Mrs. Lubbers is a wife and mother in the Protestant Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois.
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.”
In America it is the time of harvest and thanksgiving.
All across this vast land, bountiful crops are being gathered in. Thousands of acres of golden grain have been reaped. Great dunes of corn tumble out of capacious granaries. Fattened hogs and sleek cattle are led to market. Fruits and vegetables, exotic and common, are stockpiled. Dainties fit for demigods—this is America’s daily bread.
The earth yields her increase; the Reformed believer receives a cornucopia of blessing. “He gave us ram from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” Psalm 68 puts it this way: He daily loadeth us with benefits.
Ever since October 3, 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving, the citizens of America have celebrated Thanksgiving Day on the last Thursday in November:
I do, therefore, invite my fellow citizens, in every part of the United States, and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday in November next as a day of thanksgiving praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.
With or without presidential proclamation, the Reformed believer delights in thanksgiving. To God, first of all. Thanks is our joyful refrain for blessings innumerable—life, health, liberty, shelter, clothing, food convenient for me (Prov. 30:8), family, friends, church, school, work For salvation in Jesus Christ.
Just as Paul tells the Thessalonians to pray without ceasing (I Thess. 5:17), so, gratitude to God should be as regular as our heartbeat.
Do I have meager provisions? Am I ill? Is my house ramshackle? Am I imprisoned? Am I even now being persecuted? Yet, I will thank Him for the salvation given to one so undeserving. “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines: the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Heb. 3:17, 18). Correctly it has been said, “It isn’t what you have in your pocket that makes you happy, but what you have in your heart.” A thankful spilling out of its granaries, brims over in praise to God and gratitude to each other.
Already in the Old Testament harvest blessing is called for celebration. Israel celebrated thanksgiving in its sacrifices and feasts. Passover, the Feast of Firstfruits, and the Feast of Tabernacles were all occasions of thanksgiving. When the people of Israel arrived in Canaan and planted their, own crops, they took a sheaf of grain and waved it before the Lord. In this manner, they acknowledged that their daily bread came from God’s hand. They expressed gratitude to the Lord of the harvest.
At the Feast of Firstfruits, Israel was instructed to bring their harvested crops as gifts to God. At the Feast of Tabernacles, the Israelites cut branches from trees and made booths to live in for a feast of thanksgiving which lasted for a week.
Ruth and Naomi shared in the festivities of Bethlehem’s barley harvest; Nabal and his men celebrated the shearing of sheep.
So, today, harvest is the tangible fruit of one’s labors. Whatever one’s work, at whatever time of year, the reaping of bounties after months of arduous labor—whether that be raising children or cabbages—calls for thanksgiving.
Unquestionably, the Reformed believer delights in giving thanks to God. Does he also express that heartfelt joy in thanks to his neighbor? Just as one cannot keep the first table of the law (showing our love for God) without keeping the second table (showing love for our neighbor), so it is impossible to express thanks to God but withhold thanks to one another. To paraphrase, how can one thank God whom he has not seen, if he does not thank the neighbor whom he has seen? Perversely, however, the simple thank you do one’s fellow believer is far more difficult to express. But the added benefit is that while one is busy thanking his fellow saints, one really has precious little breath left for criticism. (Read Colossians 3:14-17.)
Husbands should be busy thanking wives. Wives should be diligent in thanking their husbands. I think of the old husband who lay dying, wracked with pain and accompanying unpleasantness of a body that would no longer obey him. He apologized to his wife for the demeaning tasks which she had to perform for him, humiliating both to him and to her. She answered with a love that had become steadfast and deep through the years, “Say not another word; this is small thanks for 50-some years of wonderful marriage to you.”
Thank you to the father who labors tirelessly in an unglamorous job to provide his family with food, shelter, and clothing, driving around in an older car so that he will not lag behind with the Christian school tuition. Thank you to the mother who keeps the home and vies of her very life for the well-being of the family. Thank you to the minister who brings sharp words of admonition and soft words of comfort. And the minister thanks his parishioners, as Paul did in I Thessalonians 2:13, for receiving the Word of truth.
Just think of the courtesy of Paul who, almost without exception, begins and ends each of his letters to the churches with thanks for all the saints in general and for certain saints, specifically. Paul thanks workers, fellow prisoners, co-laborers which were a comfort to him (Col. 4:11), those that refreshed his spirit and that of their fellow saints (I Cor. 15:18), those who were notashamed of his chains, beloved brethren, faithful minister, examples to other believers (I Thess. 1:7). “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you…” (Phil 1:3). Paul freely and lavishly thanked the loved ones in the churches, using words of affection and intimacy. He was not reluctant to express his feelings of gratitude to his fellow believers. The 16th chapter of Romans is essentially a touching litany of thanks for everyone who assisted Paul, however humbly, in his ministry. It includes men and women, although it begins with thanks to a woman. Being courteous, chivalrous, grateful are not maxims of Benjamin Franklin or Emily Post, but God-breathed Christian virtues from the apostle’s own pen. Moreover, it is a sign of the perilous times in which we are living that men are unthankful (II Tim. 3).
This should teach us to be effusive with our thanks to each other: employers thanking employees for long hours and faithful years of service, and employees thanking their employers for regular work to earn the daily bread; children thanking parents for all the benefits of home, and parents thanking children for the joy and warmth they bring to an otherwise cold and sterile world; thank you to Christian school teachers, and to supportive parents who willingly sacrifice to build, equip, and maintain the Christian school; thank you to each saint with special words of encouragement and praise; thanks for any service rendered, no matter how insignificant it may seem; thank you with our mouth, telling each other of the great benefits in Jesus Christ and for each other. For we are all blocks, fitly joined together, even though we do not fully understand where or how each fits in. This we do know, we need each other on this earthly pilgrimage—and it is certain that we will not pass this way again. The grave is silent (Ps. 6:5). It can render no thanks.
Jesus also had something to say about expressing gratitude. In a small village He cleansed ten lepers. Only one turned back, falling down on his face giving thanks. “And Jesus answering said, “Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?” (Luke 17:17). Giving thanks, being thankful, expressing our thankfulness to God and to one another, is not the optional Christian life. It is the very essence of Christianity.
We in America celebrate an earthly harvest. It is only a simple picture of the great harvest when the wheat is decisively separated from the tares, and all the grateful saints are gathered into God’s garners.
When we all get to Heaven!
What a Day of Thanksgiving that will be!