THE POWER AND PURPOSE OF THANKSGIVING
It is not a secret that our country is greatly divided, distressed, and in debt. It is not the first time, though. Even when Abraham Lincoln was president, this country was at war with itself. Like today, it was a very perplexing time for our nation.
From his first term in office, he began to issue calls for public penitence, fasting, prayer, and thanksgiving. In 1863, he wrote a proclamation calling for a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer, which was passed by Congress. It became what we now call Thanksgiving Day. When setting forth his reasons behind this Proclamation, he included an observation about us Americans, and perhaps about all people everywhere:
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.1.
Lincoln felt that by offering thanksgiving to God as a nation, we could change whatever was ruining the nation. He called for times of prayer and thanksgiving on nine separate occasions during his presidency.
I have also discovered the power of thanksgiving, which has often sustained me when I have felt overwhelmed. It has been like a life-jacket keeping me from drowning in a sea of darkness. To simply stand and give God thanks in the midst of our troubles is the purest form of praise I know and the one way to express the purest form of faith in God, both of which He finds irresistible.
Here are five things that offering thanksgiving to God does:
It expresses confidence in God:
Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” (John 11:41-42)
It changes the way we see things:
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20; see also Ephesians 5:3-4)
This concept is wonderfully illustrated by the following story. While on a short-term mission trip to the island of Tobago, a pastor from North Carolina was leading worship at a leper colony. There was time for one more song, so he asked if anyone had a request. A woman at the back raised her hand. She had been facing away from the pastor, but when she turned he saw the most hideous face he had ever seen. The woman’s nose and ears were entirely gone. The disease had destroyed her lips as well. She lifted a fingerless hand in the air and asked, “Can we sing ‘Count Your Many Blessings’?”
Overcome with emotion, they sang the song. When he left the service, he was followed by a team member who said, “I guess you’ll never be able to sing that song again.”
“Yes, I will,” he replied, “but I’ll never sing it the same way.”2.
It works like a prescription:
A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)
It seems like the writer of Proverbs is using a merry heart as you would a prescription. Imagine using thanksgiving and praise as we would a medicine. Take it at regular intervals. It might be a good idea to get one of those pill boxes with the days of the week on it and write praise, gratitude, and thanksgiving on each compartment. See if this does not change things.
One time I had malaria and was really sick. I told the Lord that I loved the poor and that He said in His Word that He would visit those who love the poor on their sickbed and that their health would spring forth speedily (see Isaiah 58:6-8). I asked Him what He wanted me to do that would help me recover. He immediately said that I should begin by praising Him. As I did this, a new strength filled my body. I was able to get up and get dressed and go back downstairs. There was a doctor there who gave me the medicine I needed to fully recover. By nightfall, I was well on my way.
It moves God to act on our behalf. Jerusalem was surrounded by three great armies, which caused King Jehoshaphat to go before the Lord and pray,
“For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” Then all of Judah, even their children and babies came and stood before the Lord. Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon a Levite, one of worshippers and he said, “Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the Lord to you: ‘Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow go down against them . . . but you will not need to fight in this battle . . . just stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’” So King Jehoshaphat bowed his face to the ground and all Judah did the same, worshiping the Lord. Then the Levites stood up to praise the Lord God of Israel with voices loud and high. The next morning, the rose early went out to face their enemies. King Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper.” And he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army singing, “Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever.” Now when they began to sing and to praise the Lord, He set ambushes against those who had come against Judah; and they were utterly defeated. So when Judah came to a place overlooking the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude; and there were their dead bodies, fallen on the earth. No one had escaped. When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away their spoil, they found among them an abundance of valuables on the dead bodies, and precious jewelry, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away; and they were three days gathering the spoil because there was so much. And on the fourth day they assembled so they could bless the Lord together for what He had done for them. (Read 2 Chronicles 20:1-26)
It sets us free—and those around us. In Acts 16:25-26, Paul and Silas had been chained in prison after being whipped just for casting a demon out of a young girl. They must have been in tough shape, but at midnight they began to pray and sing hymns to God. All the other prisoners were listening to them when suddenly there was a great earthquake, and the foundations of the prison were shaken. Immediately, all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.
In January 2010, a great earthquake hit Haiti. People were buried alive under piles of concrete. Rescue crews from all around the world were there trying to dig them out. They were expecting to recover bodies, not people still alive. But for weeks after, they were still finding people alive. Many of them were Christians who came out of the rubble praising God and worshipping Him. This astounded the rescuers who came from China, Turkey, and Israel. They had never seen anything like this before. Those who came out needed very little treatment. They said they kept their hope up just by praising God. One man said that he decided to use this time as an opportunity to fast and pray. Aside from some dehydration, they were in astonishingly good shape.
Fanny Crosby, one of my favorite American hymn writers, was made blind by an eye treatment that went wrong. Nevertheless, her spiritual eyes were clear as can be. She was one of the most prolific hymnists in history, writing more than eight thousand hymns and choruses with more than one hundred million copies in print.
One of the most memorable lines in her hymn, “Blessed Assurance,” was, “Visions of rapture now burst on my sight.” She was talking about the eyes of her heart. At age eight, Crosby wrote her first poem which described her condition. She later wrote:
It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank Him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow, I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.
According to biographer Annie Willis, “Had it not been for her affliction she might not have so good an education or have so great an influence, and certainly not so fine a memory.”3
FIVE REASONS WHY WE SHOULD OFFER THANKSGIVING
It redirects the eyes of your heart. We may not be able to change our circumstances, but we can change how we feel in them. Thanksgiving is one choice that is within our power to make:
And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:17)
Do it to restart your prayer life. If your prayer life has flat-lined, and you have no spiritual strength or even the desire to pray or do anything that looks like a regular devotion plan, I suggest you change your approach. I encourage you not to pray, asking God for anything, but begin by taking as much time as possible to simply give thanks to Him:
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. (Psalm 95:2)
Do it at pre-determined times of the day. Do it just as you would take a coffee break. Do it whenever you can. It is the best place to begin:
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. (Psalm 100:4)
Do it for every little thing that comes to your mind. Do it for the least of the mercies He has shown toward you. Do it until it merges with prayer and more heartfelt praise. Do it in tongues and in your own language. Do it until your heart is full of joy.
Do it with tongues to change things in the spirit realm. The apostle Paul said,
He that prays in tongues . . . truly gives thanks well. (1 Corinthians 14:17)
I appreciate this aspect of praying in tongues so much that I would use this gift if this is all it accomplished, but it does so much more. It somehow changes things in the spirit realm (read 1 Corinthians 14:2, 15-19).
Do it because Jesus expects it.
And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?” (Luke 17:15-17)
If it fills heaven, it should fill the earth. What if thanksgiving filled America right now, would we have a little more heaven on earth? Let’s not wait for November 24th to do this. Let’s do it now.
Do it if only because the devil hates it. Not only does it bless our Father’s heart, but it makes the devil leave us alone. In 1 Samuel 16:14-23, King Saul had an evil spirit troubling him.
His servants said to him, “Surely, a distressing spirit from God is troubling you. Let us seek out a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall be that he will play it with his hand when the distressing spirit is upon you, and you shall become well.” One of the servants said, “Look, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the Lord is with him.” And it happened that whenever the evil spirit came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play and sing so that the spirit would leave him. As a result, the king would become refreshed and well again.
OFFER THE SACRIFICE OF PRAISE
We are told in the following verse to offer the sacrifice of praise:
Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. (Hebrews 13:15)
This is not the kind of thing to do because we feel like it or because our circumstances are especially praiseworthy. It’s something we do because it is all we can do. As you read the story of Paul and Silas, look for the moment when they became free and set everyone else free who was in prison with them:
And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were loosed. (Acts 16:23-26)
It looks as if it was their worship that brought the hand of God into their circumstance. This is one of the best examples of where singing hymns was the key to someone’s deliverance from a hopeless situation.
"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Originally published in Following the Eyes of Our Heart, by Penn Clark, published in 2018 by Wordsmith Publishing, Penn Yan, New York
1. Proclamation 97 - Appointing a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer by President Abraham Lincoln, March 30, 1863. Found on the following website: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=69891
2. The Tobago story came from an illustration about gratitude posted on Preaching.com:https://www.preaching.com/sermon-illustrations/illustration-gratitude/
3. Carleton, Will (1903). Fanny Crosby’s Life Story. New York, NY: Every Where Publishing Company.
FROM PRISON TO PRAISE
For further reading along this line, I suggest you find the book “From Prison to Praise” by Merlin Carothers. It’s an oldie but a goodie. If you have read it years ago, pick it up again. You can read it here as free eBook: https://archive.org/details/prisontopraise00caro