The uniquely American holiday that we know as Thanksgiving was only formalized in the 19th century by President Abraham Lincoln. But from the beginning of history, the virtue of thanksgiving is at the core of God’s people. One of the most memorable of all Biblical characters had a “Day of Thanksgiving” in a most unusual place. For little Trivial Pursuit, read the quote below and see if you can recall who uttered this declaration of praise and where he or she was at the time…
“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!”
[Don’t spoil the surprise by reading ahead… insert Jeopardy theme music here…]
Give up? The man that uttered this faith-filled song of praise was none other than—Jonah the prophet. Where was he? In the belly of a huge fish. Not ideal. Instead of having Thanksgiving dinner, Jonah was Thanksgiving dinner.
Jonah found himself in this cozy spot because he had disobeyed the direction of the Lord. He had been given a mission to preach the word of the Lord to Nineveh, the capital city of the dominant oppressive regime at the time, the Assyrians. Instead, Jonah booked passage on a ship in the opposite direction. God intervened, Jonah went overboard, and a fish swallowed him up—or, down. With some time to think, Jonah finally began to process what had occurred to him. It was God’s grace that placed him where he was; he should be floating face-down in the Mediterranean Sea. Instead, Jonah was alive and well and about to receive a second chance to do the will of God.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I hope that you are in a far better place than Jonah was. The fact is however, you may be wondering what you could possibly be thankful for. Alone? Discouraged? Hopeless?
Several years ago, my wife and daughters spent Thanksgiving in a Ronald McDonald House in Chicago. A few blocks away, our son was in a hospital bed fighting a life-threatening infection. The day began with a festive spirit; several families worked together on side-dishes and a local corporation supplied turkeys. With all the preparations made and the dinner prepared, suddenly a wave of quiet sadness swept over the room. Perhaps it was just me, but I believe all of us in that instant remembered that we were missing someone special at the table. Our sons and daughters were not there. That day, thanksgiving was not a celebration, it was a decision. We discovered God’s grace had not abandoned us in our difficult time. From the belly of my fish, I was compelled to give thanks, a sacrifice of praise.
Thanksgiving is foundational to worship. Follower of Christ, we give thanks, not because life is good, but because God is good. Even if you are in a most difficult time of your life, know that God has not forgotten you. Take a moment today, and every day, to give thanks with a grateful heart.