is going. He has light and grace to meet the many challenges of life in this world. Yes, there will still be many difficulties and things to cause us grief, but the Lord is always there to be the light and grace we need to go through such difficulties. 

If you are facing some great challenges today, why not take the need to God in prayer and wait upon Him for His special ministry to you. He may or may not remove the problem itself, but he will give you the grace to cope and make your life to be a blessing to others. God will not fail you! 
*****************************************

Recent blessings have included the strength to go on day by day and know something of God’s special goodness in so many ways. The challenges have included being completely free of the results of the infection from previous days. Thankfully, our son, Tim, has come to cut our grass for several weeks. Dan has done it some when he has been free.

We were privileged in October to purchase a “new” used car. It is a 2014 Buick Regal. It is in good condition and should last for a long time. It is a little smaller than the La Cross, but hopefully will get better gas mileage.

Special ministry in October has included preaching at the Gospel Mission Baptist Church in Knapp on October 29th.
We have been enjoying a few days of beautiful weather here in northern Wisconsin. The trees have been beautiful and it is a delight to drive through the countryside. 
Jesus said, “…This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent” (Jn. 6:29).

I may be contacted in any of the following ways: Walter Olsen: 155 Willow Circle, Baldwin, WI  54002; 715-688-6220; olsenbw@baldwin-telecom.net