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As I approached today’s message, I really didn’t know what the Lord wanted me to talk about. Thanksgiving is over, but the holiday and what it stands for I just couldn’t get off my mind.
And then, I was inundated in my time with the Lord, putting together the devotionals, thoughts, and prayers that I put out on my social media sites, not to mention this week’s article in the Virgin River Times, and what was coming up was about the giving thanks to the Lord, and strangely enough, it had to do with saying grace.
Isn’t it interesting how we are told to say “grace,” before we eat a meal?
But in truth we’re not saying grace, but instead were giving a blessing. And this is something good, and something that even Jesus demonstrated.
When He fed the 5,000 it says,
“He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes.” (Matthew 14:19 NKJV)
We also see this same thing at the feeding of the 4,000.
Now, that blessing in Judaism, which I believe would be the same today as it was back then, goes like this, “Blessed are thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” And so, Jesus is thanking His heavenly Father for the provision of food they were about to partake in.
We see this same thing at the Passover meal when he took both the bread and the cup and blessed them.
Saying a blessing can also be seen as the giving of thanks. When the ship taking the Apostle Paul to Rome, and after a vicious storm, they found themselves after 14 days adrift. He then encouraged the Roman guards and crew to eat.
“When he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat.” (Acts 27:35 NKJV)
Today, instead of asking someone to give thanks or say the blessing, we ask them to say grace. And so, grace has come to mean, in this instance, giving thanks to God for all the wonderful gifts He has provided, including the food upon our table.
But, if I can take a short detour, saying grace should be more than giving thanks to God for His provision, rather, it should be for everything He has given to us, because in truth, it all belongs to the Lord in the first place, and therefore it is by His grace we have it to eat.
King David, in Psalm 24 said, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1)
We see this in the dilemma faced by the Apostle Peter when the Lord gave him a vision of a net filled with unclean animals and commanded him to eat. Peter responded by saying he has never eaten anything that was not permitted in the Law of Moses.
But the Lord replied, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” (Acts 10:15)
The Apostle Paul picked up this theme in his first letter to Timothy.
“For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:4-5)
Saying grace before a meal, however, has become more of a ritual than what it was truly meant to do, and that was bringing evidence of God’s grace towards those who are partaking in the meal.
When we “say grace” before a meal we are acknowledging God’s provision, and that everything we have, and everything we’ve been given to eat is from the Lord’s hand of blessing, and how He has given to us everything good, and therefore, everything we have is by the grace of God.
But let me now take a moment and turn to the word itself, “grace.”
Just to keep the word within its proper perspective, grace is God’s unmerited favor, that is, we receive from God that which we don’t deserve, specifically forgiveness of our sins and eternal life with Him in heaven. This is why the word grace is so heavily attached to our salvation, that is, while death is what we deserve for our sins, in His grace, God gave His Son, Jesus Christ, that whoever believes in Him has eternal life.
Now, God’s grace towards us is best seen in what the Apostle Paul said.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NKJV)
Therefore, this may be the best thing that we can say over the meal, that is, “grace,” and that’s because it truly encapsulates the blessing of God, and the thanks we should be directing towards Him. And this is why I’ve entitled today’s message, “Thanksgiving Grace.”
But let’s take a moment and delve into the aspect of giving thanks, and the grace of God.
Actually, this is something I talked about in this week’s article in the Virgin River Times called, “Thanksgiving Treasure.”
In this article I talked about how interesting it was that Thanksgiving is the only national holiday that doesn’t commemorate someone’s birthday, an anniversary, or battle. It’s distinctive in that it’s a day set apart for America to express thankfulness to God. It is a holiday to thank God for all His blessings and benefits He has bestowed, not only upon our nation, but upon our lives.
This is what President George Washington declared on October 3, 1789, when he issued the first Thanksgiving proclamation.
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor–and … to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”
You see, our forefathers and our founding fathers believed the Bible, and they knew its author, God. And so, no matter what they went through, and it was some really tough stuff, they maintained an attitude of gratitude, which we’ll look at in just a moment.
Therefore, Thanksgiving was a day for us to always remember to be thankful for the many blessings and benefits that the Lord has given to us, not just as a nation, but as individuals who through the grace He has extended have entered into His wonderful covenant of grace that has given salvation and eternal life in heaven to all who believe in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, most people have forgotten what we truly need to be thankful for. Most say thanks only if they’re healthy, have money in the bank, surrounded by loving family and friends, and if there’s food on the table. And while the name of the Lord is said within the prayer or blessing at the Thanksgiving table, it is more out of rote or tradition than a true heartfelt thanks that He is our provider.
But all thankfulness should begin and end with God, the giver of these gifts.
The Bible says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17 NKJV)
In other words, God doesn’t change His mind. If He said it, He’ll give it. And what He gives to us is the best for us, in whatever form that takes. You see, it may not be what we want or expecting, but God knows exactly what we need and when we need it.
And even further than that, what is given is always good and perfect. And Jesus is the one who gives to us this assurance.
“For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:8-11 NKJV)
And so, when we pray and give thanks, it should always be with this knowledge that everything from our heavenly Father will be the best.
But more than anything else, we should be thankful as believers in Jesus Christ that we are His, that’s the whole point, and that He reigns in our hearts and in our lives, and that His kingdom is one of grace and mercy that has no end.
I think this was at the heart of the Psalmist’s Thanksgiving song.
“Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands! Serve the Lord with gladness; come before His presence with singing. Know that the Lord, He is God; it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.” (Psalm 100)
So, we need to be thankful to the Lord the wonderful gifts we receive, including the most wonderful and important gift of them all, His Son, Jesus Christ. And therefore, we give thanks for His grace.
Paul said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV)
Having An Attitude of Gratitude
If I could, however, when we give thanks, and in what this Thanksgiving holiday is all about, the giving of thanks is generally about what has occurred in the past, which in itself is at the very heart of the word, “gratitude.”
Gratitude means a feeling of appreciation or thanks. It is used to always express appreciation or thanks for what has happened or what someone has done. We see and hear it in statements like, “Let me express my sincere gratitude for all your help,” and “We remember with gratitude those who died defending our country.” And let me just say that this is right and should be a part of our lives with others.
Therefore we are told how as Christians we need to have the attitude of gratitude. And while this is true, it does have the danger, however, of turning into something we really don’t want to happen in our relationship with God.
This is seen in the danger of our temptation to thank God, but then attempt to pay Him back through doing things we think He would like, or what is called good works.
Let me just say that it’s impossible to repay God for all the grace He showers upon us. We don’t possess enough resources, including time, to do so. Further, even if we succeeded, according to our own warped standards, all we would do is turn our relationship with God to some sort of weird barter system. In other words, saying to God, “If you will do this, then I will do that.” And this is diametrically opposed to what grace is all about, thus making our relationship with God, not of grace by faith, but by works.
Now having the attitude of gratitude is good and necessary, but we need to realize that while it looks to the past, it should then lead us to looking forward into the future. In other words, it’s a means to something greater.
This is seen to its fullest extent in the story of the Israel’s deliverance from the Philistines at Mizpah.
At Samuel’s command the Jews then gathered at Mizpah for prayer, and when the Philistines heard of it, they came to fight, and it says that the Lord thundered from heaven and the Philistines were routed.
And the Bible says, “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up…and called it Ebenezer, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’” (1 Samuel 7:12)
Samuel’s message wasn’t a guarantee God would always intercede and fight their battles, but rather if they wanted God to continue interceding on their behalf, they needed to continue preparing their hearts to serve Him.
The tribes of Israel had gathered to worship and repent there at Mizpah. I believe there was lurking in their hearts the hope of deliverance, just as it is in our hearts when we come to worship.
While God intercedes for us, what Samuel makes clear is that we need to continue doing our part.
While Jesus died upon the cross for our sins, setting us free from the curse of sin and death, we still must repent, that is, walk by faith and in a way that is pleasing to God. We must continue living for God and fulfill His will.
Thus far God has helped, and it’s His desire to continue to do so. But at the same time, we must continue to serve Him. We must continue to read His word, pray, worship, along with confessing our sinfulness and repenting, that is, turn from our sinful ways and turn towards the Lord God and follow His ways. Then He will hear our cries, forgive our sins, and heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Now, these words, “Thus far,” indicates there is more to come and that we have only seen a portion of what God has in store for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
We see this in what happened afterwards between Israel and the Philistines. It says that after they defeated the Philistines, they were able to take back those cities that were under the Philistine’s control.
In other words, God restored what the enemy had stolen.
In the same way, while we have come to faith in Jesus Christ, the battles are not over. The enemy will continue to harass, but through the Blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, and through the prayers of God’s people, and the Word of God, we can start taking back what the enemy has stolen from in our lives.
And so, gratitude is good, but it means more than just being thankful for what has happened, but it also means something greater is looked forward to and will happen. Therefore, gratitude is meant to fuel our faith in God and deepen our love for Him.
Now, before we end, there’s one more area that I’d like to address when talking about this whole subject on Thanksgiving Grace.
Jesus makes it clear that the Lord will deliver both the good and the bad just as the sun rises and the rain falls on both (Matthew 5:44-45).
We live in a world filled with sin, a world that has been corrupted by the effects of sin and is even now groaning under its effects, but at the same time it waits patiently for its redemption (Romans 8:19:22).
Giving thanks for our trials is not something that we generally give thanks for, and when we do people look upon us as if we’re crazy.
But Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NKJV)
James gives us this to hold onto. He said, “Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” (James 1:2-3 NKJV)
And so, as we gather around the table to say grace, that grace should then include those things that aren’t so good, realizing how God has our deliverance set.
And so, we are to give thanks for everything and in all circumstances as we are told.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NKJV)
What I believe is that when we have this attitude of gratitude, God will make our messes into His message of hope, and our trials will become a testimony of His grace.
And so, this whole idea of saying grace, hopefully, has taking on a whole new meaning, and hopefully none of us will ever again take it for granted by making it a hit or miss proposition or doing it by rote or tradition.
Further, while we are to say grace, not only at mealtime, but at all times, we are to do so knowing that the Lord God is a kind Father, and one who loves to give us the best gifts that He has created especially for us, and further, He knows exactly what we need and when we need it, because He is the Creator of heaven and earth, and wants to show us the immeasurable riches of His grace and mercy.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7)
Wednesday Evening Bible Study