Category Archives: Thanksgiving

“While immortality endures we shall not be done giving thanks” by William Plumer

“While life lasts, we shall not be done praying. But while immortality endures, we shall not be done giving thanks (Ps. 136:1, 2, 3, 26). The cause for this delightful branch of worship will continue forever. And the heart of the pious will always be actuated by love. They will carry on this blessed service in the finest style long after the sun shall cease to rise and set.”

–William Plumer, Studies in the Book of Psalms: A Critical and Expository Commentary With Doctrinal and Practical Remarks (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1867/2016), 1152. Plumer is commenting on Psalm 136.

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“For what do we commonly give thanks?” by D.A. Carson

“‘We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring‘ (2 Thess. 1:3–4).

Clearly, thanksgiving is a fundamental component of the mental framework that largely controls Paul’s intercession. But for what does Paul offer thanks?

For what do we commonly give thanks? We say grace at meals, thanking God for our food; we give thanks when we receive material blessings—when the mortgage we’ve applied for comes through, or when we first turn on the ignition in a car we’ve just purchased. We may sigh a prayer of sweaty thanks after a near miss on the highway; we may utter a prayer of sincere and fervent thanks when we recover from serious illness.

We may actually offer brief thanksgiving when we hear that someone we know has recently been converted. But by and large, our thanksgiving seems to be tied rather tightly to our material well-being and comfort. The unvarnished truth is that what we most frequently give thanks for betrays what we most highly value. If a large percentage of our thanksgiving is for material prosperity, it is because we value material prosperity proportionately.

That is why, when we first turn to Paul’s thanksgivings, they may startle us; they may even seem alien, for they do not focus on what many of us habitually cherish. Paul gives thanks for signs of grace among Christians, among the Christians whom he is addressing.

1. Paul gives thanks that his readers’ faith is growing.

‘We… thank God for you,’ he says, ‘…because your faith is growing more and more’ (v. 3). Since he speaks of their growing faith, he cannot be referring to their initial conversion, but to their increasing reliance upon the Lord. Indeed, the word faith (Gk. pistis) can also mean “fidelity” or ‘faithfulness,’ and in this context ‘fidelity’ and ‘trust’ are not far apart. Growing fidelity to the Lord and his gospel is inevitably stamped by increasing trust in the Lord and his gospel; increasing trust breeds reliability. The Thessalonians are growing in their faith, not satisfied by yesterday’s attainments but stretching upward in spiritual maturity, and for this Paul gives thanks.

2. Paul gives thanks that their love is increasing.

What he has in mind in this context is not their love toward God (though he presupposes that love for God is increasing too), still less some mawkish or merely sentimental feeling, but the practical ‘love every one of you has for each other.’ If their love for one another is growing, it can only be because they are Jesus’ disciples: did not Jesus himself say that such love would be the distinguishing mark of his followers (John 13:34–35)?

It is worth probing this line of thought a little further. A close-knit society with shared ideals and goals frequently finds it relatively easy to foster love, tolerance, and inner cohesion. Whether we think of the local rock-climbing club, the regional football team, or a socially cohesive local church, a certain amount of fraternal depth is common enough. Of course, such groups may run into terrible division over power politics or a disruptive member or a nasty bit of nepotism, but some measure of transparent love is not all that unusual in such groups.

Ideally the church is different. It is made up of people who are as varied as can be: rich and poor, learned and unlearned, practical and impractical, sophisticated and unsophisticated, aristocratic and plebeian, disciplined and flighty, intense and carefree, extrovert and introvert—and everything in between. The only thing that holds such people together is their shared allegiance to Jesus Christ, their devotion to him, stemming from his indescribable love for them.

That is why it is always wretchedly pathetic when a local church becomes a cauldron of resentments and nurtured bitterness. This pitiful state of affairs may erupt simply because there is very little at the social, economic, temperamental, educational, or other levels to hold people together. Therefore, when Christians lose sight of their first and primary allegiance, they will squabble.

When social or racial or economic or temperamental uniformity seems more important than basking in the love of God in Christ Jesus, idolatry has reared its blasphemous head. When protestations of profound love for Jesus Christ are not mirrored in love for others who profess to love the same Jesus Christ, we may legitimately ask how seriously we should take these protestations.

But we may put this positively. When Christians do grow in their love for each other, for no other reason than because they are loved by Jesus Christ and love him in return, that growing love is an infallible sign of grace in their lives. As Paul hears reports of the Thessalonians, he is struck by their growing love.

Such love must be the work of God, and so it is to God that Paul directs his thanks. Most emphatically is this particular display of love a signal demonstration of grace: ‘every one’ of the Thessalonian believers has been caught up in it, not some small, spiritual elite.

This is the stuff of revival, and Paul is grateful.

3. Paul gives thanks that they are persevering under trial.

Formally, of course, this particular aspect of his thanksgiving is cast in slightly different form from the other two. Still, it is unmistakable enough if we follow his line of argument.

The crucial element to notice is that Paul’s gratitude to God is not exclusively private, as if it were restricted to his prayer closet. Because the faith and love of the Thessalonians had increased, they were spiritually strong enough to persevere under the persecutions and trials they were even then enduring. Their steady perseverance was so outstanding that Paul boasts about it ‘among God’s churches’ (v. 4).

This does not mean that Paul is saying, ‘See what a great church I’ve planted!’ What he is saying is certainly not boasting of that order, for that would be boasting about himself, not boasting about them. Rather, he is saying something like this: ‘Have you noticed how powerfully the grace of God is operating in the lives of the Thessalonian believers? The way they withstand the pressures of persecution and of assorted trials is truly remarkable, a compelling testimony to the grace of God. Fortified by their growing faith and love, they just press on and on. What an example! What an encouragement! What an incentive for the rest of us!’ Thus, his boasting is nothing other than more praise and thanksgiving to God, uttered in the presence of other churches.

So what do we thank God for? Elsewhere, Paul tells us to set our hearts on things above (Col. 3:1). If what we highly cherish belongs to the realm of heaven, our hearts and minds will incline to heaven and all its values; but if what we highly cherish belongs to the realm of earth and the merely transitory, our hearts and minds will incline to the merely transitory. After all, the Master himself taught us that our hearts will run to where our treasure lies (Matt. 6:19–21).

So what does this have to do with our praying?

If in our prayers we are to develop a mental framework analogous to Paul’s, we must look for signs of grace in the lives of Christians, and give God thanks for them. It is not simply that Paul gives thanks for whatever measure of maturity some group of Christians has achieved, before he goes on to ask for yet more maturity (though in part that is what he is doing). Rather, the specific elements in his thanksgiving show the framework of values he brings to his intercession—and we urgently need to develop the same framework.

For what have we thanked God recently?

Have we gone over a list of members at our local church, say, or over a list of Christian workers, and quietly thanked God for signs of grace in their lives?

Do we make it a matter of praise to God when we observe evidence in one another of growing conformity to Christ, exemplified in trust, reliability, love, and genuine spiritual stamina?”

–D.A. Carson, Praying With Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992/2015), 40–44.

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“We give thanks to You” by Matthew Henry

“We give thanks to You, the God of gods, the Lord of lords, for Your covenant love endures forever. Your goodness is Your glory, and Your glory is Your goodness. In Your kindness You are gracious to undeserving sinners according to the abundance of Your grace. You manifest Your mercy to the rebellious who have lived in debauchery. You show Your mercy to whom You choose to show mercy, even to degenerate idol-worshippers like ourselves. All Your works praise You and Your saints bless Your holy name. Psa. 136:2, 3; Exod. 33:19; Psa. 145:10.

You are gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in covenant love. You have told us that You do not delight in afflicting the children of men. Though You cause them grief, You have compassion according to the greatness of Your unfailing love. You take great pleasure in those that fear You, the ones who hope in the love You manifest through Your covenant. Psa. 145:8; Lam. 3:32, 33; Psa. 147:11.

Thank You for demonstrating Your mercy by causing Your sun to shine on the evil and the good. You graciously send rain on the just and the unjust. We thank You for the arrival of every new day. We see with our own eyes that You have stretched out the heavens like a vast curtain where You have pitched a tent for the sun, which shines forth as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber and rejoices as a strong man to run a race. Matt. 5:45; Psa. 104:2; 19:4, 5.

When we consider the heavens, the work of Your fingers, the sun, the moon and the stars which You have ordained, we stand in awe that You have shown such care for us. For what is man that you should give any consideration of him? You bless us with the light of the sun that is a pleasant thing for our eyes. May all glory go to the Father of light, who commands the morning and causes the dawn to know its place. You have never left Yourself without witness among the nations. For you have provided all the peoples of the world with abundance, giving them rain from heaven and fruitful seasons on earth, providing them with food to eat and filling their hearts with joy and gladness. Psa. 8:3, 4; Eccles. 11:7; James 1:17; Job 38:12; Acts 14:17.

We honour You for the way You cover the heavens with clouds, and prepare rain for the earth. You make grass grow on the mountains. You give food to the wild beasts and the young ravens which cry out to You. You cause it to rain in the wilderness where there is no man. You satisfy even the desolate wastelands. Psa. 147:8, 9; Job 38:26, 27.

We bless You when we see how You show Your care for the earth by watering it. You enrich the soil with the river of God which is full of water as it flows down from heaven. You provide grain, and water the earth’s ridges abundantly. You settle its furrows and soften it with showers. You bless its sprouts and crown the year with Your bounty. Our carts are heavy with abundance. You make springs pour forth water in the valleys, creating rivulets that run among the hills, and give drink to every beast of the field, and the birds of the air nest by the waters, singing among the branches. Psa. 65:9-11; Psa. 104:10-12.

We stand in awe as we consider that You laid the foundation of the earth so that it will never be moved. You set boundaries for the seas so they will never again flood the earth. You shut up the sea with bars and doors, saying, ‘Up to this point you shall come, but no farther. Here your proud waves shall stop.’ You have held to Your oath when You swore that the waters of Noah would never again overwhelm the earth. You remain faithful to Your covenant commitment that so long as the earth continues, seed-time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall not cease. Your covenant of the day and of the night has never been broken. You give the sun for a light by day, and the moon and the stars for lights by night. Psa. 104:5, 9; Job 38:8, 10, 11; Isa. 54:9; Gen. 8:22; Jer. 33:20; 31:35.

We marvel at Your abundant provision for every living thing. Every creature waits on You to give them their food at the right season. Whatever You give them they gather. You open your hand in blessing, and they are filled with good things. You hide Your face and they are terrified. When You take away their breath, they die and return to dust. Then You renew the face of the earth. You send out Your Spirit and they are created. This, your glory, shall endure forever, and You will rejoice in Your own works. Psa. 104:27-31.

You cause grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate. You enable man to bring forth food from the earth – wine that gladdens his heart, oil that makes his face shine, and bread to strengthen his heart. You give life and breath to every living thing. The whole earth is full of Your gracious love. Psa. 115:16; Eccles. 1:4; Deut. 29:20; Psa. 8:6; Gen. 9:2; Prov. 8:31.

Amen.”

–Matthew Henry, A Way to Pray: A Biblical Method for Enriching Your Prayer Life and Language by Shaping Your Words with Scripture, Ed. O. Palmer Robertson (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1710/2015), 133-137.

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“By a way that we did not know” by Wilbur L. Cross

“Time out of mind at this turn of the seasons when the hardy oak leaves rustle in the wind and the frost gives a tang to the air and the dusk falls early and the friendly evenings lengthen under the heel of Orion, it has seemed good to our people to join together in praising the Creator and Preserver, who has brought us by a way that we did not know to the end of another year.”

–Wilbur L. Cross, “Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, 1936,” in Proclamations of His Excellency Wilbur L. Cross Governor of the State of Connecticut (Hartford: Lockwood and Brainerd Co., 1937), 16.

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“A Prayer to God Before A Meal” by Matthew Henry

“O Lord our God,

In You we live and move and have our being.

From You we receive all the support and sustenance we need for life.

You spread our table, fill our cup, and comfort us with the gifts of Your generosity from day to day.

We are totally dependent on You.

Forgive our sins.

Sanctify the whole of Your creation that You declared to be good, and let it be useful to us.

Give us grace to receive all Your gifts with gratitude and thankfulness.

Let us never eat and drink to ourselves but always to Your glory,

For the sake of Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord and Saviour.

Amen.”

–Matthew Henry, A Way to Pray: A Biblical Method for Enriching Your Prayer Life and Language by Shaping Your Words with Scripture, Ed. O. Palmer Robertson (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1710/2015), 372.

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“Hammer your way through a continued argument” by C.S. Lewis

“I should rather like to attend your Greek class, for it is a perpetual puzzle to me how New Testament Greek got the reputation of being easy. St Luke I find particularly difficult.

As regards matter– leaving the question of language– you will be glad to hear that I am at last beginning to get some small understanding of St Paul: hitherto an author quite opaque to me.

I am speaking now, of course, of the general drift of whole epistles: short passages, treated devotionally, are of course another matter. And yet the distinction is not, for me, quite a happy one.

Devotion is best raised when we intend something else. At least that is my experience.

Sit down to meditate devotionally on a single verse, and nothing happens. Hammer your way through a continued argument, just as you would in a profane writer, and the heart will sometimes sing unbidden.”

–C.S. Lewis, “To Dom Bede Griffiths” (April 4, 1934) in The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Books, Broadcasts, and the War 1931-1949, Volume 2, Ed. Walter Hooper (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 136.

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“A Prayer to God Before A Meal” by Matthew Henry

“Gracious God,

You are the Protector and Preserver of the whole creation.

You have nourished us throughout our lives up to the present day with sufficient food, though we are evil and unthankful.

Forgive all our sins, for by them we have forfeited Your mercies.

Restore our right standing with you in Christ Jesus.

Enable us to taste covenant love in commonplace mercies.

Give us the grace to use these mercies and all the comforts of Your creation to the glory of Christ, our great Benefactor and Redeemer.

Amen.”

–Matthew Henry, A Way to Pray: A Biblical Method for Enriching Your Prayer Life and Language by Shaping Your Words with Scripture, Ed. O. Palmer Robertson (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1710/2015), 373.

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